EASST’s Program Manager, Maya Ranganath, was recently featured on the NextBillion Blog. Her post, “Three Reasons for the African Research Gap – And How to Close It,” details the key reasons behind the lag in in sub-Saharan Africa’s research outputs and how EASST is narrowing this gap through targeted investments in East African researchers. Read the full post here.
By Alex Dobyan, Administrative Associate, CEGA
The Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE) is an international forum for academic researchers who combine deep field research experience in Africa with training in political economy methods. Founded in 2002, the group brings together faculty and advanced graduate students in Political Science and Economics who combine deep field research experience in Africa with training in political economy methods. The group meets semi-annually to discuss the work-in-progress of its regular members and invited guests. WGAPE is committed to incorporating African scholars into the network in order to create and build collaborative relationships, and falls under CEGA’s Global Networks portfolio.
Gaetan Tchakounte Nandong first heard of WGAPE through a course on elections at the African School of Economics taught by Professor Kim Dionne (Assistant Professor of Government at Smith College.) Dionne included a cutting-edge working paper in her syllabus-- Asunka et al.’s “Electoral Fraud or Violence: The Effect of Observers on Party Manipulation Strategies. As the paper hadn’t yet been published, this generated some skepticism of its merits among ASE students – but Dionne was able to point to the paper’s inclusion in a WGAPE meeting as a sign of the paper’s quality, despite it not yet being peer-reviewed. Through this, Gaetan grew interested in WGAPE, and resolved to submit a paper to the meeting. His first submission to WGAPE—a paper that developed a framework to explain absenteeism amongst public healthcare workers in Cameroon—was rejected.
But the news was not all bad. Gaetan still got to travel to Abu Dhabi for the Learning Days activities held before the WGAPE meeting, sponsored by Evidence in Government and Politics (EGAP) and the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS). For three days he and nine other African researchers learned about social science research methods; for Gaetan, randomization strategies proved most useful. However, he felt that the most valuable learning came outside the classroom, during meals and coffee breaks, where he found a group of kindred spirits – other promising researchers in African political economy from around the continent and world, along with a handful of more experienced faculty at major universities in the field.
The experience was so valuable that Gaetan resubmitted a paper to WGAPE’s national meeting at Berkeley this past June. This time, he tried a different approach, submitting a design for a new project on varying levels of entrepreneurship among different ethnic groups in Cameroon. As he describes it, “The Bamileke ancestral tradition for instance, contains particular features which according to anthropologists, explain the natives’ self-employment attitudes. Most of children in the Bamileke localities have their own part of the farm – they sell outputs and manage the income themselves. We therefore became interested in examining how traditions relate to entrepreneurship following these observations.” Gaetan and his co-author propose that pre-colonial institutions shaped the attitudes of Cameroonians in ways that persist to this day, and have designed an experiment that will recruit participants from across Cameroon to play economic games that will empirically test attitudes towards entrepreneurship among different groups.
This time, his research design was accepted, making Gaetan one of two African researchers to present at the meeting, and the only one based on the African continent. With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, WGAPE also sponsored five non-presenting African scholars to attend the meeting. Together, these seven scholars, including Gaetan, attended a training session conducted by EASST fellow Michael Mbate, the Annual Bank Conference on Africa, and a Research Transparency and Reproducibility Training sponsored by BITSS.
His research is on hold while he begins his graduate work at Princeton, but the WGAPE experience has stuck with him. “The feedback was very helpful for a novice researcher like me. It’s always a pleasure to have experienced researchers reading and commenting on your work.” Gaetan still keeps in touch with the researchers he connected with at WGAPE, seeking advice and trading comments on ongoing projects.
The BRAC-CEGA Learning Collaborative (BCLC) is a partnership between CEGA and BRAC that has the goal of institutionalizing rigorous impact evaluation within BRAC. Similar to EASST, BCLC builds capacity through hosting BRAC researchers as visiting fellows at UC Berkeley and funding collaborative research projects. The BCLC worked with BRAC Bangladesh from 2012 to 2015, and has been recently re-launched to work with BRAC International in Uganda with generous funding from the International Development Research Center (IDRC).
