J-PAL Latin America and the Caribbean
From the Executive Director
In 2022, we worked hand in hand with our partners, donors, the J-PAL academic network, and staff to improve lives through evidence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). We focused on overcoming the most crucial challenges in education, labor, and gender; fundraising for issues that are gaining relevance; and strengthening our partnerships with implementers and governments. Although we are very proud of this collective work, we know that it is still not enough.
There are still many open questions regarding how to significantly improve people's lives. The funding that we have secured over the last few years—which we hope to expand—will help us answer these questions. Through our Jobs and Opportunity Initiative Brazil (JOI Brazil), we fostered the generation of evidence on what helps workers find good jobs and prepare for the future. The initiative held two social incubation cycles, is currently funding seven projects, and is advancing policy debates about the most effective ways to help job seekers find employment and to expand labor markets.
We are making similar advances through the Gender and Economic Agency (GEA) Initiative to improve gender equality, and the King Climate Action Initiative (K-CAI) to fight deforestation of the Amazon. And thanks to the support of Co-Impact and Community Jameel, we will expand our evidence to policy partnerships with governments to catalyze adoption at scale, reaching more people in the region with improved policies and programs.
The continuous work of regional researchers, governments, partners, donors, and the J-PAL LAC team also helped advance LAC's recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic. There is still much to do, but seeing what we have already achieved makes me confident that we will continue changing lives for the better. I’m grateful for the partners who make this work possible, and look forward to continued collaborations as we expand our work to deepen the evidence base and institutionalize use of evidence across the region.
J-PAL Latin America and the Caribbean leadership
J-PAL Latin America and the Caribbean in review
Supporting governments to instill a culture of evidence use: Since our office’s launch in 2009, we have supported governments in implementing evidence-based policymaking. Two early experiences were the Compass Commission in Chile and the Quipu Commission in Peru, where we identified critical issues and proposed several interventions and evaluation strategies to assess them. We distilled lessons learned about building a culture of data and evidence use in government in the 2018 report, “Creating a Culture of Evidence Use.”
In 2014, together with the Peruvian Ministry of Education and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), we launched MineduLAB, an innovation hub in the Ministry that pilots and evaluates innovative educational programs. Thanks to its dedicated infrastructure and capacity, MineduLAB has been involved in thirteen randomized evaluations and has committed to scaling up three programs found to be effective.
Our experience with MineduLAB has informed the design of similar innovation laboratories in LAC and helped us refine our model for supporting governments in applying a continuous learning cycle, from implementing and evaluating new solutions to making decisions based on what is learned in that process.
Strengthening skills to fight poverty through evidence-informed decision-making: LAC has no shortage of talented and motivated people who can change how policymaking is done; we want to equip them with the capabilities to do so. We have trained thousands of civil servants and practitioners in our custom courses, our online courses in Portuguese (with the Brazilian National School of Public Administration) and Spanish, and the Diploma in impact evaluation (with UC Chile). These courses help implementers, policymakers, and researchers become better producers and users of evidence.
Our trainings strengthen our relationships with policymakers and practitioners and build skills to institutionalize a culture of evidence use. In Peru, after carrying out several workshops with the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, we are working with the Ministry and IPA to identify and evaluate interventions to prevent domestic violence. Similar experiences in the past have already led to important policy advances. For example, after an incubation course, the Chilean government tested and expanded an intervention to reduce overfishing.
Working in partnership with outstanding researchers in the region: Many significant policy reforms in LAC have their roots in the extensive research carried out by members of J-PAL’s network. These researchers have in-depth knowledge and expertise of the fundamental problems in the region, allowing them to tailor solutions to the local context and be directly involved in policy. Researchers in the J-PAL network have carried out more than 150 randomized evaluations, some of which have had direct policy influence.
J-PAL LAC is a strategic partner that helps researchers implement their projects, connect with partners and peers, and have a more active role in policy. Just in the last five years, we have participated actively in more than 65 research and scaling projects, providing support on administration, finance, human resources, and research resources.
We believe that diversity is key to having better policies. We have pushed to have a more diverse and inclusive network, incorporating 38 researchers over the last two years who were educated or are based in LAC.
Sharing evidence to advance policy debates: Our nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing LAC is critical for promoting the debate and action around the most pressing topics in the region. Through our events, blog posts, social media, and many policy products, we share evidence that is relevant to local contexts.
We also share tailored evidence to support policymakers in solving specific problems. For example, we participated in Compromiso País, an initiative of the Chilean government, in which we discussed evidence on promising programs to address sixteen critical issues ranging from lack of access to sanitary systems to insufficient school participation. Informed by this evidence, interdisciplinary commissions submitted formal policy recommendations on each issue.
Similarly, amid the Covid-19 lockdowns, J-PAL affiliates and staff supported the Chilean government to address school dropouts and to design a cash transfer program for workers who were not formally employed or previously registered in the government’s database of beneficiaries.
Building bridges to provide timely solutions to challenges of poverty: Relying on their deep understanding of the local context and close work with policymakers, researchers successfully developed and evaluated an intervention to improve access to justice in Mexico City. Given its success, the policy has expanded to other states through a major reform in Mexican labor law, and the researchers are pursuing a series of further improvements to streamline Mexicans' access to justice.
J-PAL affiliated researchers, staff, and partners have collaborated for years with governments in LAC to develop, adapt, test, and support governments to adopt at scale a highly cost-effective information campaign on the returns to education to reduce school dropout. In the Dominican Republic and Peru, researchers tested the campaigns at scale with the national governments. In both contexts, the intervention proved to be impactful and cost-effective. During the Covid-19 outbreak, leveraging our years-long relationship with the Chilean Ministry of Education, J-PAL affiliates and staff adapted and delivered the program online. Owing to its cost-effectiveness across multiple contexts, this kind of intervention was recently highlighted by the World Bank’s Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel as a "great buy” for improving educational outcomes.
We have also focused on advancing more effective gender policies. We have incubated several projects to enhance women’s economic agency and worked with governments to reduce gender-based violence. In a recent collaboration, together with J-PAL affiliated researchers, we are supporting Mexico City’s Secretariat of Women's Affairs in designing and piloting strategies to prevent and reduce intimate partner violence. We are already seeing changes: after an extensive evidence review, the institution modified the operational rules of its cash transfer program.
The year ahead
Foster the generation and use of evidence on the most pressing sectors in the region: We are looking forward to rigorously evaluating innovative policies and programs related to gender, labor, education, and climate change. Additionally, we will support policymakers to apply what we already know on those topics.
Expand our government partnerships: With support from the 2022 grant from Co-Impact and Community Jameel, we will further expand our evidence to policy partnerships with governments to fight poverty in Brazil and Mexico, ensuring that a gender lens is applied in the process. We look forward to working with governments to promote the use and generation of evidence, build skills for evidence generation and use among policymakers, and expand our evidence-to-policy work.
Building a more inclusive LAC: In 2023 we will explore new ways of promoting diversity and inclusion in LAC, in the economics profession, and in our own office. We look forward to creating an anti-racism research initiative, building a local scholars program that funds research and mentorship for female and Black researchers, and recruiting staff from more diverse backgrounds.
Key partnership opportunities
- Support our evidence to policy partnerships to help governments deliver more efficient and effective social programs.
- Fund research to tackle some of the main challenges in the region: combating racism, building solid democracies, and achieving gender equity.
- Remove barriers to conducting randomized evaluations for researchers underrepresented in economics through our regional scholars program.
Lead photo credit: Paul Smith, J-PAL/IPA