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The Anatomy of Failure: An Ethnography of a Randomized Trial to Deepen Democracy in Rural India
January 19, 2017DECRG Kuala Lumpur Seminar Series

Programs that induce citizen participation to improve the quality of government at the local level are the subjects of large amounts of funding and intense debate. This paper combines a randomized control trial of a citizenship training and facilitation program in rural India, with an in-depth, four-year, ethnography of the intervention to understand the underlying mechanisms of change.

The quantitative data show no impact from the intervention. Household and village survey data from 100 treatment and 100 control villages show considerable improvement across a wide variety of governance and participation indicators over time, but the differences in the changes between treatment and control villages are not statistically significant. The detailed qualitative data from a ten per cent subsample allow us to unpack the reasons why the intervention “failed” highlighting the role of variations in the quality of facilitation, lack of top-down support, and difficulties with confronting the stubborn challenge of persistent inequality.

However, the qualitative investigation also uncovered subtle treatment effects that are difficult to observe in structured surveys. The paper thus demonstrates that a concerted effort to use ‘thick description” to uncover process of change using careful and detailed qualitative work can add value to standard impact evaluations.

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  • Vijayendra (Biju) Rao

    Lead Economist, Research Department, World Bank
    Vijayendra (Biju) Rao, a Lead Economist in the Research Department of the World Bank, integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries. He leads the Social Observatory, an inter-disciplinary effort to improve the conversation between citizens and governments. It does this – first – by improving the quality of civic action by strengthening forums for deliberation and developing tools to facilitate collective action, and – second – by building the “adaptive capacity” of large-scale anti-poverty projects; i.e. the ability of projects to make everyday decisions, and modify project design, on the basis of high-quality descriptive, evaluative and process-oriented information. His research has spanned a wide variety of subjects including participatory development, deliberative democracy, the rise in dowries in India, the determinants and consequences of domestic violence, the economics of sex work, public celebrations, and culture and development policy.
Event Details
  • WHEN: Thursday, January 19, 2017; 12:30-2:00PM
  • WHERE: World Bank Malaysia Office, Level 3, Sasana Kijang, No. 2, Jalan Dato’ Onn
  • RSVP: Kindly RSVP by Wednesday, January 18, 2017