J-PAL at 20: Science and the Fight against Poverty Colloquium

The Collège de France, Community Jameel and J-PAL Europe hosted a range of distinguished guests from around the world to reflect on the progress made over the past two decades in generating scientific evidence to alleviate poverty and tackle climate change.

On June 22nd and 23rd, J-PAL Europe hosted a colloquium with Community Jameel at the Collège de France to celebrate J-PAL’s 20th anniversary. Esther Duflo (J-PAL Co-Founder and Professor at the Collège de France and MIT) and Abhijit Banerjee (J-PAL Co-Founder and MIT Professor) delivered remarks and moderated discussions among affiliates and partners from Europe and around the world. The two days centred on highlighting how research findings from randomised evaluations have transformed our ability to tackle poverty around the world.   Attendees learned of the progress made in promoting policies and programmes informed by rigorous evidence in France and Europe as well as globally in driving innovation in poverty alleviation and addressing common challenges, like climate change. The event concluded with a call to action to continue diversifying the research network, appealing to a new, younger generation of economists and expanding on J-PAL’s work to foster innovative solutions to the 21st century’s most pressing social challenges. 

Day 1: Perspectives from Europe

Event opening

Esther Duflo (Professor, Collège de France, MIT; J-PAL Director) opens the “Science and the Fight against Poverty” colloquium with a short reflection on her professorship at the Collège de France as well as the development of and progress made by J-PAL over the last two decades.

Bruno Le Maire (Minister of Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty, France) underscores the important role economists play in ensuring that policies and programmes are practical and well-calibrated to effectively tackle poverty, and concludes with a nod to the Paris summit for a new financial pact and its role in responding to global poverty and climate change.  

Abdourahmane Cissé (Minister, Secretary-General of the Presidency, Côte d’Ivoire) discusses the impact of current global crises on Côte d’Ivoire and other African nations, the difficulties and opportunities associated with financing for development, and experiences evaluating and implementing evidence-based policies to respond to social challenges in Cote d’Ivoire.


Morning session:  Building a hub for experimental research and evidence-based policy-making in France 
How experiments have informed the work of the public employment agency in France

Martin Hirsch recounts the push for evidence-based policymaking in France in which he played a key role, notably the establishment of the Fonds d’expérimentation pour la jeunesse (FEJ). Bruno Crépon (Professor, CREST) then presents a few examples of J-PAL’s collaboration with Pôle Emploi over the years–including evaluations focused on job counselling, business counselling and job search algorithms. Cyril Nouveau (Director of Statistics, Studies and Evaluation, Pôle Emploi) talks about the utility of evaluations from the standpoint of public services. Finally, Ilf Bencheikh (Director of Training, Finance and Operations, J-PAL Europe) moderates a panel discussion with Hirsch, Crépon and Nouveau on research and evidence-based policymaking through the experience of the French public employment agency.


Advancing experimental research in French education: Panel discussion

Moderated by Adrien Pawlik (Director, IDEE Project, J-PAL Europe), this panel highlights advances in experimental education research in France, profiling in particular the Innovation, Data and Experiments in Education project with the Ministry of Education, with Charline Avenel (Rector, Academy of Versailles), Axelle Charpentier (Head of Office, Support for evaluation of public policies and research, Ministry of National Education and Youth, France), and Marc Gurgand (Head of the Economics Department, ENS-PSL; J-PAL Europe Scientific Director).  


Afternoon Session: Investments in Social Policy in Europe  
Introduction to the European Social Inclusion Initiative (ESII)

Cillian Nolan (Director of Policy, J-PAL Europe) opens the afternoon session and details the scope of J-PAL Europe’s work thus far. George Richards (Director, Community Jameel) then details the history and nature of Community Jameel’s collaboration with J-PAL and introduces J-PAL’s European Social Inclusion Initiative (ESII).  


Generating rigorous evidence to support social inclusion in Europe

Moderated by Luc Behaghel (Professor, Paris School of Economics), this session highlights advances in our understanding of how to promote social inclusion in Europe, with Sule Alan (Professor, European University Institute) presenting her work on building social capital through the school system in Turkey and Eliana La Ferrara (Professor, Harvard Kennedy School) discussing her work on two tutoring programmes aimed at increasing social inclusion of immigrant students in Italy.  


Address from Minister José Luis Escrivá

José Luis Escrivá (Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, Spain) delivers an address highlighting the importance of using evidence to guide social investment.


Building a Policy Lab in Spain: A case study

Milagros Paniagua (Secretary-General, Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, Spain) gives an overview of the process of building a Policy Lab in Spain and the lessons learned thus far from the perspective of a government partner. This is followed by Mónica Martínez-Bravo (Professor, CEMFI), who explains the new paradigm of social policies in Spain and elaborates on the Policy Lab from the research perspective. Samuel Bentolila (Professor, CEMFI) then expands on the work to form a Policy Lab in Spain and details his own experience working with policymakers over the course of his career. Finally, Abhijit Banerjee (Professor, MIT; J-PAL Director) moderates a discussion among the panellists to dive deeper into the Spanish experience of launching the Policy Lab.