To keep up the momentum of the collaboration, BCLC launched a travel grant competition in the spring of 2017. The grant was designed to award CEGA faculty affiliates and their PhD students to visit BRAC field offices to develop new research projects, start new partnerships, or to bolster existing partnerships with BRAC. In the research sphere, face-to-face meetings catalyze the collaborative process, by building trust and initiating relationships that are difficult to forge virtually and across time zones-- it is hoped that these grants will lead to long-lasting collaborations.
The following post was written by Gregory Lane, who was awarded a travel grant to Bangladesh. Lane is a PhD student at UC Berkeley's Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics (ARE).
In late 2013, a team of UCB researchers (including Elisabeth Sadoulet, Alain de Janvry, and myself) began collaboration with BRAC Microfinance’s Research and Development Unit (RDU) on developing a new financial product. The goal was to produce a new tool that could be used to help clients effectively respond to unforeseen income shocks. The more traditional microfinance products already used by BRAC were too rigid to be used in this manner, as the institution requires full repayment of any previous loan before offering additional credit. After a year of consultation, we produced a product called the Emergency Loan. This new loan is a pre-approved, index-based credit product that is to be made available to qualified BRAC clients in the event of a flood (later to be expanded to other types of income shocks). Its purpose is to remove some of the downside risk arising from weather shocks, thus encouraging greater investment in productive, but risky technologies (high value crops), while also allowing faster recovery.
A full-scale evaluation of the Emergency Loan via an RCT began during the summer of 2016. However, during the first year of the experiment we encountered some administrative difficulties that limited the power of the experiment. Specially, in certain branches the Branch Manager did not spend enough time informing eligible clients when the loans were made available (i.e. when the floods had exceeded the pre-determined threshold). Furthermore, we found that BRAC’s Loan Officer incentives were not aligned with ensuring that clients had the opportunity to take an Emergency Loan. First, Loan Officers perceived the Emergency Loan as risky and they feared that lower repayment rates would reflect poorly on them. Second, Loan Officers were only directly incentivized to disburse traditional loans. In some situations, this caused Loan Officers to encourage clients to wait until a traditional loan became available rather than take an Emergency Loan right away. In all, these issues combined to reduce the number of loans that were actually disbursed.
To address these problems, I traveled to Dhaka in May 2017 with funding from the BRAC-CEGA Travel Grant to work with BRAC’s RDU to implement changes for the second year of the experiment. Together, we agreed to implement several adjustments. First, both Branch Managers and Loan Officers would have Emergency Loan disbursals count towards their yearly incentives for loans disbursed. Second, a memo was distributed to all branches that management would not weigh delinquent Emergency Loans as heavily in the evaluation criteria for each Loan Officer and Branch Manager. Third, we informed branches that there would be regular in-person check-ins from the head office management to ensure that clients were well informed about their eligibility and that after a flood all eligible clients were notified about the loan activation. Together it is hoped that these changes to the incentive structure will ensure that every eligible BRAC client would have the opportunity to take an Emergency Loan should the need arise.
During this time in Dhaka, we also began discussions on possible future collaborations between UCB and BRAC’s RDU. In particular, we explored the possibility of examining the effects of bKash (a mobile money platform) integration with BRAC’s microfinance operations, a process that will begin in the coming years. The project would examine how this integration changes participation in microfinance, savings rates, and overall portfolio health.
EASST seeks to train researchers in rigorous impact evaluation methods with the ultimate goal of producing high-quality, locally-generated evidence for policymaking. Impact Evaluations are often considered the most effective way to show causal links between a program and its effects on populations. However, there remain several debates on how findings from an impact evaluation in one context can be successfully translated to another context.
