A case for data

A case for data
An IPA team member interviews a farmer in Northern Ghana.

Podcast

By Heidi McAnnally-Linz, Manager of Communications and Development at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA)

They say that when you market a charity, you have to boil it down to that one story, that one personal impact that moves people to give. And not only do they say that, but there is evidence behind it too. So when we started the communications team at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), that’s of course what we marketing types wanted to do, and what we wanted to share with the media and our donors. So why then don’t you see a bunch of feel-good stories here on IPA? Well, because when we give you results, we want you to feel confident in the rigorous evaluation behind the results—not the single story that supports our argument.

The longer I’m at IPA, the more and more convinced I am that our audience (read: you) is more interested in these rigorous results than feel-good stories, and the more I learn that the results themselves are the feel-good stories.

We could write about the long hours my colleagues spent crossing flooded rivers to deliver insurance payments in this study conducted in rural Ghana. These certainly make for nice anecdotes about our staffs members’ great dedication. But the many hours our team spent on this project, collaborating with Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, reviewing surveys, and crunching numbers ultimately translate into evidence-backed interventions. 

Cash or insurance: which do farmers need most? IPA surveyed Ghanaian farmers in order to determine the best way to encourage agricultural investment in Northern Ghana.

We now know that risk—rather than a lack of capital—appears to drive underinvestment in agriculture in Northern Ghana. When we provided farmers with weather insurance, they spent more on inputs such as chemicals, land preparation, and labor. And now, others are using these results, while the researchers continue to ask even more questions to close in on the most effective agriculture investment solutions.

I could also tell heart-warming stories of the kids I met during our survey work on my recent trip to Peru. And yet I’m more concerned and impressed with the quality of our data collection, and with making sure that the results translate into effective policymaking in Latin America.

School children eagerly anticipate their lunchtime during a recent IPA survey conducted in Peru.

It’s not that these stories about our team members and the people we work to help aren’t true stories – they are. And it’s not that I don’t wonder about whether we could be using these stories more effectively to raise more money for a good cause. (A note for the super nerds: we are working on finding more ways to test this!) So I’ll continue to try to bring the stories to light to encourage our supporters. But most importantly, at IPA, we’ll be steadfast in our pursuit of quality evidence—even if that means compromising our marketing instincts.

And so I’m breaking all the marketing rules I learned, and sharing links to data rather than to stories. It’s what you, our partners and donors, have asked for. Nicholas Kristof calls us “economist geeks” for a reason: we know that’s who we are. And since you’re reading this on The Life You Can Save blog, you are likely already on board with making the most effective investments you can. This might involve helping the poor with effective solutions today, or helping to ensure that new effective solutions will help the poor tomorrow. And I know that investments like these are really something to feel good about.

Innovations for Poverty Action
Innovations for Poverty Action
IPA is a recommended charity of The Life You Can Save. IPA's mission is to discover and promote effective and sustainable solutions to global poverty. IPA uses rigorous, evidence-backed techniques to develop, test, and appropriately scale solutions to some of the most challenging problems faced by the world's extreme poor.
The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.

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