The danger of ignoring a ‘good story’

Last week, in a blog-post, David Evans (World Bank) talked of the danger of stories. Strikes me as slightly odd, especially given the context of the blog – surely not many readers of the WB blogs were non-conversant with the importance of rigorous research and good quality data? Of course, many of them are probably quant data-bhakts to a fault. So it is fine to caution researchers, implementers and policymakers not to be swayed by anecdotes. But in his post, David hardly makes a concession for good quality qualitative data. See Heather’s response here

So – ignoring a good story is dangerous. We can qualify what constitutes a ‘good story’ – but insisting that stories be ignored and only statistics be looked at is quite extreme. As David says in his blog:

“What do these stories miss? They miss that reality is messy and complicated. These stories miss, perhaps, that only a small fraction of beneficiaries experienced these benefits, or that the program only worked in certain contexts, or that not all handsewn decoration producers are equally effective entrepreneurs”

But this is just bad story-telling. This is the story-telling of a politician or an ideologue and not that of a rigorous researcher. And to be honest, these stories probably do as badly as talking only about statistical average treatment effects.

Any researcher who dismisses stories is being too harsh and if stories = qualitative data, being this dismissive about them just demonstrates a lack of rigour. So let’s not make decisions on stories alone. Let’s also please not make decisions on statistics alone – most importantly, when working on People, Spaces, Deliberation!

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