J-PAL’s Mary Ann Bates and Rachel Glennerster call this debate “the generalizability puzzle” – and put forward a compelling “generalizability framework” for policy makers to use in their exploration of whether a solution would be appropriate for their context. The authors elegantly argue that focusing on underlying causal mechanisms and specific “human behaviours” behind why an evaluation was successful, married with crucial local data, would be the best way to translate findings to other contexts. They provide the example of a study that found that providing lentils proved an effective incentive to people’s decision to vaccinate in rural India. It would be hardly possible to pick up this program and drop it into another context—different cultures’ food preferences and ways of accessing food are different, as a start. But there are valuable lessons embedded in the mechanism behind why the incentive worked that could apply to increasing demand for preventative care measures elsewhere.
Bates and Glennerster provide several examples of how to use their framework to apply the findings of particular interventions to other contexts. In one example, they discuss J-PAL Africa’s work to scale up the “Sugar Daddies Risk Awareness” HIV-prevention program that was successful in Kenya in the Rwandan context. J-PAL Africa worked with the Rwanda Biomedical Center (directed by EASST fellow Jeanine Condo) to collect descriptive data. This program, which involves showing teenagers a video revealing that older men have higher HIV rates—significantly reduced the number of sexual relationships between teenage girls and older men and therefore girls’ risk of HIV transmission in Kenya. However, working with the RBC’s data revealed that most teenage girls in Rwanda already knew that older men had a higher relative risk of HIV. Along with this, teenage girls tended to overestimate men’s HIV risk as whole. This shows that if the Kenya program had been dropped into Rwanda without careful consideration of the mechanisms at play in the Rwandan context, it may have resulted in unprotected sex increasing because of girls’ realizations that HIV risk wasn’t as high as they thought. Therefore, J-PAL Africa recommended pursuing different mechanisms for addressing this problem in Rwanda.
The authors conclude that, “if researchers and policy makers continue to view results of impact evaluations as a black box and fail to focus on mechanisms, the movement toward evidence-based policy making will fall far short of its potential for improving people’s lives.”
To read the full article, click here.
Since 2012, EASST has sponsored 20 East African researchers to complete visiting fellowships at UC Berkeley. While at Berkeley, fellows receive deep training in impact evaluation through coursework and close faculty and PhD student mentorship. Upon completing the fellowship, researchers are eligible to receive seed funding to conduct trainings, research, and to work with policymakers.
“I am an epidemiologist and I had never considered the role of Economics in public health until I learned about Development Economics through EASST. This knowledge has made me understand and better appreciate public health problems and how they impact development in resource-limited settings. My research focus has now changed from mere public health concerns to how they impact development among the poor.”- Jayne Byakika Tusiime
Jayne, who came to Berkeley in Fall 2016, is currently serving as a Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of Public Health at Busitema University in Uganda. Her current research is on determining the impact of solid floors on soil transmitted infections among children in Uganda. As a BITSS catalyst, starting in October she will be conducting awareness workshops about research transparency in universities across Uganda.
In June of this year, Jayne received an EASST Policy and Partnerships Grant. Through this grant she will design an impact evaluation of the Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWs) program, launched by the Ministry of Health in Uganda. In addition to fostering connections with policy makers and CEGA partner institutions in East Africa, an important component of the EASST Fellowship is for fellows to go back to their home institutions and build capacity at the local and institutional level to conduct training and research, especially in the area of impact evaluation. To attain this objective, fellows are awarded catalyst grants upon return to their home country. With the support of the catalyst grant, Jayne is working on a curriculum for an Impact Evaluation course to be introduced at Busitema University this academic year.
“EASST has been a booster to my career. Before I attended the fellowship at UC-Berkeley, I was a junior lecturer, and have since been able to raise research funds and publish in reputable journals and consequently promoted to the position of Associate Professor. As a result of training fellow faculty and students on impact evaluation, I have been considered for a position in research and extension where I will be setting up an evaluation institute. With EASST I have grown so much professionally and I have the right skills to position myself for the future in research, scholarly activities and impact to the society.”- Amos Njuguna
Amos, who came to Berkeley in Spring 2013, is currently an Assistant Professor of Finance at the United States International University in Kenya. In 2016, he conducted a primary study on financial products available to micro-agro-processors in Kenya. The project also examined the incompatibility of product design and the needs of agro-processors. Through this study, Amos custom- designed financial products for the agro-processors, to test via experimentation. With the support of his catalyst grant, Amos lectured on experimental methods for impact evaluation at a workshop held in 2015 by the Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF) at the World Bank and UNICEF.
