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Copenhagen Consensus Center


The Malawi National Planning Commission (NPC), with technical support from the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), and the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) were implemented the Malawi Priorities project across 2020 and 2021. The Project is a research and advocacy exercise to identify the most effective ways to address the nation’s challenges using the framework of cost-benefit analysis. The aim is to inform both short and long term development priorities for the country, acknowledging that there are insufficient resources to address all of Malawi’s challenges and that maximizing outcomes requires careful, evidence-based consideration of the costs and benefits of all policies. 


The project, ‘Malawi Priorities’, and its research agenda takes its starting point in the NPC’s existing research agenda, which is structured around the six thematic areas of Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Economic Development, Human Capital and Social Development, Sustainable Environment, Demography, Governance, Peace, and Security. The NPC’s research agenda predates the Malawi Priorities project and was developed by the Commission in September 2019 after extensive consultation with academics, think tanks, the private sector, and the government. Consequently, the Commission’s research agenda, prima facie, contains questions of national importance.

How were the prioritized areas chosen?

As a first step, Malawi Priorities drew questions from the NPC research agenda that could be answered using a cost-benefit methodology. Additional research questions were added based on input from NPC, an Academic Advisory Group (AAG) of leading scholars within Malawi, and existing literature, particularly previous cost-benefit analyses conducted by the Copenhagen Consensus Center. This process of identifying research questions for investigation generated a total of 38 potential research questions across all 6 thematic areas.

The research agenda was validated and prioritized by a Reference Group of 25 prominent, senior stakeholders from government, civil society and the private sector. The outcomes of the Reference Group exercise were used to inform which research questions to prioritize and which interventions to focus on within those 38 potential research questions. The validation process finished in July 2020. Yielding the following technical reports.

Agriculture: Commodity Exchange Reform · Agriculture: Exports · Agriculture: Irrigation · Child Marriage · Disaster Risk Reduction · Early Childhood Education · Family Planning · Fisheries  · Food Security · Governance · HIV Treatment and Prevention · Industrialization and Youth Employment · Land Compliance · Land Tilting · Malaria · Maternal and Neonatal Health · National Resource Management · Nutrition · Primary School Education · Transport · Utilities · Water Reliability

How were the solutions chosen?

Each research question was analyzed by a team of NPC and Copenhagen Consensus economists. The aim was to determine both short-term and long-term development priorities for the country, acknowledging that there are insufficient resources to address all of Malawi’s challenges and that maximizing outcomes requires careful, evidence-based consideration of the costs and benefits of all policies. To start the research process, the research team consulted with Malawi experts to identify the main barriers in the context and to get insights into possible solutions. After consulting with these experts, the research team conducted a thorough review of the academic and grey literature to identify or confirm the existing barriers and gaps in the education sector. This also included a review of the evidence base for the performance of interventions that have tried to address these gaps in similar contexts or within Malawi. 

The findings of these interviews and the literature reviews were summarized in the research plan, which was used to inform the development of a CBA model. The findings of the research plan and the CBA model are documented in the technical reports published on this website.

Both research teams used a number of criteria to screen and select a subset of interventions to include in the feasibility analysis. 

Sector expert priority

 The intervention is identified by sector experts as important and relevant to the local context. Experts can provide input through several channels: the Reference Group questionnaire, inferences from the NPC research agenda, the academic advisory group, and during individual interviews. Notably, while child marriage was not included in the NPC’s initial research agenda, it was later added to the agenda due to its recurring emergence in discussions with Secondary Education sector experts and in the Reference Group Questionnaire. 

High benefit-cost ratio or cost - effectiveness in similar previous research

The purpose of the Malawi Priorities project is ultimately to identify interventions for which benefits significantly outweigh costs. Based on the economic literature, particularly previous research conducted by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, benefit-cost ratios of above 15 are among the top quintile of BCRs across all interventions. Due consideration is given to contextual differences between previous research and the current situation in Malawi in determining the effect of this criterion.

