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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.

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Working Paper
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June 19, 2015
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We study political economy responses to a large scale intervention in Bangladesh, where four sub-districts consisting of 100 villages (12,000 households) were randomly assigned to control, information or subsidy treatments to encourage investments in improved sanitation. In theory, leaders may endogenously respond to large interventions by changing their allocation of effort, and their constituents’ views about the leader may rationally change as a result. In one intervention where the leaders’ role in program allocation was not clear to constituents, constituents appear to attribute credit to their local leader for a randomly assigned program. However, when subsidy assignment is clearly and transparently random, the lottery winners do not attribute any extra credit to the politician relative to lottery losers. The theory can rationalize these observations if we model leaders’ actions and constituent reactions under imperfect information about leader ability. A third intervention returns to program villages to inform a subset of subsidy recipients that the program was run by NGOs using external funds. This eliminates the excess credit that leaders received from treated households after the first intervention. These results suggest that while politicians may try to take credit for development programs, it is not easy for them do so. Political accountability is not easily undermined by development aid.

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Working Paper
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May 13, 2015
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Some education policymakers focus on bringing down pupil–teacher ratios. Others argue that resources will have limited impact without systematic reforms to education governance, teacher incentives, and pedagogy. We examine a program under which school committees at randomly selected Kenyan schools were funded to hire an additional teacher on an annual contract renewable conditional on performance, outside normal Ministry of Education civil-service channels, at one-quarter normal compensation levels. For students randomly assigned to stay with existing classes, test scores did not increase significantly, despite a reduction in class size from 82 to 44 on average. In contrast, scores increased for students assigned to be taught by locally-hired contract teachers. One reason may be that contract teachers had low absence rates, while centrally-hired civil-service teachers in schools randomly assigned contract teachers endogenously reduced their effort. Civil-service teachers also captured rents for their families, with approximately 1/3 of contract teacher positions going to relatives of existing teachers. A governance program that empowered parents within school committees reduced both forms of capture. The best contract teachers obtained civil service jobs over time, and we estimate large potential dynamic benefits from supplementing a civil service system with locally-hired contract teachers brought in on a probationary basis and granted tenure conditional on performance.

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Published Paper
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December 09, 2014
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We study a government program in Uganda designed to help the poor and unemployed become self-employed artisans, increase incomes, and thus promote social stability. Young adults in Uganda’s conflict-affected north were invited to form groups and submit grant proposals for vocational training and business start-up. Funding was randomly assigned among screened and eligible groups. Treatment groups received unsupervised grants of $382 per member. Grant recipients invest some in skills training but most in tools and materials. After four years, half practice a skilled trade. Relative to the control group, the program increases business assets by 57%, work hours by 17%, and earnings by 38%. Many also formalize their enterprises and hire labor. We see no effect, however, on social cohesion, antisocial behavior, or protest. Effects are similar by gender but are qualitatively different for women because they begin poorer (meaning the impact is larger relative to their starting point) and because women’s work and earnings stagnate without the program but take off with it. The patterns we observe are consistent with credit constraints.

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May 31, 2014

Retrospective voting models assume that offering more information to voters about their incumbents’ performance strengthens electoral accountability. However, it is unclear whether incumbent corruption information translates into higher political participation and increased support for challengers. We provide experimental evidence that such information not only decreases incumbent party support in local elections in Mexico, but also decreases voter turnout and support for the challenger party, as well as erodes partisan attachments. While information clearly is necessary to improve accountability, corruption information is not sufficient because voters may respond to it by withdrawing from the political process. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for studies of voting behavior.

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Published Paper
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May 01, 2014
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In 2013 IPA celebrated ten years of producing high-quality evidence about what works, and what does not work, to improve the lives of the poor. It was a year of celebration for our accomplishments. More so, it was a time to prepare our organization for the next phase as we continue to pursue our vision of a world with More Evidence and Less Poverty.

 

View an online version of the report at annualreport.poverty-action.org/2013annualreport/

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Annual Report
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September 01, 2013
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There is growing interest in using messaging to drive prosocial behaviors, which contribute to investment in public goods. The authors worked with a leading nongovernmental organization in Peru to randomize nine different prorecycling messages that were crafted on the basis of best practices, prior evidence, and theories of behavioral change. Different variants emphasized information on environmental or social benefits, social comparisons, social sanctions, authority, and reminders. None of the messages had significant effects on recycling behavior. However, reducing the cost of ongoing participation by providing a recycling bin significantly increased recycling among enrolled households.

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Working Paper
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July 01, 2013
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Are minorities treated differently by the legal system? Systematic racial differences in case characteristics, many unobservable, make this a difficult question to answer directly. In this paper, we estimate whether judges differ from each other in how they sentence minorities, avoiding potential bias from unobservable case characteristics by exploiting the random assignment of cases to judges. We measure the between-judge variation in the difference in incarceration rates and sentence lengths between African-American and White defendants. We perform a Monte Carlo simulation in order to explicitly construct the appropriate counterfactual, where race does not influence judicial sentencing. In our data set, which includes felony cases from Cook County, Illinois, we find statistically significant between-judge variation in incarceration rates, although not in sentence lengths.

