Working Papers

Does Political Oversight of the Bureaucracy Increase Accountability? Field Experimental Evidence from an Electoral Autocracy 

How can consistently poor service delivery by governments in developing countries be improved? While a growing literature focuses on strengthening the accountability of politicians to voters, little research considers how politicians’ control over the bureaucracy influences service provision. In collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, I conducted a field experiment involving 2,800 government officials across 260 local governments. The objective of the intervention was to empower local politicians to exercise closer oversight over the local bureaucracy through the dissemination of highly disaggregated budgetary information and trainings about their mandate and rights. In a second treatment arm, these tools were also offered to politicians’ opponents in an attempt to stimulate political competition. I find that the intervention increased local politicians’ monitoring effort and the frequency with which they seek to improve service delivery, but only in areas where the political leadership is not aligned with the central government. Offering the tools to political opponents did not have a differential effect. In contrast to scholars who argue that insulating technocrats allows them to do their jobs more effectively with less corruption, these findings imply that increased oversight by local politicians has the potential to serve as counterbalancing force in the context of a captured bureaucracy.

Read the paper here. Preanalysis plan filed on the AEA registry (ID: AEARCTR-0000402). Supported by: The International Growth Centre and Hewlett Foundation. 

Meet the Candidates: Information and Accountability in Primaries and General Elections, with Melina Platas Izama.

How does the effect of information on voting behavior vary between intra- and interparty competitions? Primary elections are a critical process for candidate selection in many coun- tries, yet our knowledge of how voters make decisions in these intra-party contests is limited, especially in developing countries. We conduct a field experiment to explore how access to political information in the form of debates among parliamentary candidates influences voter knowledge and behavior in 480 polling stations in the 2015 party primary and 2016 general elections in Uganda, a country with a dominant ruling party. We find that watching candidate videos increased knowledge about candidates in both elections. While there was no average treatment effect on turnout in either election, those who received bad news about their intended vote choice relative to their priors, were more likely to stay home on election day in the general elections but not in the primary election. Third, we find that there were differences between primary and general elections in how voters made decisions about whom to vote for in light of the new information provided by the videos. Contrary to expectations, we find no evidence that good or bad news about candidates affected vote choice in either election. However, we find that in primary elections, voters in the treatment group were more likely to switch their vote to the candidate perceived as the best performer. This was not the case in the general election. In the general election, voters in the treatment group were, perhaps surprisingly, more likely to switch away from the ruling party and toward opposition candidates. We investigate several mechanisms underlying switching away from the ruling party. We suggest that watching candidate videos in an inter-party contest nudged voters with less strong party attachment to vote for the opposition.

This study is one of seven projects selected for funding by the EGAP (Experiments in Governance and Politics) Regranting Initiative, Cumulating Evidence on Political Accountability.

Supported by: EGAP Information and Accountability Metaketa Initiative, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and International Republican Institute/USAID. Read more about the project here. Read the preanalysis plan, filed on the EGAP registry (ID: 20150820AA).

News, Accountability, and Electoral Rules: The Impact of Media Markets on Local Accountability under Majoritarian and PR Rules in Germany

This paper examines the differential impact of media coverage on representatives’ behavior across different electoral systems. Taking advantage of an original data set on newspaper circulation, of exogenous variation in spatial congruence between media markets and constituencies, and of the mixed electoral system in Germany I answer two questions: First, what is the extent to which media coverage influences the roll call voting behavior of politicians? Second, how does this effect differ between systems of majoritarian and proportional representation (PR)? I find that a one unit increase in the level of congruence between media markets and constituencies decreases a direct MP’s propensity to vote in line with his/her party leadership by an average of 4 to 7 percentage points, while it has no effect on list MPs. I do not find an effect of congruence on absenteeism or committee membership. This paper makes two main contributions. First, it uses a new identification strategy to estimate the responsiveness of representatives elected through PR and majoritarian rules to media coverage. Second, it presents an original, highly disaggregated dataset on newspaper circulation and MP behavior in Germany.

Read the working paper here.

Fault Lines: How Citizens Assign Blame for  Failures in Public Good Provision, with Lucy Martin.

