To Research or not?
For an institution such as the Centre for Microfinance, I am sure many factors are considered before a research project is initiated – is it socially and economically feasible, do we have the research capacity to effectively implement this project, etc.?
The first question that is probably asked, however, is “why should we research this”. If a fact is so widely accepted to be true – say, that people will borrow more if interest rates are lower – is it even worth the time to research this? The nature of most of the research seems to be the “impact evaluation” of various programs that have, until now, been untested.
The research is justified by the simple fact that whatever the findings of the research, keen policy-makers may mold new initiatives based on the findings of the project. But research is also, sometimes, ill-conceived. Though I certainly do not agree, many consider America’s investment in theoretical physics to be a misdirection of resources because any intellectual gain resultant is divorced from daily human struggle.
Though microfinance is, at least at first, incredibly more relevant to daily struggle than is the God particle, how do we ensure that the expensive results (good data, after all, doesn’t come cheap) are being used effectively. A beautiful survey, implemented with the most sophisticated of randomized control trials and the most brilliant of researchers, if it is not used effectively by policy-makers, is still as remote from humanity as is the LHC.
At least for me, knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a luxury, and for the sake of action is a service. I know little about microfinance compared to those sitting around me but I would be interested to know (perhaps in the comments section) how current researchers are ensuring that this knowledge is translated into real action. Before conducting an experiment, specifically, how is the direction of finance from a charitable to a research-oriented endeavor justified? Are there specific questions that are asked?
How do we ensure that the costs of a study are outweighed by its long-term benefits. Otherwise, it would be simpler just to give that money to charity, right?
Would love to hear from some researchers in the comments!