A Quantitative Measure of Hope: A working paper

Over the past year an a half I’ve been working as a Research Assistant with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy – Burma. Housed at Michigan State University, the project is generously funded by USAID’s Bureau of Food Security. It has been a tremendous experience. I’ve traveled to Myanmer twice (see blog posts and pictures here, here, and here), I’ve provided technical support for both rural household survey administration and calculating price volatility, and was able to create and implement my own survey aiming to quantitatively measure a concept commonly known as hope.

This work on measuring hope is what ultimately became my MS Thesis. I’ve written quite a bit about this work. First in the Economics That Really Matters blog, then in the Global Food For Thought blog, and in USAID’s Agrilinks blog, along with many other of my own blog posts along the way. This was my first real academic research project that I was able to oversee from start to finish. It was a lot of work, but an experience I found out that I particularly enjoy.

You can find my entire MS Thesis posted on the MSU AFRE website. As is often the case with these things, the Thesis itself became quite long. So since its completion, I’ve been trying to break the whole document down into shorter, more journal-style papers. I’m happy to say, I’ve succeeded on one such paper so far:

Measuring Hope: A Quantitative Approach with Validation in Rural Myanmar. Here is the abstract:

Development economists are increasingly paying attention to the role of hope in observed behaviors relating to investment, production, and consumption decisions of the poor. Although several studies have examined how the concepts of hope and aspirations may fit into existing economic theories, empirical studies have yet to validate a reliable approach to measure hope. This paper seeks to fill this gap by adapting a quantitative approach to measure hope, developed by psychologists, to the context of rural Myanmar. We present three empirical tests of measurement validity. This study finds that the hope measurements seem to be correlated with expected determinants in a way supported by theory, are similar but distinct from other psychological concepts, and are positively correlated with welfare perceptions. This study provides an initial foundation for viable and reliable quantitative measurements of hope in developing countries and identifies future avenues of research to improve the measurement of hope.

We’ve just submitted this paper to a journal, but if anyone has any comments or feedback, my co-author and I would love to hear them.

Summer Update

Blog posts have been fairly sparse lately. A couple major life events have taken place that (to say the least) are way more important than blogging.

First, I got married to the love of my life two weekends ago. It was a wonderful weekend filled with friends and family.

Second, I defended my MS Thesis and completed the requirements for my MS degree from the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University last week (presentation slides here). More posts on my thesis research will (undoubtably) be posted later.

So what is next?

For the next three(ish) months my wife and I will be living in Washington DC. I’ll be spending my time over at USAID in the U.S. Global Development Lab. Officially I’m a HESN Intern in partnership with the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation at Michigan State University. Specifically, I’m a Research Associate with the MERLIN Program (Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Innovations) housed in the Office of Evaluation and Impact Assessment at USAID.

The MERLIN Program is a fairly new initiative within USAID. It’s task is to improve upon traditional approaches to monitoring and evaluation of development projects – specifically when outputs and outcomes of development projects are not easily identifiable prior to the start of the project. The particular focus of the MERLIN Program is on projects operating in highly complex environments, where the best approach to the development problem is not well recognized, and project managers must adapt the project design over the course of the project.

Many of you who know me will understand why I’m so excited for this opportunity over the next few months. My first “job” out of college was to implement an impact evaluation on a business training program in Western Kenya. The evaluation I helped design and run was adequate but clunky and time consuming. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about data collection, survey design methods, and econometrics. The world is complex and one of the most complex and puzzling problems of our time is poverty and underdevelopment amidst unbelievable technological innovation and economic growth. I think it is through efforts like the MERLIN Program – through adaptation in design and humility about what is known – that complex problems are ultimately solved.

Finally, after the summer months, my wife and I will move to the Twin Cities in Minnesota where I will begin a PhD in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota. To fund this educational endeavor, I will work at the Minnesota Population Center (MPC) as a graduate research assistant. The MPC manages, disseminates, and harmonizes administrative and demographic data from both the United States and all over the world. For the nerdy data-savvy readers they are the home of the IPUMS, IDHS, NHGIS, and IHIS datasets.

Many exciting changes, hope to get back to blogging regularly soon!