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Public Works Programmes: How effective are Public Works Programmes in stimulating local economic transformation in Low- and Middle-Income Countries? A Systematic Review

What do we want to know?

This systematic review summarises and amalgamates the available evidence on how effective are public works programmes (PWPs) in stimulating local economic transformation in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). The research also aimed to summarise the factors responsible for improving or reducing the efficacy of PWPs on local economic transformation in LMICs and if community involvement in PWPs improve the effectiveness of the programmes on local economic transformation in LMICs.

Why it is important to know and for whom?

The systematic review provides information on the different PWPs in LMICs globally. The public works programmes looked in this review are MGNREGS and Cash transfer programmes. . This is designed to assist the policymakers and researchers in assessing the evidence of effectiveness of public works programs in stimulating local economic transformation in LMICs.

What did we find?  

The findings of the systematic review are from 88 research studies. The evidence from the review suggests that public works programmes have played a major role in people empowerment, gender empowerment, financial security, food security, improvement in the nutrition and so on. There were 64 studies answering the first research question ‘How effective are PWPs in stimulating local economic transformation in LMICs?’ The analysis from two programmes implemented in LMICs is considered to answer this question, rural employment programme and Cash transfers program. MGRNEGA is one  of the widely implemented rural implemented programme. The analysis from the quantitative data shows an average increase of 11.19% increase in income, 38.12% increase in savings, 54.64% in employment, 5.85% increase in education expenditure and 177.34 Kcal/capita/day increase in nutrition intake after the implementation of MGNREGS contributing to the local economic transformation. Narrative synthesis suggests that after the implementation of MGNREGA, rural population has achieved economic empowerment with an increase in household income, consumption expenditure, food security, and increased self-confidence.

The meta-analysis from the Cash transfers programme shows an average increase of 19.31% increase in house hold income after the implementation of Cash transfers in various countries. Narrative synthesis also suggests an increase in consumption and income of families, increase in quality of food intake, consumption expenditure, earnings, and empowerment of women by improving their decision making and spending ability.

The second objective of the systematic review was to find out the factors which improve or reduce the efficacy of public works programmes on local economic transformation in LMICs.  Among the twenty two studies describing cash transfer programmes across Latin America, Africa and Asia, only two studies suggested factors which improved the efficacy of the cash transfer programmes. Out of the sixty five studies discussing effectiveness of MGNREGA in India, seven studies explained the factors improving the efficacy of PWP on local economic transformation. The factors responsible for improving the efficacy of programme on local economic transformation are: Women participation in the programme, Grievance redressal mechanism and Provision of off-seasonal employment. The factors responsible for reducing the efficacy of MGNREGA programme on local economic transformation are as follows: Corruption, Financial mismanagement, Administrative mismanagement, Low knowledge and awareness of the programme, Lack of worksite facilities and Non-availability of regular works.

There were four studies which exclusively explained the role of community participation in PWPs improving the effectiveness of the programmes on local economic transformation in LMICs. The studies suggest an increased participation and employment for backward communities (SCs, STs) in MGNREGA. MGNREGA led to increase in income and savings habit of the participants. The programme led to reduction in distress migration post-MGNREGS implementation. The evidence for improved food and nutritional security and better consumption among them was also provided by the studies on community participation. The positive predictors of community participation were cooperation in the community, enlistment, consultation while factors reducing the community participation in PWPs like selective participation, gatekeeping by local leaders and lack of interest within local community.

What are the conclusions?

This report is based on the evidence from the analysis of 88 studies from LMICs. The public works programmes included in this review are MGNREGS and Cash transfer programmes. The evidence from the review suggests that public works programmes have played a major role in people empowerment, gender empowerment, financial security, food security, improvement in the nutrition and so on. Although the programmes prove to be effective, there are some drawbacks such as corruption, financial mismanagement, local influence and political influence on implementation of these programmes.

How did we get these results?

The review used a standard systematic protocol to identify and retrieve published studies which is related to public work programmes currently operating in the LMICs and examines the effectiveness of all the interventions based on the research question. The study was conducted in 2 stages, the first stage was to look at the scope of the available material to carry out the systematic review.   A total of 88 studies from stage 1 and stage 2 were included for the analysis. Though there was significant heterogeneity of the study designs, meta-analysis was carried out wherever the data was available. Pooled estimate and I2 for the same is reported. Frame work synthesis was carried out to narratively synthesize the evidence from various study designs.

This report should be cited as:

Nair N.S, Venkatesh B.T., Bhageerathy R, Karan A, Unnikrishnan B., Sindhu S.U., Pundir P., Sebastian, A.M., Krishnan, J.B., Guddattu, V., Vijayamma, R., Das U., and Sequeria, S.M. (2017). Public Works Programmes: How effective are public works programmes in stimulating local economic transformation in low and middle income countries? A systematic review. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.

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