Politicians shirk when their performance is obscure to constituents. We theorize that when politician performance information is disseminated early in the electoral term, politicians will subsequently improve their performance in anticipation of changes in citizens’ evaluative criteria and possible challenger entry in the next election. However, politicians may only respond in constituencies where opposition has previously mounted. We test these predictions in partnership with a Ugandan civil society organization in a multiyear field experiment conducted in 20 district governments between the 2011 and 2016 elections. While the organization published yearly job duty performance scorecards for all incumbents, it disseminated the scorecards to constituents for randomly selected politicians. These dissemination efforts induced politicians to improve performance across a range of measures, but only in competitive constituencies. Service delivery was unaffected. We conclude that, conditional on electoral pressure, transparency can improve politicians’ performance between elections but not outcomes outside of their control.
In this chapter, we report a field experiment in Burkina Faso, which aimed to isolate the effects of information content from other channels of influence through which an information intervention could affect voting behavior. The experiment was carried out in 38 rural municipalities, prior to the 2016 municipal elections. These 38 municipalities had been controlled by the same party for the past two electoral cycles, since the first nationwide municipal elections in 2006. In our experiment, we presented 741 randomly selected study participants with detailed information about their previous municipal government’s performance along nine indicators of municipal service quality in the areas of health, primary education, water access, and civil services. These indicators reflected national standards for municipal services, i.e. widely accepted service delivery targets. Simultaneously, a control group of 752 study participants was presented merely with information about the indicators of municipal government performance, without any information on the actual performance of their previous municipal government. Thus, our experiment varied study participants’ access to information about municipal government performance, but it held their knowledge of service delivery targets, as well as the method of information delivery, constant across the treatment and control conditions.
Past research suggests that improving citizen political knowledge and coordination can increase political participation and accountability and help channel grievances through democratic processes rather than conflict. A randomized field experiment in Peru demonstrates that civic education can sometimes have perverse effects on these outcomes. I find that civic education workshops reduce participation in the district’s “participatory budgeting” process and increase support for protest as a tool for sanctioning politicians. Although the intervention increases the initiation of recalls for poor-performing mayors, these mayors respond to the recall threat by further reducing their effort. Taken together the evidence suggests that improved information and coordination of local elites is not sufficient to improve government performance where it has previous lagged.
In Uganda, preliminary findings suggest watching video interviews of parliamentary candidates during party primary and multiparty elections increases knowledge about the candidates and increases the likelihood that voters change away from their intended vote choice on Election Day.
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.
In Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mali, 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 below offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the Francophone West African poor.
Distributing subsidized health products through existing health infrastructure could substantially and cost-effectively improve health in sub-Saharan Africa. There is, however, widespread concern that poor governance – in particular, limited health worker accountability – seriously undermines the effectiveness of subsidy programs. We audit targeted bednet distribution programs to quantify the extent of agency problems. We find that around 80% of the eligible receive the subsidy as intended, and up to 15% of subsidies are leaked to ineligible people. Supplementing the program with simple financial or monitoring incentives for health workers does not improve performance further and is thus not cost-effective in this context.
A Ugandan government program allowed groups of young people to submit proposals to start skilled enterprises. Among 535 eligible proposals, the government randomly selected 265 to receive grants of nearly $400 per person. Blattman et al. (2014) showed that, after four years, the program raised employment by 17% and earnings 38%. This paper shows that, rather than rewarding the government in elections, beneficiaries increased opposition party membership, campaigning, and voting. Higher incomes are associated with opposition support, and we hypothesize that financial independence frees the poor to express political preferences publicly, being less reliant on patronage and other political transfers.
Public expenditures on non-contributory pensions are equivalent to at least 1 percent of GDP in several countries in Latin America and is expected to increase. We explore the effect of non- contributory pensions on the well-being of the beneficiary population by studying the Pension 65 program in Peru, which uses a poverty eligibility threshold. We find that the program reduced the average score of beneficiaries on the Geriatric Depression Scale by nine percent and reduced the proportion of older adults doing paid work by four percentage points. Moreover, households with a beneficiary increased their level of consumption by 40 percent. All these effects are consistent with the findings of Galiani, Gertler and Bando (2016) in their study on a non-contributory pension scheme in Mexico. Thus, we conclude that the effects of non-contributory pensions on well-being in rural Mexico can be largely generalized to Peru.
