UPDATE: Gelman responds with the question: Why are there IRB’s at all?
Ted Miguel and other similarly brilliant economists and political scientists (in the RCT mold) are doing what I consider R&D work that developmental states ought to be doing themselves. Sometimes it takes intensive experimental intervention to find out what works and what doesn’t. The need for such an approach is even higher when you are operating in a low resource environment.
That said, I found the points on this post from monkey cage (by Jim Fearon of my Dept.) to be of great importance:
Why is there nothing like an IRB for development projects? Is it that aid projects are with the consent of the recipient government, so if the host government is ok with it then that’s all the consent that’s needed? Maybe, but many aid-recipient governments don’t have the capacity to conduct thorough assessments of likely risks versus benefits for the thousands of development projects going on in their countries. That’s partly why they have lots of aid projects to begin with.
Or maybe there’s no issue here because the major donors do, in effect, have the equivalent of IRBs in the form of required environmental impact assessments and other sorts of impact assessments. I don’t know enough about standard operating procedures at major donors like the World Bank, USAID, DFID, etc, to say, really. But it’s not my impression that there are systematic reviews at these places of what are the potential political and social impacts of dropping large amounts of resources into complicated local political and social situations.
You can find the rest of the blog post here.