Current Projects

Repairing Information Underload: The Effects on Vote Choice of Information on Politician Performance and Public Goods in Uganda (With Sarah Bush, Ryan Jablonski, Daniel Nielson, and Paula Pickering)

Democracy relies on citizens’ learning what officials do with the public’s trust and then rewarding good performance with longer tenure or punishing bad outcomes with ouster. But does this process work in low-information and semi-democratic environments? Can the process be improved through mobile technology?

To find out, we completed an innovative randomized control trial around the February and March 2016 Ugandan local elections, in which we audited local public services and compiled data on budget accountability and then transmitted information to citizens via SMS-text messaging in the run-up to local elections. To enhance salience, we transmitted information about public services that individuals stated they care most about in a baseline survey. The study will allow us to learn whether information information about budget accountability and public services transmitted via mobile phones causes an increase (or decrease) in votes for incumbents compared to placebo messages devoid of information about politician performance. We will also learn whether informed voters become more involved in the political process after receiving nonpartisan information via mobile phone.

This project is part of the inaugural EGAP Information and Accountability Metaketa.

Harnessing the Crowd to Improve Accountability for the Delivery of Solid Waste Services: A Randomized Field Experiment in Kampala, Uganda (With Jacob Skaggs and Daniel Nielson)

This randomized field experiment, implemented in Kampala, Uganda during 2015-2016, aims to generate reliable evidence about the provision, quality, and impact of citizen monitoring of public services. Governments around the world are building communication platforms to collect information from citizens to improve governance, especially about environmental conditions. Yet we know little about how communication technologies are changing citizen engagement with government agencies and to what effect. Existing research — which tends to be conceptual or descriptive — has provided little guidance about whether mobile technologies can enhance public engagement with governments by facilitating regular, high-quality, and useful monitoring of public services. This experimental study of citizen monitoring of solid waste services, completed in partnership with the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), is uniquely suited to answer foundational questions about citizen monitoring of public services. With visible solid waste services as the outcome of interest, we are able to verify the quality and timeliness of citizen monitoring and its impact on governance. We address the following questions: Under what conditions will citizens voluntarily report information about solid waste services? Under what conditions will information reported by citizens be timely, accurate, and frequent? Under what conditions will citizen monitoring of solid waste services overcome seemingly intractable governance problems?

This project is part of the AidData Research Consortium granting window. This project is also supported by a Hellman Family Fellowship.

Government Transparency and the Effectiveness of Environmental Regulation: A Field Experiment in China (With Sarah Anderson, Mengdi LIU, and Bing ZHANG)

In China, like many countries, transparency offers a promising pathway to better regulatory outcomes, particularly related to environmental management. When the public has more information about whether governments are succeeding or failing in regulation, the public is in a better position to seek stronger policies and better implementation and enforcement of existing regulations. Facing public pressure and potentially attention at higher levels of authority brought about by transparency, local governments might be more likely to effectively regulate high-polluting firms. In turn, facing more stringent regulatory effort, firms may be more likely to comply with laws and regulations or voluntarily reduce pollution in anticipation of public pressure. Additionally, transparency may improve coordination between local and national governments in regulation. Despite the promise of transparency for enhancing regulation, research on the causal effects of transparency is often inconclusive. Governments that perform well tend to be more transparent, which yields a strong association that might not be based on a causal relationship. The purpose of this research is to offer a strong test of the proposition that transparency by government enhances regulation.

While the treatments for this national-scale experiment were deployed in mid-2015, the details of this design are gated until 2018. Please email for further information.

Does Transparency Educate and Mobilize Citizens? A Field Experiment with Revenue-Sharing Funds in Bwindi National Park, Uganda (With Brigham Daniels and Colleen Devlin)

This randomized policy experiment in Bwindi National Park, Uganda offers a strong test of the proposition that transparency causes better governance. In cooperation with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, we test whether transparency in a national park revenue-sharing program promotes participation by residents in local governance, decreases funds lost to corruption, and improves the quality of community-level development projects. Although Bwindi National Park has long had a revenue-sharing program with frontline communities from the funds derived from gorilla tourism, many of the funds that are intended to benefit these communities are misdirected or misappropriated when they pass through local governments. We test whether providing residents with key information about the revenue-sharing program through their own mobile phones, including disbursement dates and amounts, proposed dates of implementation by local governments, and the contact information for responsible local officials, causes more funds to reach the intended beneficiaries. We also test whether this type of information drives participation in local governance and engagement in decision-making with park management.

To pursue this experiment, we collected the mobile phone numbers of approximately 4,000 local residents in all 98 frontline communities near Bwindi National Park. During the first year of this transparency program, which launches in March 2016, the residents of half of the communities are provided with information about the revenue-sharing program by SMS on their own mobile phone. We hypothesize that this information allows these residents to advocate for themselves with local governments and better engage with park management to affect local governance of natural resources. If the pilot program proves successful, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has plans to facilitate the rollout to all communities near Bwindi National Park and other protected areas in Uganda.

This project is supported by a UC Junior Faculty Fellowship, a UC Faculty Senate Award, and a seed grant from the Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research at UCSB. More recently, this project has been supported by the National Science Foundation.

Citizen Monitoring of Urban Waterways in Jiangsu, China (With Zhang Bing).

The major challenge of improving water quality in small urban waterways in China, like many other places in the world, is that they are currently managed as an open-access resource. There is neither monitoring of degradation of this collective resource, nor are there strong social or legal rules to prevent nonpoint source pollution of this resource. Because of the nonpoint nature of pollution in urban waterways and the lower priority they have received in government plans, the recovery of waterways might be boosted by (1) creating credible citizen monitoring of their quality; and (2) revealing public demand for remedial actions to improve quality to government. Since 2013, the Jiangsu Provincial government has planned to clean-up urban waterways. Social monitoring by citizens may help overcome information problems that result in open-access resource depletion and reveal citizen demand to speed progress toward goals. Our study involves the monitoring of urban waterways by volunteer citizens, who will be organized to take weekly measurements of water quality. We work with a partner, the Mochou Ecological Environmental Protection Association, to disseminate the results of citizen water quality monitoring to the public, to local government offices, or both as experimental conditions. We measure whether the dissemination of citizen monitoring information results in improved water quality during the study period.

The project is part of the EGAP Natural Resource Management Metaketa round.



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