Addresses a problem of sufficient size 

Some interventions can be considered highly effective but only address a small target population or part of a given problem, limiting the overall benefits of the approach. To avoid focusing on solutions that target only small sub-populations, each intervention must have the potential to be scaled and address a problem that is significant.

Significant gap in current levels of intervention coverage 

All analyses conducted for Malawi Priorities focus on marginal benefits and costs. Therefore, if an intervention already has high coverage rates, then additional resources provided towards that intervention might have reduced effectiveness or could suffer from the 'small-size' problem.

Availability of crucial data or credible knowledge of impact 

Due to time and resource constraints, all analyses conducted by Malawi Priorities are based on secondary data. No primary research, such as field experiments or trials, is conducted. Therefore, each intervention is constrained by the available data. In many cases, one key constraint is the lack of knowledge concerning the impact of a given intervention. It is typical to formally deal with uncertainty via sensitivity analyses. However, in some cases, the uncertainty is so great that it precludes the analysis of the intervention at all. 

The following table summarizes the intervention selection process and feasibility analysis of both teams. In total 21 interventions were identified and screened, with six being chosen for further cost-benefit analysis. Most interventions were screened out due to a lack of data.


11 Steps to a Strong Evidence Base: 

  1. The National Planning Commission’s Research Agenda provided a baseline of the foremost concerns impacting Malawi. 38 research questions were derived from 6 thematic areas that consist of the National Planning Commission’s research agenda.
  2. 24 reference group members were surveyed to validate the project’s research agenda that will inform the choice of research questions to investigate using a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) framework. The responses determined the top most 20 to 30 research questions of national importance for analysis using CBA to identify and promote interventions within Malawi that deliver the greatest economic, social and environmental impact per kwacha.
  3. Discussions were held with the Academic Advisory Group and Local Sector Experts to further nuance and finalize the research agenda. Some research questions were merged, while others were further broken down into specific components. In total 22 distinct streams of research emerged. 
  4. Key interventions were listed for investigation. These interventions were validated at regular biweekly meetings between the research team and the NPC. Where interventions were not locally available, international best practices were sought out, based on comparable parameters.
  5. Benefits and costs research by teams of top national, regional, and global economists; Presentation of research plans, initial findings, and data requests to relevant ministries and experts; Estimation of private,  public, and environmental costs, the cost of time, health, and all other factors now and in the future, using a common framework to ensure comparability. All kinds of benefits are estimated in the same way, using best available studies from Ghana or the region. 
  6. Discussions on the preliminary results between researchers and sector experts at the NPC and different ministries; Sector expert review and peer-reviews of draft papers and spreadsheets; Technical Reports and Policy Briefs across 22 streams of research and interventions.
  7. All value-for-money findings published for public viewing on the websites of the National Planning Commission; AFIDEP, and Copenhagen Consensus
  8. Targeted and layered dissemination of the findings takes place across multiple channels including: articles in leading national newspapers; media panels; policy dialogues held with key holder ministries; a policy workshop; and other outlets. 
  9. Policy integration initiatives take place, defining key entry points for the findings within Malawi's existing policy cycle, with the findings acting as a foundational evidence base. Inputs based on the findings are included for consideration in Malawi’s Annual Budget; the Malawi Vision 2063; Malawi’s Covid-19 Socio-Economic Recovery Plan; Malawi’s Covid-19 based Restrictions; the 10 year Implementation Plan, Malawi’s Family Planning 2030; and numerous presentations to Parliament and Parliamentary Groups.
  10. Integration of cost-benefit assessment within Malawi’s policy development cycle takes place through the development of a Capacity Building Program, through which participants are walked through the development of a cost benefit assessment on an issue of their choosing, related to their policy field. The program operates on a 5 week cycle, growing the number of participants and assessments conducted with each cycle. 
  11. Smart Solutions for Malawi