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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.

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Brief
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June 08, 2017
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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.

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Brief
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April 24, 2017
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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.

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Working Paper
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January 16, 2017
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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.

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October 31, 2016

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.

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October 26, 2016
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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.

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October 25, 2016
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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.

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October 03, 2016
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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.

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September 23, 2016
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Paving streets in marginalized neighborhoods in Mexico increased property values, allowing households to purchase more home appliances and vehicles and to invest more in home improvements.

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September 01, 2016
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We report the results of a randomized field experiment in the Philippines on the effects of two common anti-vote-selling strategies involving eliciting promises from voters. An invitation to promise not to vote-sell is taken up by most respondents, reduces vote-selling, and has a larger effect in races with smaller vote-buying payments. The treatment reduces vote-selling in the smallest-stakes election by 10.9 percentage points. Inviting voters to promise to “vote your conscience” despite accepting money is significantly less effective. The results are consistent with a behavioral model in which voters are only partially sophisticated about their vote-selling temptation.

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August 19, 2016
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State capacity to provide public services depends on the motivation of the agents recruited to deliver them. We design an experiment to quantify the effect of agent selection on service effectiveness. The experiment, embedded in a nationwide recruitment drive for a new government health position in Zambia, shows that agents attracted to a civil service career have more skills and ambition than those attracted to “doing good”. Data from a mobile platform, administrative records, and household surveys show that they deliver more services, change health practices, and produce better health outcomes in the communities they serve.

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July 05, 2016
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We elicit sitting politicians' preferences over two attributes of local public goods, opportunities for targeting and control of discretionary funding, by conducting an incentive-compatible choice experiment with 179 elected county councilors in rural Kenya. In our experiment, local politicians choose between different public goods packages that vary across two dimensions: whether or not the politician is able to target the good to the location of his choice, and whether he controls the discretionary funding associated with the project. Local officials put a high premium on opportunities for geographic targeting, but not on the ability to control the associated discretionary funding; local officials are particularly uninterested in controlling the funding mechanism (and taking on the associated maintenance responsibilities) when they are able to choose the public good's location. Decisions about where to install the public good suggest a combination of motives: councilors choose locations that generate relatively high social welfare, but favor locations in their home areas. Quantitative estimates suggest that users in one's home area count approximately twice as much as constituents who live further from the councilor.

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May 17, 2016
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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.

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May 05, 2016
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While improving government performance is a key challenge for state development, we still know little about what factors affect citizens' toleration of poor performance by government officials. This paper argues that taxation is a significant predictor of citizens' demands, detailing and formalizing a micro-level theory of how taxation affects citizens' preferences over accountability. By taking away earned income, taxation pushes loss-averse citizens below their reference point, increasing the utility citizens lose from non-accountable government behavior and making them more likely to enact costly sanctions against officials. Laboratory experiments, conducted in Uganda, find that in a single-shot game taxation increases citizens' willingness to punish leaders by 12% overall, and by 30% among the group who has the most experience paying taxes in Uganda. Additional experiments confirm that this effect is driven by the loss aversion mechanism, and a survey experiment demonstrates that taxation increases politically-active Ugandans' willingness to punish corruption.
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May 01, 2016
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Performance pay for tax collectors has the potential to raise revenues, but might come at a cost if it increases the bargaining power of tax collectors vis-a-vis taxpayers. We report the first large-scale field experiment on these issues, where we experimentally allocated 482 property tax units in Punjab, Pakistan into one of three performance-pay schemes or a control. After two years, incentivized units had 9.4 log points higher revenue than controls, which translates to a 46 percent higher growth rate. The scheme that rewarded purely on revenue did best, increasing revenue by 12.9 log points (64 percent higher growth rate), with little penalty for customer satisfaction and assessment accuracy compared to the two other schemes that explicitly also rewarded these dimensions. The revenue gains accrue from a small number of properties becoming taxed at their true value, which is substantially more than they had been taxed at previously. The majority of properties in incentivized areas in fact pay no more taxes, but instead report higher bribes. The results are consistent with a collusive setting in which performance pay increases collectors’ bargaining power over taxpayers, who either have to pay higher bribes to avoid being reassessed, or pay substantially higher taxes if collusion breaks down.

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August 01, 2015

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