Citizens in low-income countries are often unable to hold their government representatives accountable for the effective delivery of social services such as education and healthcare. Increases in mobile phone access present new opportunities for direct communication between citizens and government officials that may help governments respond to citizens’ needs more effectively.

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In parts of southern Africa, environmental pressure on the land from over-grazing has contributed to land and water shortages and made communities more vulnerable to drought. In Namibia, researchers are measuring the impact of a community-based natural resource management program on livestock assets, income, social cohesion and land quality.

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Governments must pay their employees for states to function, but frequent delays and leakage of salary payments can undermine government effectiveness. In partnership with the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan, researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation to study whether mobile salary payments (MSPs) improve learning by increasing teacher attendance and morale.

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Community-based development is an idea that has gained popularity among governments, practitioners, and funders, but evidence on its effectiveness outside of post-conflict contexts is limited. Researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to test the impact of community-based development on political participation, public goods provision, and individual well-being in Ghana.

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The government of Bangladesh is trying to strengthen local justice systems in rural areas by establishing close-to-home, low-cost village courts that adjudicated minor disputes between residents. Innovations for Poverty Action is working with researchers to evaluate the impact of the village court system on access to and quality of justice as well as socioeconomic outcomes.

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In theory, local government meetings provide important opportunities for citizens to be directly involved in decisions about important services that affect their daily lives. In practice, citizens can be disengaged from local governments, either because they are uninformed or because they do not believe their involvement is welcome or effective.

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Uganda land

Curbing deforestation in developing countries may be a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. Innovations for Poverty Action worked with researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of a payments for ecosystem services (PES) program, in which Ugandan landowners were paid not to cut forest trees on their property.

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Democratic accountability relies on performance-based voting, in which citizens vote based on candidates’ expected or previous performance. Yet, if citizens do not have this information, they cannot use it to inform their vote choices.

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Advances in payments technology have the potential to improve the efficiency of slow and corrupt public welfare programs. Researchers tested how Smartcards, which coupled electronic transfers with biometric authentication, affected the functioning of two government welfare schemes in India. They found that even though the new Smartcard system was not fully implemented, it resulted in a faster and less corrupt payments process without adversely affecting program access.

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Police forces in cities tend to focus their efforts on the highest-crime areas, but increasing state presence in the highest crime spots may simply displace crime to other areas, leaving overall crime levels unchanged. In Bogotá, Colombia, researchers partnered with the city to measure the impact of either concentrated policing, increased municipal clean-ups, or both on crime reduction and displacement.

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A rural community gathers in Sierra Leone

Truth and reconciliation programs have become a common approach for rebuilding social ties and promoting healing among communities in the aftermath of war, but little is known about these programs’ effectiveness. In Sierra Leone, researchers partnered with the local NGO Fambul Tok to evaluate the impact of a community-based reconciliation program.

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A tax collector reviews documentation from a citizen in Punjab, Pakistan

While performance pay for tax collectors has the potential to raise tax revenues, there is concern that it may also increase the bargaining power of tax collectors with respect to taxpayers, leading to greater taxpayer dissatisfaction. To examine these issues, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation of three different performance-based schemes in Punjab, Pakistan.

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Mobile health technologies have the potential to strengthen health systems by increasing transparency and accountability in those systems. In Uganda, researchers are partnering with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health to develop a mobile health (mHealth) accountability system and to evaluate its effectiveness in improving the delivery of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health services in Uganda.

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While political debates are often considered an integral part of campaign strategy, there is little definitive evidence on whether they affect how people vote. In Sierra Leone, researchers partnered with the civil society organization Search for Common Ground to evaluate how the dissemination of political information through debates impacts voter behavior, campaign spending, and the performance of elected politicians.

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There is little evidence to lend credence to or discredit the argument that development aid undermines political accountability. In Tanore district of Bangladesh, researchers tested the impact of providing external subsidies for sanitation projects on the behavior of local leaders and, subsequently, on constituents’ perception of their performance.

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