I have a few hypotheses:
1) In academia, people usually either get paid for their labour or get co-authorship. I suspect most people doing meta-analyses use the pay-full-time-RAs model. That would be very expensive. We’re mostly using the participatory approach.
Our being able to use the participatory approach might be partially due to the state of the economy, or probably more relevantly to development being a sexy field for young people, and one in which there is no money in general.
I suspect there may be some stickiness in which the older guard assumes it needs to pay and the younger guard isn’t credentialed to do it by itself.
2) Perhaps more typically a meta-analysis comes about when a couple of researchers get really interested in a topic and realize the publication returns to doing a particular analysis would be high. Then they might be able to find volunteer labour for it, but they would still only be doing that one meta-analysis.
Here, the “one topic” necessarily involves many alternative aid programs. I personally have no qualms about doing unsexy research — and meta-analyses are usually not sexy — so doing multiple meta-analyses is not a death knell for me. Nor does it seem unfeasible to me from a coordination perspective.
I actually think there’s a strong individual interest component to this project happening now. The topic is interesting enough to me personally that I’m willing to coordinate, and the topic is interesting enough to others personally that they’re willing to collaborate. This is not a satisfying answer because it begs the question: why wasn’t it interesting enough to people before that they could resolve the coordination problem? But I do think it’s partially heterogeneous preferences. I don’t think coordination costs have changed much, except insofar as the idea that this is how things are done is perhaps more prevalent. Data have also improved substantially over the last few years.
And we’re also moving to a world in which we’re more networked and online, at least the young, university-educated folks. The whole project is a bit crowdsourced (though we can’t fully implement it on nothing yet). I wonder if you will see this kind of model more and more.
The short answer: we’re all Millennials (barely, in my case). Maybe you need Millennials old enough to have an education. What will Millennials with Bio PhDs do?
I could easily be missing some part of the story — would be interested in your thoughts!
Thanks again for the interesting question; it was a pleasure to contemplate. Hope that you can support (promote?) the cause! We don’t have much time left!
P.S. If anyone is offended, thinking it’s interesting enough to them personally and yet they’re not involved — great, get in touch!