Driving policy-relevant research: J-PAL South Asia’s partnership with the Government of Tamil Nadu

May 4, 2016

S. Krishnan (Principal Secretary for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives) and Shobhini Mukerji (Executive Director, J-PAL South Asia) signed the MoU in the presence of the Chief Minister of GoTN, his advisors, other senior government officials, J-PAL South Asia Scientific Directors Iqbal Dhaliwal and Esther Duflo, IFMR President CV Krishnan, and J-PAL Tamil Nadu Project Director, Aparna Krishnan.

Policymakers around the world often find it hard to integrate rigorous evidence into their decision-making. The Government of Tamil Nadu (GoTN) and J-PAL South Asia launched a partnership in 2013 to institutionalize the use of evidence in policymaking by designing and evaluating innovative programs aligned with the GoTN’s key policy priorities, strengthening government monitoring and evaluation systems and practices, and enhancing government officials’ capacity to generate and use data.

This multiyear partnership began with a series of policy-research dialogues between officials from nine state government ministries, 31 researchers (including 15 J-PAL affiliates), and J-PAL staff to review pressing local problems, current government programs, and existing rigorous evidence from J-PAL affiliates in order to develop a number of possible solutions to evaluate, and if successful, scale up throughout the state. State government initiatives including the Tamil Nadu Innovation Initiative (TANII) and the State Balanced Growth Fund (SBGF) are benefitting from policy dialogues, research, and evaluation studies being taken up under the GoTN–J-PAL South Asia MoU. A steering committee headed by the Chief Secretary of the State and composed of many department secretaries and other senior civil servants has met three times and selected twelve projects to date, including five pilot studies, one panel survey, and six randomized evaluations. An advisory committee meets every quarter to review the progress of the engagement.

Some of the ongoing projects include:

  • Department of Health and Family Welfare: encouraging healthy habits and promoting health-seeking behavior by way of small nudges (SMS reminders and positive reinforcement) to decrease the burden of noncommunicable diseases. Researchers: Shilpa Aggarwal (Indian School of Business), Rebecca Dizon-Ross (University of Chicago), and Ariel Zucker (MIT)
  • Department of Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Program: Improving school preparedness and nutritional outcomes of preschool-age children through multiple interventions aimed at strengthening a large government program, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Researchers: Alejandro Ganimian (J-PAL South Asia), J-PAL affiliate Karthik Muralidharan (UCSD), and Prakarsh Singh (Amherst)
  • Department of Municipal Administration and Water Supply, Women’s Development Corporation, and the Skill Development Mission: Identifying skill and matching constraints to reduce urban unemployment by testing interventions to improve employment outcomes of people who complete government-run training programs. Researchers: J-PAL affiliates Gharad Bryan (LSE) and Mushfiq Mobarak (Yale), and Melanie Morten (Stanford)
  • Department of Economics and Statistics: A long-term panel study on the health, cognition, financial situations, and well-being of the elderly population in Tamil Nadu that will help the government design policies relevant to the needs of this growing population and enable researchers to rigorously test relevant policy interventions. Researchers: J-PAL directors Abhijit Banerjee (MIT) and Esther Duflo (MIT)

The GoTN, committed to realizing the Vision 2023 goal of fully eradicating poverty and becoming India’s most prosperous and progressive state, has taken a holistic and comprehensive approach to institutionalize the generation and systematic use of evidence for policy decisions. In addition to engaging in research projects, J-PAL South Asia works intensively with the government’s in-house Evaluation and Applied Research Department to strengthen their staff capabilities and institutional arrangements to conduct high-quality, policy-relevant evaluations. J-PAL South Asia helped to strengthen their capacity through a series of technical consultations and hands-on advisory services. As an important example, the GoTN prepared, in partnership with J-PAL South Asia, Guidelines for Evaluation to be issued as a common framework for undertaking evaluations and the use of such evidence in decision-making.

In parallel, the government is also interested in leveraging other types of data in decision-making, such as administrative, survey, and monitoring data collected by various departments on a regular basis. To this end, the GoTN is establishing a central data analytics unit, with support from J-PAL South Asia to conceptualize the setup and functions of this unit, and is piloting this work using datasets from a few departments/sectors.