Assigning blame for failures in governance or public goods provision is a key step in the process by which citizens hold public officials accountable. In Uganda, responsibility for public goods provision is split between local elected and appointed officials. This project examines one key factor that can influence whether citizens perceive elected or appointed officials as more to blame for failures in governance: whether a bureaucrat is embedded in local social networks or whether he is an outsider from another district or ethnic group. Using a survey experiment of Ugandan citizens, we test whether a bureaucrat’s outsider status affects the probability that citizens blame an elected, as opposed to an appointed, official. We then use additional survey experiments to explore possible mechanisms for why these differences arise. Preliminary results suggest that citizens are less likely to blame bureaucrats who are not from the local area, potentially lowering bottom-up pressures for accountability of such officials – an intriguing finding considering existing evidence that removing bureaucrats from their home areas can increase top-down accountability.

Preanalysis plan filed on the AEA registry (ID: AEARCTR-0000767).

Work in Progress

Bottom-Up Accountability and Collective Action, with Daniel Posner and Doug Parkerson.

We conduct a scaled-up replication and extension of one of the most influential studies of social accountability, the “Power to the People” (P2P) intervention evaluated by Bjo ̈rkman and Svensson (2009). The P2P intervention aimed to improve local health care provision in rural Uganda by empowering community members to better monitor and sanction underperforming health care providers. Despite its limited power P2P generated striking results, including a 33% decline in under-5 mortality. Given these extremely large effects, the P2P study has received broad acclaim. The objective of this study is twofold. The first goal is to test whether P2P replicates. The second goal is to understand which part of the complex P2P intervention may have been responsible for its strong impact through a crosscutting design.

Supported by: Department for International Development (DfID). Read the registered preanalysis plan here.

Determinants of Public Good Allocations, with Guy Grossman and Molly Offer-Westort.

Community-Based Data Collection, with Dean Karlan and Margaret McConnell.

Development Economics

Mixed Method Evaluation of a Passive mHealth Sexual Information Texting Service in Uganda, with Julian Jamison and Dean KarlanInformation Technology & International Development 9(3). 

We evaluate the impact of a health information intervention implemented through mobile phones, using a clustered randomized control trial augmented by qualitative interviews. The intervention aimed to improve sexual health knowledge and shift individuals towards safer sexual behavior by providing reliable information about sexual health. The novel technology designed by Google and Grameen Technology Center provided automated searches of an advice database on topics requested by users via SMS. It was offered by MTN Uganda at no cost to users. Quantitative survey results allow us to reject the hypothesis that improving access to information would increase knowledge and shift behavior to less risky sexual activities. In fact, we find that the service led to an increase in promiscuity, and no shift in perception of norms. Qualitative focus groups discussions support the findings of the quantitative survey results. We conclude by discussing a potential mechanism explaining the counterintuitive findings.

Read the paper hereCoverage in Businessweek,  IRIN,  Yale Alumni Magazine and thoughtful blog posts by Karen Grepin, Melina Platas Izama, and Mike Miesen.

To Charge or Not to Charge: Evidence from a Health Products Experiment in Ugandawith Greg Fischer, Dean Karlan, Margaret McConnell. R&R at Journal of Development Economics. 

Pricing policy for any experience good faces a key tradeoff. On one hand, a price reduction increases immediate demand and hence more people learn about the product. On the other hand, lower prices may serve as price anchors and, through a comparison effect, decrease subsequent demand. This tension is particularly important for the distribution of health products in low-income countries, where free or heavily subsidized distribution is a common but controversial practice. Based on a model combining the learning aspect of experience goods with reference-dependent preferences, we setup a field experiment in Northern Uganda in which three health products differing in their scope for learning were initially offered either for free or for sale at market prices. In line with prior studies, when the product has potential for positive learning, we do not find an effect of free distribution on future demand. However, for products without scope for positive learning, we find evidence of price anchors: future demand is lower after a free distribution than after a distribution at market prices.

Read the working paper here.

Policy papers and reports

“Traditional Leaders, Service Delivery and Electoral Accountability”, in: Decentralization. Edited by Jonathan Rodden and Erik Wibbels. USAID. With Kate Baldwin

“Political Knowledge and Political Participation: Improving USAID Program Design and Evaluation”, with Thad Dunning and Daniel N. Posner

“Randomized Control Trials: A New Approach to Assessing Anti-Corruption Policies”, ACRN

“Local Governance in Uganda”, with Lucy Martin

“Capacity Building and Capacity Development – Concept and Theory”. Research Paper for the German Development Bank (KfW), with Stefan Kühl

“Implications of the Oil Price Hike on Fiscal Sustainability in Asia-Pacific”, UNDP Regional Center for Asia and Pacific, Colombo

“Contribution of the Service Sector to Growth and Poverty Reduction in Asia and the Pacific”, UNDP Regional Center for Asia-Pacific, Colombo.