By Chelsea Downs and Kizito Omala
Launched in 2016, the EASST Policy and Partnerships Grant provides a new opportunity for EASST Fellows to foster new connections with policy makers and CEGA partner institutions within East Africa. These small grants are competitively awarded to fellows to facilitate their involvement with scale-up activities, policy convenings, or the creation of new working relationships with relevant stakeholders to expand the reach of impact evaluations. Kizito Omala, who completed his EASST fellowship in 2015 and is now a full-time Lecturer with Makerere University at the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, was awarded the Policy and Partnership Grant to assist J-PAL Africa to scale up the Teach at the Right Level (TaRL) intervention with the Ministry of Education in Uganda. A former teacher in the Ugandan school system himself, Omala is deeply dedicated to bettering education systems to enhance children’s learning-- he is currently engaged in another EASST funded research project which investigates the effects of mandatory transfers of teachers on teacher absenteeism.
J-PAL’s TaRL intervention emerged in response to widespread research that demonstrated that over half of students in grade 5 cannot read at grade 2 levels, and an even greater proportion cannot perform basic math functions. TaRL targets this by assessing students abilities and grouping them by their learning level, rather than by their age group, which has been found to significantly improves test scores. With additional research pointing to similar findings in Kenya and Ghana, “teaching at the right level” has revealed itself as having high potential to address several key education problems in various African countries. However, it remains necessary that scale-up efforts take into account evidence about the local context.
Through the grant, Omala was able to assist J-PAL Africa in investigating whether TaRL would be an effective scale-up in Uganda. Omala was able to forge several connections for J-PAL Africa with the Ministry of Education, RTI, the National Curriculum Development Centre, and other key players in the Ugandan education space. He assisted with designing a sample-based survey, and prepared a joint presentation of TaRL evidence with J-PAL Africa to Ugandan Ministry of Education officials, which yielded approval for preliminary discussions with stakeholders and piloting of this survey. Later this year, a participatory workshop is planned for key stakeholders in Uganda to arrive at a consensus of the teaching and support models that could be piloted across selected districts based on an experimental study design in preparation for the TaRL scale-up.
The Policy and Partnerships grant has also funded EASST Fellow Jayne Tusiime to design an impact evaluation of the Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWs) program, launched by the Ministry of Health in Uganda (future developments to follow). The competition has been recently relaunched, and the EASST team is confident that these grants will facilitate strong local connections and enhance CEGA’s efforts to ensure that rigorous research will eventually inform policies that affect the lives of vulnerable populations in East Africa.
Every month, EASST compiles a list of funding, research, and employment opportunities for East African researchers. To view a complete list of the opportunities available in August, please visit the “Other Opportunities” page of the EASST website. A few highlights below:
CEGA’s Digital Credit Observatory has just launched a Request for Proposals, inviting researchers to apply for funding for rigorous studies addressing questions around the impacts of digital credit on consumers in emerging markets; how various borrower characteristics (financial literacy, gender ,etc) could have an effect on these impacts; and how non-traditional credit-scoring algorithms, regulations, and other consumer protection measures can be designed to minimize consumer risk. Please apply for this exciting opportunity by September 15th!
Sign up for CEGA’s Berkeley Initiative for the Social Sciences (BITSS) recently launched Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to learn about Transparent and Open Social Science Research! This engaging new course is free and designed to be accessible to anyone from a graduate student to a policy-maker, and includes learning units in cutting edge topics such as data visualization and meta-analysis. Please register by September 8th to be included in the first course-run!
