How random selection of beneficiaries can promote transparency
A few months ago, together with a team of IDB Specialists and government officials from Bolivia’s Ministry of Environment & Water (MMAYA), we arrived to Sica Sica, a municipality located in La Paz Department, to supervise a random selection of communities through a public draw. The “lottery” would select 12 of 25 eligible communities in the municipality that would benefit from a water and sanitation program (BO-L1065) funded by IDB and the Spanish Cooperation Fund.
The municipality of Sica Sica, located half-way between the cities of La Paz and Oruro, was the first of twentyone muncipalitites in which a random selection methodology would be applied.
The random selection was part of an impact evaluation design designed to identify the effect of water and sanitation interventions on children’s health and women’s time use, among other indicators. Random selection of beneficiary communities would guarantee experimental assignment to treatment and control groups, thus ensuring a proper counterfactual to estimate what would have happened in the absence of the project.
Random assignment can be achieved in two different ways: i) in the office, when potential beneficiaries do not participate in the public “lottery”; or ii) in the field, publicly, when beneficiaries do participate in the selection process.
In conversations with Bolivian government officials, we originally proposed to conduct the selection through the first mechanism. We argued that this would accelerate the process and avoid any type of conflict associated with negative reactions related to who would benefit and who would not. Who would ever imagine bringing a bingo cage to a rural community?
MMAYA officials did not accept our proposal. “If we want to do this properly, we need to publicly engage community leaders and local authorities” they claimed. We agreed to their terms.
Pilot arrangements for the draw included conversations and coordinated actions with Sica Sica Mayor and the 25 community leaders to explain the dynamics of the draw. Even with all these preparations and preventive activities, we were still uncertain about the process and how those not selected as beneficiaries would react.
We were wrong again. Community members received us with singing, confeti (a bolivian tradition in rural areas) and a performing music band that showed us the way to the main square where the public draw would take place. At the square, they had set up a stage from which local authorities and MMAYA officials would coordinate an open process where anyone could see what was going on.
When the band stopped playing, the mayor addressed the audience with the following words:
“Dear fellow companions, the municipality of Sica Sica has changed. Things are no longer like they used to be. Today, with you all, we will select (beneficiaries) in a transparent manner, without the Mayor or the Municipal Council selecting the beneficiaries according to their preferences.”
Those words set up the tone of what was to come, a thorough defense of random assignment through public lottery as a just and equal mechanism to allocate program resources.
As a start for the lottery all 25-community names were read out loud. Under the supervision of a public notary, all name tags were folded and put inside a plastic case. Every community leader was invited to draw a tag from the basket as a part of the draw.
As communities were taken out of the case and their names read out loud, the notary registered the order in which the communities were selected. The first 12 communities to be drawn would benefit from the program. If for some reason the community #12 would no longer be part of the program, then the next one in line, community #13, would be its replacement (and so on and so forth).
The process went on as planned. At the end of the draw, which lasted about an hour, you could naturally perceive some frustration in the faces of those community leaders who were not selected as beneficiaries.
However, as we held informal conversations with them, they all acknowledged the importance of choosing beneficiaries in an open and transparent way. All communities had the same probability of being assigned to the program, regardless of the political color or their proximity to local, state or national authorities.
The public draw to select beneficiary communities was held in the rest of the municipalities that were part of the program. In all of them the draw was conducted in a similar manner, with every community leader participating in the process.
This random selection methodology has not only allowed us to conduct an impact evaluation design that will provide important inputs for policy making in the country. It has also shown Mayors in Bolivia a powerful mechanism to choose beneficiaries in the best possible way.
Sica Sica definitely changed that day.