The Ghana Priorities was conducted using the Copenhagen Consensus award-winning methodology. The aim of the project was to promote the use of social, economic and environmental benefit-cost analysis as decision support before choosing between various policies.
Economist Researchers were 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 convened to review the cost-benefit research and rank the interventions based on the evidence.
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 (end of 2020).
The list of 80+ policies to be studies
Source ideas: The project researched the costs and benefits of approximately 80+ policies for Ghana. These policies were identified through an iterative process involving stakeholders with relevance to the theory-of-change above. The general criteria were as follows:
- 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).
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 commissioned 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).
For the choice of policies to research the project drew on a reference group with high-level representatives from key stakeholders. The reference group included some of the most influential policy thought leaders, members of the government, and the opposition, along with representatives of the media, the business associations, the clergy, the chiefdoms.
The aim was 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 were then contracted, to review existing cost-benefit analyses and perform new ones. Copenhagen Consensus worked 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 progressing against agreed milestones and deadlines.
A group of very senior economists were 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.).
The next major interaction with stakeholders was the review roundtables after the analyses had draft estimates of all costs and benefits in different stages depending on their individual level of challenges. The lead economist researchers presented 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 had the format of an informal roundtable, which served several purposes. The researchers gained valuable feedback from peers to improve the analysis and strengthen the papers’ argumentations. Experts from key stakeholders received 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.
These review roundtables were timed according to the availability of the key participants and the status of the different analyses. After each roundtable, the analyses moved towards the completion of the first draft and formal peer review.
Getting the results in front of the public
Papers were released weekly to bi-weekly throughout early 2020 up until the Eminent Panel conference in the fall of 2020. For the release of each paper, the project maximized the attention through press releases, op-eds, email blasts and social media.
The Eminent Panel
After all, papers had been finalized (but all not yet published) they were shared with the Eminent Panelists and their assistants so that they could study and prepare questions for the Eminent Panel conference.
An eminent panel of seven distinguished economists met in Accra to evaluate more than 1000 pages of research across all sectors of government. The panel includes Finance Minister Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, Planning Minister Prof. George Gyan-Baffour, former Finance Minister Prof. Kwesi Botchwey, Prof. Augustin Fosu from the University of Ghana, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary-General of the African Research Universities Alliance, Prof. Eugenia Amporfu from KNUST, and the Nobel Laureate economist, Prof. Finn Kydland.
The Eminent Panel met for three days to hear the research economists’ presentations and inquire about 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 debated and deliberated the individual solutions and each created 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.
Opportunities after the Eminent Panel
Following the attention delivered by the Eminent Panel conference, the start of the advocacy effort began to get more funding and/or political focus on the top rated policies delivering the highest value for money for Ghana.