Spotlight: Ben Brockman (Senior Associate)
During your time at IDinsight, where have you been based and what kind of projects have you worked on?
I have worked in four very different countries with IDinsight across a range of sectors. I started in Cambodia, working with iDE on our first set of impact evaluations aimed at expanding access to improved sanitation facilities in rural areas. After 3 months there, I relocated to Zambia where I worked for two years on an impact evaluation with the Ministry of Health exploring ways to improve testing rates for infants exposed to HIV. Since August 2014 I have worked in several cities in India including Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, and our primary office in Patna. This work has included projects with LabourNet, an Acumen Fund investee company working in vocational training, and Educational Initiatives, an education social enterprise. Finally, I recently helped launch an impact evaluation in Nairobi, Kenya with two of Acumen Fund’s agriculture investee companies this spring.
What do you feel you have gained from working at IDinsight? What about the experience has been the most rewarding?
The most valuable part of my IDinsight experience has been the range of perspectives I have received. In Zambia I was fortunate to spend significant time in both rural health facilities and meeting with senior policy makers from the Ministry of Health to discuss the challenges they faced. It was interesting and useful being able to bridge both worlds – the policy makers rarely had the time to visit rural facilities and the front line health workers I worked with rarely had the ear of senior policy makers.
What’s are some specific things you feel that you’ve learned during your time working at IDinsight?
The most important thing I have learned is how to think critically about the validity of data collected and research results. If I am handed a spreadsheet of data for a new project, I immediately think about how the respondents were selected for data collection, how the data made its way into the spreadsheet, whether a subset of the data was validated, and a number of other items that would influence the validity and representativeness of the results. Before IDinsight, I would have dived in headfirst to the numbers with little regard for how they were produced. My experience with IDinsight has showed me how important understanding these nuances are to get to good “data-driven” policy recommendations.
How do you like to spend your free time? What would your “perfect weekend” look like?
I have spent a sizable amount of my free time the last three years exploring the areas surrounding our work. It’s hard not to when Victoria Falls, Angkor Wat, or the Taj Mahal are only a weekend trip away. I have also enjoyed traveling off the beaten track, visiting places like Lake Malawi (in Malawi) and Kasanka National Park in Zambia, home to the world’s largest annual bat migration.
When not off on an adventure, I generally enjoy low key weekends with occasional pick-up sports and good food. In Zambia I enjoyed many a weekend playing Ultimate Frisbee on Sunday mornings, followed by a relaxing afternoon with good coffee, a bagel, a few board games and a good book.
What’s your favorite book that you’ve read this year?
“Wiser” by Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie
IDinsight has gotten me interested in behavioral economics and decision making psychology. Wiser examines how groups of smart, well-intentioned people sometimes come together to make decidedly stupid decisions and how to prevent it. It seemed pretty relevant to our line of work.
What do you plan to do next after your time at IDinsight? What from your IDinsight experience helped prepare you for this opportunity?
I will be leaving IDinsight after three years this summer and will be enrolling in the Master in Public Administration of International Development (MPA/ID) program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the fall. My time at IDinsight has provided me with an excellent primer in how the policy making process works in different governments and also how outside organizations (funders, NGOs, etc) can contribute to the process. It has also prepared me for a quantitatively intense program in economics and statistics.