Saturday, December 28, 2013

A thought about the logic of development projects.

An African School Class
In logic a key idea is the logical "and". A statement such as "A and B" is true if and only if both A is true and B is true. This came to mind when I was listening to a Book TV interview of  M. Night Shyamalan about his book I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America's Education Gap. He said something like
(A)t a dinner when Penn Presbyterian Medical Center's chief medical officer explained that — if strictly adhered to — a regiment of balanced diet, good sleep, exercise, no smoking and stress management "beats every pill" when it comes to keeping patients healthy. 
The point was that the prescription worked if and only if all five elements were followed. Don't do any one of the five and the patient is no healthier than the rest of us.

Shyamalan thought there must be similar tenets that would restore the health of our ailing schools. His presecription: No Roadblock Teachers, The Right Balance of Leadership, Feedback, Smaller Schools and More Time in School. But he too believes that the prescription for schools works if and only if all five elements are employed together -- the "logical and".

I suppose I would provide a different set of conditions:

  • Healthy, well nourished kids who don't have serious disabilities (such as uncorrected vision problems, uncorrected hearing problems, or brains that failed to develop normally due to malnutrition and illness as infants.
  • Supportive parents, ideally educated themselves and participating in lifelong learning.
  • An appropriate curriculum. (Teach kids what they will need to excel in the world in which they will live the rest of their lives).
  • Good teachers.
  • Who have the time and resources to teach well.
I note that a lot of statistical analysis is based on the assumption that the effects of such variables are additive, but that is not true for the logical and -- in such a situation, all of the preconditions must be met for the suite to have its combined effect.

I think this situation is true in many development situations. High yield for a crop requires good soil, good seed, good weather, and good luck to avoid diseases and pests. Put all the other conditions in place, but have the crop killed by flood or drought and the yield is zip. So too a host of locusts or a deadly blight could destroy a crop. I could site other examples.

In evaluations of development projects, do we recognize all of the factors that must be present for a project to succeed? Looking at an approach, do we say that of a large number of projects, so many failed because factor A was not present, so many failed because factor B was not present, etc.?

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