Antipoverty programs in developing countries are often difficult to implement; in particular, many governments lack the capacity to deliver payments securely to targeted beneficiaries. We evaluate the impact of biometrically authenticated payments infrastructure (“Smartcards”) on beneficiaries of employment (NREGS) and pension (SSP) programs in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, using a large-scale experiment that randomized the rollout of Smartcards over 157 subdistricts and 19 million people. We find that, while incompletely implemented, the new system delivered a faster, more predictable, and less corrupt NREGS payments process without adversely affecting program access. For each of these outcomes, treatment group distributions first-order stochastically dominated those of the control group. The investment was cost-effective, as time savings to NREGS beneficiaries alone were equal to the cost of the intervention, and there was also a significant reduction in the “leakage” of funds between the government and beneficiaries in both NREGS and SSP programs. Beneficiaries overwhelmingly preferred the new system for both programs. Overall, our results suggest that investing in secure payments infrastructure can significantly enhance “state capacity” to implement welfare programs in developing countries.
This paper evaluates a policy intervention designed to attract good political candidates – competent and honest ones – to public service. Inspired by the idea that schooling can act as a screening mechanism, and that non-monetary status awards can be a cost-effective tool to incentivize individuals, we evaluate whether a leadership training workshop with performancebased awards can screen and incentivize good people to serve in public office. In the context of a randomized field experiment among aspirants for the village youth councils in the Philippines, we find that this policy intervention is effective in terms of attracting individuals with abovemedian measures of public service motivation, intellectual ability, integrity, and aspiration.
Public employment programs play a major role in the anti-poverty strategy of many developing countries, but their impact on poverty reduction could be attenuated or amplified by changes they induce in private labor market wages and employment. We estimate these general equilibrium effects using a large-scale experiment that randomized the roll-out of a technological reform, which significantly improved the implementation of India's public employment scheme, across 157 sub-districts of 60,000 people each. We find that this reform increased the earnings of low-income households by 12.7%, and reduced an income-based measure of poverty by 17.2% despite no increase in fiscal outlays on the program. These income gains were overwhelmingly driven by higher private-sector earnings (90%) as opposed to earnings directly from the program (10%). We find that improving implementation of the public employment scheme led to a 6.2% increase in private market wages for rural unskilled labor, a similar increase in reservation wages, and a 7.1% reduction in days without work. We find no evidence of changes in private employment, migration, or land use. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for general equilibrium effects in evaluating programs, and also illustrate the feasibility of using large-scale experiments to study such effects.
The “community-based development” approach may empower citizens and improve outcomes through three mechanisms: (1) an immediate direct effect of engaging citizens to decide how to allocate resources within the community-based development program, (2) an indirect effect on community organization that improves citizen engagement with other local institutions, and (3) an indirect effect on community organization that improves representation within centralized government structures. Using a randomized evaluation of a nongovernmental-organization-led CBD program in Ghana, we examine whether community-based development results in citizens’ empowerment to improve their socioeconomic well-being through these mechanisms. We find that the leadership training and experiences associated with community-based development translate into higher perceived quality of village leaders, but they simultaneously decrease contributions to collective projects outside the context of the community-based development program. In addition, although the process encourages more people to run for district-level office and results in more professional political representation, it does not increase aggregate levels of government investment in communities. Ultimately, we find that although the program led to changes in village-level and district-level leadership, it did not increase investment in public goods and did not improve socio-economic outcomes.
Poor public service provision and government accountability is commonplace in low-income countries. Although mobile phone–based platforms have emerged to allow constituents to report service deficiencies to government officials, they have been plagued by low citizen participation. We question whether low participation may root in low political efficacy to politically participate. In the context of a text message–reporting platform in Uganda, we investigate the impact of adding efficacy-boosting language to mobilization texts—(a) citizen name personalization and (b) politician encouragement— on citizens’ willingness to report service deficiencies to politicians via text messages. Both treatments, designed to increase internal and external efficacy, respectively, have a large, positive effect on participation. The results are driven by traditionally less internally efficacious constituents (females) and less externally efficacious constituents (those represented by opposition party members), respectively.