Individuals care about how they are perceived by others, and take visible actions to signal their type. This paper investigates social signaling in the context of childhood immunization in Sierra Leone. Despite high initial vaccine take-up, many parents do not complete the five immunizations that are required in a child’s first year of life. I introduce a durable signal - in the form of differently colored bracelets - which children receive upon vaccination, and implement a 22-month-long experiment in 120 public clinics. Informed by theory, the experimental design separately identifies social signaling from leading alternative mechanisms. In a first main finding, I show that individuals use signals to learn about others’ actions. Second, I find that the impact of signals varies significantly with the social desirability of the action. In particular, the signal has a weak effect when linked to a vaccine with low perceived benefits and a large, positive effect when linked to a vaccine with high perceived benefits. Of substantive policy importance, signals increase timely and complete vaccination at a cost of approximately 1 USD per child, with effects persisting 12 months after the roll out. Finally, I structurally estimate a dynamic discrete-choice model to quantify the value of social signaling.
In Sierra Leone, we have continued our global tradition of rigorous, applicable research by building foundational research capacity and conducting evaluations in areas of pressing national concern. Examples of our work described in this brief offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the poor in Sierra Leone.
This paper presents an experimental approach to measure competition in agricultural markets, based on the random allocation of subsidies to competing traders. We compare prices of subsidized and unsubsidized crop traders to recover the key market structure parameter in a standard model of imperfect competition. By combining the experimental results with quasi-experimental estimates of the pass-through rate, we also estimate market size, or the effective number of traders competing for farmers’ supply. In the context of the Sierra Leone cocoa industry, our results point to a competitive agricultural trading sector and suggest that the market size is substantially larger than the village. The methodology developed in this paper uses purely individual-level treatment to shed light on market structure. This approach may be useful for the many cases in which market-level randomization is not feasible.
In the coming decades, most of the poor will live in fragile states, yet rigorous evidence on how to build peace and stability is still limited. What helps communities heal and prosper after a crisis? How can peace and stability be maintained after war? IPA works with academics from top research institutions to generate evidence on how to facilitate peace and mitigate the negative social and economic impacts of conflicts and crises. We evaluate programs that aim to strengthen state capacities, prevent or reduce violence, or alleviate the fallout from crises ranging from health to natural to human-made. IPA works in fragile states and countries that have recently experienced conflict, violence, or disaster. IPA also collaborates with decision-makers to ensure that this evidence is both useful and implemented at scale.
Most wars today are civil wars, which divide countries along economic, ethnic or political lines. In many cases, these cleavages happen within communities, pitting one neighbor against another. The prevalence of civil wars has therefore spurred efforts to re-build social cohesion and promote social capital as a part of post-conflict recovery.
Truth and reconciliation processes are a common approach used across the world to promote this type of societal healing. These processes bring war victims face-to-face with perpetrators in forums where victims describe war atrocities, and perpetrators confess to war crimes without facing punishment. Proponents of reconciliation processes claim that they are highly effective – not only in rebuilding social ties among individuals and promoting societal healing, but also in providing psychological relief and aiding individual healing. Yet, there is little rigorous evidence of whether, and how, reconciliation processes help communities heal from conflict.
To shed light on this topic, researchers from New York University, Georgetown University and the World Bank partnered with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) to evaluate the impact of a community-level reconciliation program in Sierra Leone.
The results suggest that talking about war atrocities can prove psychologically traumatic by invoking war memories and re-opening old war wounds. The researchers conclude that reconciliation programs should to be re-designed in ways that minimize their psychological costs, while retaining their societal benefit.
Debates between candidates for public once have a rich historical tradition and remain an integral part of contemporary campaign strategy. There is, however, no definitive evidence of whether debates affect actual voting behavior. Limited media penetration implies that the effects of publicizing debates could be more pronounced, persistent and directly linked to electoral outcomes in the developing world. We experimentally manipulate citizen exposure to debates between Parliamentary candidates in Sierra Leone to measure their impacts on, and the interconnections between, voter behavior, campaign spending, and the performance of elected politicians. We find evidence of strong positive impacts on citizen political knowledge, policy alignment and votes cast on Election Day. We then document an endogenous response by participating candidates, who increased their campaign expenditure in communities where videotapes of the debates were screened in large public gatherings. A complementary series of individual treatment arms unpacks the different types of information delivered by the debates, and finds evidence that voters respond to both candidate charisma and "hard facts" about policy stance and professional qualifications. Lastly, we find longer term accountability effects on elected MPs, where participation in debates led to higher levels of constituency engagement and development expenditure during their first year in once.