Cover: Evaluation of the Population and Poverty Research Initiative (PopPov)

Evaluation of the Population and Poverty Research Initiative (PopPov)

Published May 5, 2014

by Julie DaVanzo, Sebastian Linnemayr, Peter Glick, Eric Apaydin

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent did the Population and Poverty Research Initiative (PopPov) reengage or strengthen the field of economic demography?
  2. What contribution has PopPov research made to the evidence base regarding relationships between demographic change or behavior and economic outcomes?
  3. How and to what extent did PopPov investments yield policy-relevant and influential research?
  4. How did the design of the PopPov program affect its ability to build the field, expand the evidence base, and inform policies and practices?
  5. How did the implementation of the PopPov program contribute or pose challenges to achieving these outcomes?

Since 2005, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with collaboration and co-funding from research councils in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Norway and from the World Bank, has invested in a portfolio of social science research on the relationship between population dynamics and micro- and macroeconomic outcomes. It is known as the Population and Poverty Research Initiative (PopPov), and its geographic focus is on sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The starting premises that led to the development of PopPov were that evidence showing that population dynamics could affect economic outcomes might increase the interest of ministers of finance in funding population policies and that they might be most convinced by rigorous research done by respected economists. The core aim of the program has been to build or rebuild and advance the field of economic demography, orienting the work toward research that would be relevant for policy and would increase recognition by economic policymakers of the value of lowering the rate of population growth and investing in family planning. The program also aimed to strengthen the capacity of researchers in SSA. PopPov tried to achieve these aims through four main components: (1) grants to support research on PopPov core topics of interest, (2) fellowships to support graduate students preparing their doctoral dissertations, (3) conferences and workshops to support the development of networking opportunities, and (4) other dissemination activities. This report provides results of a RAND Corporation evaluation of PopPov.

Key Findings

The Program Has Increased Numbers of Economists Doing Research on PopPov Priority Topics but Not of Senior Researchers or an Emphasis on Economics

  • PopPov has increased the number of economists working on PopPov issues, although many of these were already working on these topics or, in the case of the fellows, intended to work on them. The initiative has not brought many new senior researchers into the field. The program has enabled researchers already in the field to do more than they may have been able to do without PopPov funding. It has also increased the number of European researchers working on population, health, and development topics.

Published Papers Do Not Proportionately Focus on PopPov Areas of Emphasis

  • Many papers prepared for PopPov are not on one of PopPov's primary research questions. The majority of fellows and researchers supported are economists, but only 25 percent of the journal articles supported by PopPov are in economics journals.

PopPov Research Does Not Appear to Be Reaching Economic Policymakers to Influence Policy Decisions

  • Relatively few researchers assigned a high priority to translating their research into policy messages or presenting their findings at forums likely to be attended by policymakers.
  • Many who could potentially use PopPov findings in their policy, communication, or advocacy work have little, if any, awareness of PopPov and the research it has supported.


  • Prioritize objectives; design strategies to achieve them. Establish a standing steering or advisory committee. Look for niches for which there is not already funding available.
  • Direct topics to be addressed. Encourage applicants to propose the types of data and methods that are most appropriate for their research questions. Consider awarding some larger and longer-term grants.
  • Include more reviewers of research proposals with policy and program experience. Give more weight to policy relevance in making project funding decisions. Continue stakeholder meetings. Have fellows and junior researchers work on approaches to problems designed with policymakers' help.
  • Prioritize research proposals that include training components.
  • Prioritize fellowship applicants from SSA and others from developing countries who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Include a former PopPov fellow on the selection committee. Include training on policy communication as part of PopPov fellowships.
  • Try to attract high-quality applications from African students and scholars. Bring African fellows to receive training in the United States or Canada and continue mentorship after returning home.
  • Continue PopPov conferences; have them focus more on findings than on methodology, and focus them more topic-wise. Continue poster sessions; enable more networking. Make clear each session's topic and target audience; publish conference proceedings. Have some discussants from outside the network. Hold a conference in the United States and at different times of year. Establish formal links with meetings of related groups.
  • Mention PopPov more prominently on the Population Reference Bureau website. Update the PopPov website and make it more appropriate for non-researchers. Make briefs more appropriate for policy audiences. Disseminate them broadly.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Fondation and was conducted by RAND Labor and Population.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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