Closing address

Esther Duflo (Professor, Collège de France, MIT;J-PAL Director) closes Day 1 by reflecting on the concepts of evaluation and randomisation as well as the notion of “the economist as a plumber”. She concludes by outlining the new challenges and opportunities J-PAL faces as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.  


Day 2: Global Perspectives

Morning session: Placing evidence and innovation at the heart of development policy
Opening address 

Abhijit Banerjee (Professor, MIT; J-PAL Director) traces the development of J-PAL’s work over the past 20 years–including the scale-up of Teaching at the Right Level and social assistance ID cards in Indonesia; the launch of 28 research initiatives; the establishment of institutional partnerships in Egypt, Peru and India; the creation of the Data, Economics and Design of Policy Micromasters programme at MIT; and concluding with efforts to diversify the research network through J-PAL’s regional scholars programme.  


20 years of research and evidence use

In this panel moderated by Abhijit Banerjee (Professor, MIT; J-PAL Director), Rachel Glennerster (Associate Professor, University of Chicago) and Santhosh Mathew (Country Lead Public Policy and Finance, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) reflect on their experiences promoting evidence use and scale-up of evidence-based programmes from the perspective of government, research organisations and NGOs.  


Address from European Commissioner Jutta Urpalinen

Jutta Urpilainen (European Commissioner for International Partnerships) discusses the road ahead to meet the 2030 sustainable development goals and counter the damaging effects of Covid-19 and climate change on the world’s most vulnerable.

Fostering the funding of innovation in development cooperation

Michael Kremer (Professor, University of Chicago) discusses the merits of open, tiered, evidence-based social innovation funds citing the examples of Development Innovation Ventures at USAID and the Fund for Innovation in Development at AFD.  


FID and the modernisation of development partnerships

Hervé Berville (Secretary of State for the Sea, France) discusses France’s efforts to integrate evidence-based approaches in its foreign development policy. 


Introducing Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) and the Fund for Innovation in Development (FID)

Sasha Gallant (Chief, DIV) and Juliette Seban (Executive Director, FID) discuss social innovation funds from an operational perspective.  


Perspectives from Project Implementers

Naomi Kirungu (Lead, Partnerships - SME, African Management Institute), Alison Naftalin (Chief Executive Officer, Lively Minds) and Kwabena Tandoh (Deputy Director General, Ghana Education Services) respond to questions regarding the use social innovation funds along with rigorous evidence to scale their programmes and further develop their partnerships with government.  


How has development cooperation been transformed by the surge in rigorous evidence? What can we do better?

In this panel moderated by Esther Duflo (Professor, Collège de France, MIT;
J-PAL Director),  Dean Karlan (Professor, Northwestern University; Chief Economist, USAID), Arianna Legovini (Director, Development Impact Evaluation, World Bank), Thomas Mélonio (Executive Director of Innovation, Strategy, and Research, Agence Française de Développement) and Charlotte Watts (Chief Scientific Adviser and Director for Research and Evidence, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) discuss the multilateral effort to transform development economics into an empirical science; the road ahead in building capacity among researchers, social innovators and policymakers in the LMICs to generate rigorous evidence to inform policymaking; and the challenges inherent to balancing cost-effectiveness with supporting interventions that are well-calibrated to tackle social challenges–along with other opportunities and challenges associated with current evidence-based policymaking.


Afternoon session: Addressing global challenges 
Climate challenges and solutions

Robin Burgess (Professor, London School of Economics), Michael Greenstone (Professor, University of Chicago) and Cina Lawson (Minister of Digital Economy and Transformation, Togo) illustrate the link between the fight against global poverty and the fight against climate change and offer insight from evidence-based programmes implemented at scale in Togo. 


Reflecting on the power of long-term research partnerships: Presentations and dialogue

In this panel moderated by Iqbal Dhaliwal (J-PAL Global Executive Director), J-PAL affiliates Pascaline Dupas (Professor, Stanford University), Rema Hanna (Professor, Harvard Kennedy School), and Tavneet Suri (Professor, MIT) and their research partners Carol Nekesa (Co-Founder and Director, Vyxer Research Management, REMIT Kenya), Elan Satriawan (TNP2K, Indonesia), Miriam Laker (Research Director, GiveDirectly) discuss–based on their own experiences–how researchers and policymakers develop and sustain partnerships to promote evidence-based policymaking. 


Closing remarks

Iqbal Dhaliwal (J-PAL Global Executive Director) traces the development of institutional partnerships between J-PAL and key government partners (in India, Egypt and many other contexts) as well as common barriers to this work and the lessons J-PAL has learned along the way.  


Rémy Rioux (Chief Executive, Agence Française de Développement) explains the reasoning behind the summit for a new financial pact based on his experience working on multilateral treaties such as the Paris Agreement, recounts what took place there and links the summit with J-PAL’s 20 years of work.  Esther Duflo (Professor, Collège de France, MIT; J-PAL Director) then concludes Day 2 of the colloquium with an expression of gratitude to all those who have made J-PAL’s work over the past 20 years possible. 


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