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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!


  1. Peer-reviewed Policy Journals ?
    Researchers are no policy-makers!
    Researchers can only distribute their findings as much as possible and cooperate with policymakers, answer their question etc.
    A well written paper with intriguing results, might also get coverage in the non-academic media.

    Established researchers usual have links with the respective agencies of their country due to financing but this can/is and should also be used to disseminate results.

  2. Yes, but is it not the final goal of research to make a tangible difference, especially in a very practical field such as microfinance. Is there any point in "research for the sake of research", or should their be a tangible goal for each and every research effort?

    If researchers were not, at least to some extent, confident that their work would make a difference in policy creation (directly or not), would they really expend great efforts in it?

    Or, should they even expend great efforts in it? By Conducting a randomized trial over a period of three years, requiring the time of highly qualified academics as well as the human and capital resources to sustain them, has a financial burden.

    If we cannot guarantee that this research will result in informed policy that betters life of the poor, would it not be better just to invest this money directly in the poor through other charitable and non research oriented ventures?

    I understand that this is somewhat of a cycle – as knowing which charitable venture in which to invest requires information as to which interventions work, and which do not. However, to the extent that fairly good charitable organizations exist, how can expensive research be justified if it is not guaranteed to be backed by future policy changes?


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