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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

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Youth Savings: How many research methods does it take to test an innovation?

A popular type of joke asks: “How many [insert a target group] does it take to change a lightbulb?” The punchline of the joke usually answers that it takes multiple members of the target group to change the lightbulb. The implication is that the target group is inefficient or incompetent, because in reality it only takes one person to carry out the task.

In a similar vein, one might ask, “How many research methods does it take to test an innovation?” But here it really does take more than one method to fully understand a situation and complete the task.  As intervention researchers, we use multiple methods to address key questions:
  • “Who?”
  • “What?”
  • “How?” and
  • “Why?”
Accordingly, the Center for Social Development (CSD) has employed three research methods to answer multiple interrelated questions in YouthSave, a multi-method research and learning initiative designed to test and evaluate youth specific savings interventions. The first is a highly rigorous randomized experiment that leads intervention research to critical evidence about “what” the outcomes of an innovation are. YouthSave’s experimental approach offers unique insight into how the offering of a savings account tailored to youth may lead not only to better savings performance, but also to positive impacts on youth education and health.

The second research method employed in YouthSave is what we call the savings demand assessment (SDA). This method generates rich financial institution transaction data that sheds light on “who” and “how” socio-demographic characteristics of youth explain trends in the uptake and use of the savings account. For example, the SDA is designed to allow the research team to answer questions such as “how” observed trends in youth deposits and withdrawals vary by gender, age, or locality.

Other methods, such as in-depth interviews and focus groups, enable reflection on “why” an intervention worked or did not work by gathering input directly from the youth involved. It's important to dig into this qualitative data to understand the “why.” For example, in one particular case, youth who learned about accounts through mass media saved more in the first 6 months of account holding, which might discount the efforts of financial institutions’ outreach to schools. Yet when asked, the low-income youth who opened an account discussed how they would not have been able to participate if the financial institution had not come to their school.

All of this underscores the importance of employing multiple methodologies to obtain a full, accurate, and nuanced picture of realities in the field.  These three broad research methods, while designed to answer specific questions about who, what, how, and why, are mutually supportive, with one set of data complementing another.  Together, this enables clearer understanding of the impact of savings on youth education and health.

We invite you to join CSD and University of North Carolina researchers in a workshop session at the 2014 SEEP Network Annual Conference to learn more how different research methods can be used to test market-based financial inclusion and asset building solutions.

Join us in September and learn more about these research innovations - Register Now!

YouthSave: Created in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, YouthSave investigates the potential of savings accounts as a tool for youth development and financial inclusion in developing countries by co-designing tailored, sustainable savings products with local financial institutions (FIs) and assessing their performance and development outcomes with local researchers. The project is an initiative of the YouthSave Consortium led by Save the Children (SC) in partnership with the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University in St. Louis, the New America Foundation, and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP). Research partners (RPs) in the field include Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana, Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), and New ERA in Nepal.

Lissa Johnson is Director of Administration for the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University in St. Louis. She manages CSD’s research projects in asset-building, financial capability, and civic service, and currently leads the YouthSave Savings Demand Assessment. David Ansong is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is currently co-Principal Investigator for YouthSave’s large scale experiment in Ghana. Michael Sherraden is the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor and founding director of the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University. Li Zou is the International Director at the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University, where she leads CSD’s work on international asset-building and the YouthSave Project.

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