Research

Working Papers

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

Poor governance is a key impediment to economic development. 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 financial 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 challengers did not have a differential effect. In contrast to scholars who argue that insulating bureaucrats 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. 

Fault Lines: The Effects of Bureaucratic Power on Electoral Accountability, with Lucy Martin.

This paper introduces a new explanation for why citizens may fail to vote based on government performance. We argue that when politicians have limited capacity to control bureaucrats, citizens will not know whether government performance is a good signal of the incumbent’s type. We develop a selection model of elections in which policy is jointly determined by a politician and a bureaucrat. When politicians have limited power over policy, elections perform poorly at separating good and bad types of incumbents. We test the model’s predictions using survey experiments conducted with nearly 9,000 citizens and local officials in Uganda. We find that citizens and officials allocate more responsibility to politicians when they are perceived as having more power than bureaucrats. The allocation of responsibility has electoral consequences: when respondents believe that bureaucrats are responsible for performance, they are less likely to expect that government performance will affect the incumbent’s vote share.

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

Meet the (Opposition) Candidates: How Information Can Overcome Partisanship in a Dominant Party Regime, with Melina Platas.

What is the role of partisanship in shaping voters’ response to information about candidates? Under what conditions does information about candidate quality induce voters to cross party lines? We conduct a field experiment to investigate how information in the form of debate-like candidate videos influences vote choice and turnout across intra- and inter-party parliamentary elections in Uganda, a quasi-democratic dominant party regime. We find that the effect of information on voter behavior is remarkably similar across the two types of elections: turnout is mildly depressed among voters who received bad news about the relative performance of their intended vote choice, and voters respond to new information about candidates by switching away from their intended vote choice. Surprisingly, we find that in the general election, voters respond to information by switching away from the ruling party and toward opposition candidates. We suggest that by providing credible information about the quality of opposition candidates – about whom there is relatively less information available in a dominant party regime – the intervention helped close the information gap between ruling party and opposition candidates, leading some voters to switch. The effect is driven by a subset of voters whose preferred candidate had lost the ruling party primaries. Thus, a combination of decreased loyalty to the ruling party and credible information about the opposition induced voters to cross party lines. Together, the evidence suggests that by providing information about all candidates, debate-like interventions can help level the playing field in dominant party regimes.

Read the paper here and the book chapter here.

This study is one of seven projects selected for funding by the first EGAP Metaketa Initiative on Information and Accountability.

Supported by: EGAP Information and Accountability Metaketa Initiative, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and International Republican Institute/USAID. 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 paper here.

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.

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, 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.