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Published Paper
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June 01, 2012
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Despite their importance, there is limited evidence on how institutions can be strengthened. Evaluating the effects of specific reforms is complicated by the lack of exogenous variation in institutions, the difficulty of measuring institutional performance, and the temptation to "cherry pick" estimates from among the large number of indicators required to capture this multifaceted subject. We evaluate one attempt to make local institutions more democratic and egalitarian by imposing participation requirements for marginalized groups (including women) and test for learning-by-doing effects. We exploit the random assignment of a governance program in Sierra Leone, develop innovative real-world outcome measures, and use a preanalysis plan (PAP) to bind our hands against data mining. The intervention studied is a "community-driven development" program, which has become a popular strategy for foreign aid donors. We find positive short-run effects on local public goods and economic outcomes, but no evidence for sustained impacts on collective action, decision making, or the involvement of marginalized groups, suggesting that the intervention did not durably reshape local institutions. We discuss the practical trade-offs faced in implementing a PAP and show how in its absence we could have generated two divergent, equally erroneous interpretations of program impacts on institutions.

Published paper version available here.

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Published Paper
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April 01, 2012
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A quota system for female village leaders in India changed perceptions of women’s abilities, improved women’s electoral chances, and raised aspirations and educational attainment for adolescent girls.

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Brief
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April 01, 2012
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Institutions in developing countries, particularly those inherited from the colonial period, are often thought to be subject to strong inertia. This study presents the results of a unique randomized trial testing whether these institutions can be reformed through incremental administrative change. The police department of the state of Rajasthan, India collaborated with researchers at US and Indian universities to design and implement four interventions to improve police performance and the public’s perception of the police in 162 police stations (covering over one-fifth of the State’s police stations and personnel): (1) placing community observers in police stations; (2) a freeze on transfers of police staff; (3) in?service training to update skills; and (4) weekly duty rotation with a guaranteed day off per week. These reforms were evaluated using data collected through two rounds of surveys including police interviews, decoy visits to police stations, and a large-scale public opinion and crime victimization survey—the first of its kind in India. The results illustrate that two of the reform interventions, the freeze on transfers and the training, improved police effectiveness and public and crime victims’ satisfaction. The decoy visits also led to an improvement in police performance. The other reforms showed no robust effects. This may be due to constraints on local implementation: The three successful interventions did not require the sustained cooperation of the communities or the local authorities (the station heads) and they were robustly implemented throughout the project. In contrast, the two unsuccessful interventions, which required local implementation, were not systematically implemented.

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Working Paper
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March 01, 2012
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Can cash transfers promote employment and reduce poverty in rural Africa? Will lower youth unemployment and poverty reduce the risk of social instability? We experimentally evaluate one of Uganda's largest development programs, which provided thousands of young people nearly unconditional, unsupervised cash transfers to pay for vocational training, tools, and business start-up costs. Mid-term results after two years suggest four main findings. First, despite a lack of central monitoring and accountability, most youth invest the transfer in vocational skills and tools. Second, the economic impacts of the transfer are large: hours of non-household employment double and cash earnings increase by nearly 50% relative to the control group. We estimate the transfer yields a real annual return on capital of 35% on average. Third, the evidence suggests that poor access to credit is a major reason youth cannot start these vocations in the absence of aid. Much of the heterogeneity in impacts is unexplained, however, and is unrelated to conventional economic measures of ability, suggesting we have much to learn about the determinants of entrepreneurship. Finally, these economic gains result in modest improvements in social stability. Measures of social cohesion and community support improve mildly, by roughly 5 to 10%, especially among males, most likely because the youth becomes a net giver rather than a net taker in his kin and community network. Most strikingly, we see a 50% fall in interpersonal aggression and disputes among males, but a 50% increase among females. Neither change seems related to economic performance nor does social cohesion - a puzzle to be explored in the next phase of the study. These results suggest that increasing access to credit and capital could stimulate employment growth in rural Africa. In particular, unconditional and unsupervised cash transfers may be a more effective and cost-efficient form of large-scale aid than commonly believed. A second stage of data collection in 2012 will collect longitudinal economic impacts, additional data on political violence and behavior, and explore alternative theoretical mechanisms.

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Working Paper
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December 01, 2011
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To the extent that students benefit from high-achieving peers, tracking will help strong students and hurt weak ones. However, all students may benefit if tracking allows teachers to better tailor their instruction level. Lower-achieving pupils are particularly likely to benefit from tracking when teachers have incentives to teach to the top of the distribution. We propose a simple model nesting these effects and test its implications in a randomized tracking experiment conducted with 121 primary schools in Kenya. While the direct effect of high-achieving peers is positive, tracking benefited lower-achieving pupils indirectly by allowing teachers to teach to their level.

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Published Paper
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October 01, 2011
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How can new democracies and societies emerging from conflict encourage tolerance and dialogue, strengthen conflict resolution systems, and increase understanding of human rights? 

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Brief
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September 01, 2011
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The World Bank and other donors dedicate sizeable portions of their portfolios to community driven development (CDD) projects, yet until recently there has been little rigorous evidence regarding the efficacy of this approach. By emphasizing local participation in and control over project implementation, CDD has come to be seen as an efficient and accountable mechanism to deliver local public goods. But CDD aims to do much more than this. Through intensive, long term facilitation, CDD aims to strengthen local institutions, make them more democratic and inclusive of marginalized groups, and enhance the capacity of communities to engage in collective action. This evaluation tests the extent to which CDD achieved these goals in Sierra Leone.

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Report
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July 01, 2011

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