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Announcing Research Academy Winners: Round 1

  • Four papers selected from across the World Bank Group as winners of the first Research Academy competition.
  • Winners were chosen by a panel of technical specialists based on a combination of technical rigor, innovativeness, and operational relevance.
  • The research department will organize a call for papers from across the World Bank Group 2-3 times per year as part of the new Research Academy competition.

WASHINGTON, Sep. 25, 2013 – Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, research director for the World Bank, discusses the results of the first round of the Research Academy, a new initiative to identify the best policy-relevant research from across the World Bank Group.

In April the research department launched the Research Academy. Bank research is already disseminated through many channels, including top peer-reviewed economics journals. What was the motivation for launching this new initiative?

The Research Academy is an initiative of the research department to identify the best research that emerges from across the entire Bank Group. We know that there’s a lot of very good research that gets done as background to Economic and Sector Work, to regional reports, and in the preparation of loan documents, but it takes some additional effort to take that background work and turn it into a self-contained research paper.

But that extra step is important because that’s how we as researchers learn from each other. The work becomes a document that we can all learn from, and it’s important for the "Knowledge Bank" to make an effort to document and share these insights. World Bank staff tend to get caught up in their everyday work and don’t always have the time or incentives to do this, so we in the research department wanted to identify, recognize, and reward—and hence incentivize—staff to do more of this work.

The results of the first round of the Research Academy were just announced. How did you go about selecting the winners?

The Research Academy builds on the work of the Financial and Private Sector Development (FPD) Academy, which I sponsored when I served as Chief Economist of the FPD Network.

We have a call for papers a couple of times a year, and in this first round we received over 50 very good submissions. Depending on the topics and areas addressed in the papers that are submitted, I ask a panel of technical specialists from across the World Bank group to join me in evaluating these papers. In this round the following staff served as panel members:

  • Chad P. Bown, Senior Economist, Trade and Integration Team, Development Research Group
  • Miriam Bruhn, Economist, Finance and Private Sector Development Team, Development Research Group
  • Quy-Toan Do, Senior Economist, Poverty and Inequality Team, Development Research Group
  • Ariel Fiszbein, Chief Economist, Human Development Network
  • Philip E. Keefer, Lead Economist, Macroeconomics and Growth Team, Development Research Group
  • William F. Maloney, Lead Economist, Macroeconomics and Growth Team, Development Research Group
  • Martin Melecky, Senior Financial Sector Specialist, Europe and Central Asia, FPD

As a panel, we look for papers that are technically solid, innovative in their approach so that there is some element of surprise in their results, and operationally relevant. We want to make sure that the papers address topics that have important policy implications for the Bank’s work.

We have two rounds of review and elimination. In the first round, each paper gets evaluated by at least two panel members. Those that advance to the second round are reviewed by all panel members, and then we meet in person to discuss individual papers and decide which papers will be recognized as winners. This time we selected four papers. It was a difficult choice given the high quality of the submissions. I invite you to listen to a series of podcasts (see below) where we interview the authors and ask them to tell us why they think this work is important for the World Bank.

For the aspiring researchers who are interested in submitting a paper in a future round of the Research Academy, what would your advice be? 

Please send them along! We are not just looking for papers from full-time researchers. As the Bank’s research director I recognize and value the research work done all across the World Bank group. We know that a lot of operational work involves analytical thinking, and we are trying to encourage staff to formalize and put their ideas down on paper and share with the rest of the world. After all research papers can be very effective in influencing development thinking. So please send your papers—you’ll be receiving periodic calls for paper submissions from me.

Winners of the First Round of the Research Academy 

Harnessing Emotional Connections to Improve Financial Decisions: Evaluating the Impact of Financial Education in Mainstream Media
Bilal Zia, Senior Economist (Development Research Group, Finance & Private Sector Development Team) and Gunhild Berg, Financial Sector Specialist, (Africa Region, Financial and Private Sector Development Network)

Can a soap opera be an effective instrument to deliver financial literacy messages and improve financial behavior? Find out what one joint research and operational World Bank team discovered while working with the South African soap opera "Scandal." Audio Interview

Report Cards: The Impact of Providing School and Child Test Scores on Educational Markets
Jishnu Das, Senior Economist (Development Research Group, Human Development Team), in collaboration with Tahir Andrabi (Pomona College) and Asim Ijaz Khwaja (Harvard University, BREAD, and NBER)

Can a simple, relatively low-cost intervention like a report card on school and child performance boost educational outcomes? A randomized control trial in Pakistani villages provides reasons for optimism. Audio Interview

Spillovers from Conditional Cash Transfers: Bolsa Familia and Crime in Urban Brazil
Laura Chioda, Lead Economist (Latin America and Caribbean Region Chief Economist's Office), in collaboration with João M. P. De Mello (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) and Rodrigo R. Soares (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and IZA)

Brazil's Bolsa Familia is the largest conditional cash transfer (CCT) program in the world, covering over 11 million families. Evidence suggests that it has had a positive impact on educational outcomes and extreme poverty, but might it also have a an impact on the incidence of crime?

Demand versus Returns? Pro-Poor Targeting of Business Grants and Vocational Skills Training
Renos Vakis, Lead Economist (Latin America and Caribbean Region, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network) and Patrick Premand, Economist (Africa, Human Development Network), in collaboration with Karen Macours (Paris School of Economics)

What does it take to increase the productive capacities of the poor? A team of World Bank staff examines the results of an unusual experiment in Nicaragua that randomly provided business grants and vocational training to households in rural communities and finds that conventional wisdom on targeting these types of programs may need a rethink. Audio Interview

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