CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu government’s policy-making underwent change in 2014 after the then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who wanted to institutionalise use of evidence-based approach in policymaking, announced tie-up with Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-Pal) founded by Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee.
Founded in 2003 as “Poverty Action Lab” by Banerjee and fellow Nobel laureate and wife Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan at Massachusets Institute of Technology (MIT), J-Pal, which has its South Asia office at Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) helped the State in maximising the impact of anti-poverty programmes and policies in the State be it Dr Muthulakshmi Maternity Benefit Scheme (MMBS) or understanding the burden of non-communicable diseases in Tamil Nadu among others.
“We started working formally with Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo in 2013 and formalised our government’s relationship with them in November 2014 through an MoU with J-PAL in the presence of the then Chief Minister O Panneerselvam,” says Finance secretary S Krishnan, recalling his association working with Banerjee and his wife.
It is learnt that J-Pal is now engaged with several departments in capacity-building and advisory role to help strengthen quality and use of administrative and survey data for analysis and decisions. “The Tamil Nadu government has so far done about 15 projects with J-Pal since 2014 till now,” recalls Krishnan.
Gautam Patel, Senior Policy Manager at J-PAL South Asia and works to build partnerships with policymakers in the region, says the State government has formed a Data Analytics Unit jointly hosted by Department of Economics and Statistics and Tamil Nadu e-governance agency.
The pilot study which was taken up by Banerjee’s wife Esther Duflo along with then chief secretary Girija Vaidyanathan, Rema Hana of Harvard Kennedy School and Madeline Duhou of J-Pal explored gaps in implementation of the scheme and identified areas for intervention.
Another project wherein the Nobel Laureate and his wife are involved is the survey on socio-economic status of elderly population in Tamil Nadu.
The project aimed at creating a panel dataset on 5,000 households with one or more elderly people across five districts in Tamil Nadu over eight years. Sources told Express that the study inputs could help the State draft a Senior Citizen Policy.
Interestingly, it is not only poverty alleviation, J-Pal has also been trying to bring in policy intervention in education sector also. A pilot has been planned in 50 schools by introducing Math Games.
Meanwhile, to enable innovations and experiments for evidence-based informed decision making, the State has set up an Innovation Fund.