The Ghana Priorities will be conducted using the Copenhagen Consensus award-winning methodology. The aim of the project is to promote the use of social, economic and environmental benefit-cost analysis as decision support before choosing between various policies.
Economist Researchers will be commissioned to write Research Papers on the costs and benefits of the interventions determined through multiple iterations of outreach and consultation with key stakeholders in Ghana.
At the conclusion of the research project, an Eminent Panel of leading Ghanaian and international economists will be convened to review the cost-benefit research and rank the interventions based on the evidence. The top interventions as assessed by the various stakeholder groups will be given greater prominence and promoted by Ghana Priorities as some of the most effective solutions to the country’s challenges.
Theory of change
The theory of change for the project is to give tailwind to high social value for money policies. By making evidence on which policies deliver the most (and least) accessible to stakeholders with influence over where resources are invested, opinion leaders, advisors and pressure groups etc. it becomes slightly easier to approve high-yielding policies and slightly more difficult to invest in low-yielding policies.
The project was kicked off in December 2018 with the introduction of project aim and methodology to select key stakeholders in collaboration with the think tank IEA. The timeline naturally separates into four major tasks: The list of policies (February to May 2019), Review Roundtables (September to December 2019), Publicity (from November to May 2020) and the Eminent Panel (May 2020).
The list of 80+ policies to be studies
Source ideas: The project will have the capacity to research the costs and benefits of approximately 80+ policies for Ghana. These policies will be identified through an iterative process involving stakeholders with relevance to the theory-of-change above. The general criteria are:
- Policies where there exists good research to help to estimate costs and benefits
- Policies that are strongly considered in the current political debate (e.g. championed by a political party or the government)
- Policies or interventions that are likely very effective (have a high benefit-to-cost ratio), but with substantial costs (to deselect highly effective but trivial policies)
- The rare policies that are very prominent, but empirically certainly ineffective. (The project is focused on analyzing highly effective policies, but in a few instances it is also relevant to focus on highly visible policies, with strong political backing that is demonstrably inefficient. For instance, in India, we looked at the highly popular “farm loan waiver” policies which cost more than 0.5% of Indian GDP and yet deliver less in benefits than its costs).
At least half of the policies need to be selected to begin the research commissioning process by the end of March. The final list of policies to research should be done by the end of May.
The UN’s sustainable development goals and indicators are perhaps the most comprehensive document aiming to cover all aspects to policy making for the world, which Ghana alongside most nations in the world signed up to for 2016-2030. As a starting point, the project will commission specialist economists to map out relevant policies (using the above criteria) for each of the 16 SDGs (the 17th pertaining to the international community excluded).
This initial list is expected to cover a lot but not everything. It will be compiled, edited, amended and reviewed by organizations and individuals associated with the project.
For the choice of policies to research the project will draw on a reference group with high-level representatives from key stakeholders. The reference group could include some of the most influential policy thought leaders, one or two members of the government and the opposition, along with representatives of the media, the business associations, the clergy, the chiefdoms etc. The exact size and composition is not pre-determined. The aim is to reach 1) an unassailable status for the list of policies containing something relevant for all key stakeholder groups and 2) get a good group of champions for the project early on.
Teams of Ghanaian and international research economists will be contracted, to review existing cost-benefit analyses and perform new ones. Copenhagen Consensus will work closely with all research economists in a co-author role to ensure comparability, knowledge transfer from the 100s of previously performed analyses and make sure all analyses are progressing against agreed milestones and deadlines.
A group of very senior economists will be engaged as an advisory panel, to help nominate economist researchers and reviewers with special competence for each analysis, and to help confirm standardized parameters for the project (for example discount rates, appropriate data sources for general inputs like demography etc.).
Review Roundtables (from September to December)
Next major interaction with stakeholders will be review roundtables beginning in August or September 2019, when the analyses will have draft estimates of all costs and benefits in different stages depending on their individual level of challenges. The lead economist researchers will present their work in progress to a group consisting of peers (reviewers) and experts from key stakeholders for which the analyzed area is of special interest. These meetings, which can have the format of an informal roundtable, will serve several purposes. The researchers will get valuable feedback from peers to improve the analysis and strengthen the papers’ argumentations. Experts from key stakeholders will get a preview of the results, an understanding of the analysis and a chance to point to omitted costs or benefits, contribute alternative data sources etc. There will probably be synergies in combining the presentation of papers within the same policy area so that the economist researchers also can act as peer reviewers.
These review roundtables will be timed according to the availability of the key participants and the status of the different analyses. After each roundtable, the analyses will move towards the completion of the first draft and formal peer review. Therefore all roundtables should be completed at the very latest by the end of the year. There is the possibility to include non-economists’ reviews if the opinion and expertise of a non-economist on the analyzed policy can help make a more informed assessment of the policy. The write-up of the central criticisms would be appended and published together with the paper.
Getting the results in front of the public (November to May 2020)
The first papers are estimated to be finalized in or before October. Papers will then be released weekly to bi-weekly throughout November up until the Eminent Panel conference in around May 2020. For the release of each paper, the project will endeavour to maximize the attention through minimum a press release, oped, and email blast, but if sensible also interview, press conference, visit to relevant ministry etc., the magnitude of each release will be determined by the relevance of the topic and the author.
The Eminent Panel (in May 2020)
By March all papers have been finalized (but all not yet published) and shared with the Eminent Panelists and their assistants so that they can study and prepare questions for the Eminent Panel conference.
A group of Nobel laureate level economists (the “Eminent Panel”) will meet in Accra, to carefully review the research and engage with the research economists.
Picking the participants will be crucial. Ideally, we will likely want three Ghanaians and one Nobel Laureate. We can start the deliberation on who to approach right we have closed the list of 80+ policies in May 2019.
The Eminent Panel will meet for three days to hear the research economists’ presentations and inquire the strength of the models, the use of costs and benefits to determine if the benefit-cost ratio is indeed correctly appraised or should be higher or lower. They will debate and deliberate the individual solutions and each creates a ranked list of all policies, ranging from the best all the way to the worst possible investments for policy-makers and other organizations in order to create the most social good for every Cedi spent.
In adjunction to the Eminent Panel conference, the highest-level stakeholders should be engaged.
Opportunities after the Eminent Panel
Following the anticipated attention delivered by the Eminent Panel conference, the opportunity start the advocacy effort to get more funding or political focus on the top rated policies delivering the highest value for money for Ghana. It might be relevant to partner with other interest groups for specific policies and map out a plan for each of the top outcomes on how to ensure the evidence is not lost or forgotten in the policy debate. The immediate follow-up will be funded by the project, but increasingly the long-term follow-up should find additional funds.