EASST’s close partner the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) is looking to hire up to five researchers to work in the following units: Data and Measurement, Aging and Development, Urbanization and Wellbeing, and Population Dynamics and Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis.
Last week, CEGA’s EASST collaborative and the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI) programs came together to host the 2017 East Africa Evidence Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference spanned two days: the first focused on disseminating new findings on East Africa by EASST fellows and various East Africa- focused researchers; and the second featured presentations from various ATAI grantees, sharing the latest insights on food security in the region. This blog post will focus on highlights from the first day, which featured three broad panels: Health and Education, Agriculture and the Environment, Governance and Empowerment. Following these presentations, the day concluded with a discussion panel on “Translating Research to Policy in the East African Context,” which featured speakers from a breadth of backgrounds discussing the perennial, yet non-trivial, question of how research can actually make the leap to impact the lives of the most vulnerable in East Africa.
In the first panel, IGC Country Economist for Ethiopia Yared Seid described his findings from a unique natural experiment in Ethiopia that revealed that children studying in their mother tongue first improves their academic performance (as measured by math test scores) years after they transition to English instruction. EASST Fellow John Bosco Asiimwe shared results from a randomized control trial he conducted that revealed that usage of oral rehydration salts + zinc greatly improves when the supplements are delivered preemptively and for free during household visits by community health workers.
Later in the day, during the Agriculture and Environment panel, EASST Fellow and World Bank Economist Anthony Mveyange made a compelling case in his presentation “Climate Variability and Infant Mortality: Evidence from the Developing World” for exploring both direct and indirect effects of climate change on health outcomes. Mveyange detailed how he and his coauthors found that temperature shocks increase the risks of both neo-natal and post-natal infant deaths. These results have several policy implications, including the importance of strengthening health delivery systems and public health information systems, as well as utilizing heat early warning systems.
Also presenting in the Agriculture and the Environment segment, CEGA Faculty Director and UC Berkeley Economics Professor Ted Miguel revealed experimental evidence on the “Demand for Costs of Rural Electrification” in Kenya. Miguel and his co-authors studied why rates of rural electrification in Kenya are so low despite significant government investments in grid infrastructure by observing how demand for electrification changes at different price points. Miguel’s research revealed that (at least in the short –term), the costs of rural electrification in rural Kenya are much higher than the demand, and that poor households will not find rural electrification transformational to their overall well-being. In the question and answer period, members of the audience revealed their surprise at these findings, which are counterintuitive to many-- to which Miguel replied “this is why we need research!” It is important not to just base policies on what we think is best for a certain group of people—we need to test these assumptions.
To conclude the day, the policy panel brought tangible insights on how to increase evidence based decision-making in the East African policy context. Alemayehu Seyoum Tafesse (Senior Researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Country Director of the International Growth Center in Ethiopia, and President of the Ethiopian Economics Association) discussed three major constraints to research translating into policy: capacity of policymakers’ time and resources to take research into account, institutional influence of an individual policy maker, and subject-matter expertise to understand the results of research. In addition to these common barriers, he pointed out that researchers often ignore the incentives and constraints of policy makers, which may or may not be aligned with researcher’s evidence. He emphasized that "policy impact shouldn't be an afterthought to research-- it should be a part of the design." Building off of Tafesse’s answer, Kizito Omala stated that what often blocks policy makers from using evidence is the complexity of the research. Besides simplifying their findings, Omala pointed out that it would be helpful if researchers could sit in on policy makers’ meetings, to understand what they are grappling with and what they truly need.
Overall, it was a successful convening of people interested in the social and economic welfare of East Africa. Special thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK Government for their kind sponsorship of this conference. Special thank you also to Rajiv and Parbatee Ramrattan, who generously donated funding for East African Researchers in honour of their son Ravi Ramrattan, who was dedicated to research on poverty and economics East Africa and tragically passed away in the Westgate attack of 2013. Please click here to donate to his cause.
The Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) at the University of California, Berkeley, the East African Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative, and the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI) cordially invite you to attend the 2017 East Africa Evidence Summit, to be held from July 17-18, 2017 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The summit will feature multiple events, including:
July 17 -The 6th Annual EASST Impact Evaluation Summit, which convenes a network of East African researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. EASST supports the development of East Africa's impact evaluation community by offering fellowships, networking opportunities, and research funding, building a diverse network of regional researchers. The annual summit convenes this network together with regional policymakers to support partnership development, share research results and work toward a common goal of large scale, positive impact.
July 18- An ATAI dissemination event featuring rigorous evidence and policy discussion targeting improved adoption and profitable use of agricultural technologies by small-scale farmers in East Africa. We are honored to feature participation from leadership at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI).
The working agenda for the event can be found here.
In order to secure your attendance, please register here at your earliest convenience and no later than June 30, 2017.
In memory of Ravindra (Ravi) Ramrattan, EASST (supported by Ravi's family and friends) will honor Ravi’s life and his dedication to the field of international economic development by funding two emerging East African researchers based within the region to attend, present, and collaborate with leading scholars at the 2017 EASST Summit. Please contact Kuranda Morgan (email@example.com) by June 23rd, 2017 if interested in this opportunity.
This post was written by Dr. Christine Nanjala Simiyu (PhD), currently a senior lecturer at KCA University, Nairobi Kenya and a CEGA-EASST fellow at the University of California Berkeley during the spring 2017 semester.
During my stay at UC Berkeley in the Spring 2017 semester as an EASST Visiting Fellow, my time was spent learning about impact evaluation methodologies (which I was not familiar with before), attending and participating in research seminars, and developing and enhancing my technical skills.
I attended classes for this course taught by Dr. Paul Gertler, participated in lab sessions, and read the Impact Evaluation in Practice text book (find it here) three times to enhance my capacity in impact evaluation research methods, such as such as Randomized Control Trials (RCTs); Difference in Difference Methods (DIDs); Regression Discontinuity (RDDs) and Instrumental Variables (IVs). I also audited a development economics class taught by Dr. Edward Miguel, which exposed me to various research ideas and trends in development economics. In addition, the development research seminars continuously shaped and changed my research interests from what I previously had before joining the fellowship. I was able to further enhance my technical skills through learning centers available on campus, such as the D-Lab, where I learned Python, R-Programming, ArchGIS, STATA and LaTex. I was not familiar with most of the skills (apart from STATA) but I can now confidently write a whole manuscript using R and LaTex.
Following the development of these skills, I was able to design a RCT study titled: "Take-up, use and impact of sanitary products provision and educational training on education and health outcomes of adolescent girls in rural Kenya". The study evolved overtime from a basic idea to an implementable project. I was greatly supported by my mentors Dr. Sandra McCoy, a faculty in the School of Public Heath, and Drew Cameroon, a PhD student in Health Policy, who always worked with me and gave me a lot of feedback that improved the study design. The presentations I gave at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley during development seminars elicited various comments that also added a lot of value to the study design. Indeed, I am happy to announce that the project will be implemented in collaboration with CEGA faculty members and my mentors.
I summarize the experience of CEGA-EASST Fellowship as that of "exposure" and "transformation". I underwent a state of metamorphosis in terms of research orientation after being exposed to the technical skills and methods at UC Berkeley, shifting my research trajectory and interests. When I return to KCA University I will plan to use catalyst grant funding provided through EASST to start impact evaluation capacity building initiatives with the goal of enabling more elaborate and quality evidence based research to influence policy in East Africa. I also plan on following-up and implementing the study I designed while at UC Berkeley as an EASST fellow. In the long-run, I plan to start an East Africa Impact Evaluation Research Hub where the EASST network (both fellows and professors) can host and run projects in East Africa. Indeed, this fellowship has shaped my career path and the EASST network is particularly important for collaborations to make this dream a reality.
In closing, I was amazed with the friendliness of faculty members and students alike - they were all AWESOME! There are many intellectual discussions around your study topic and everyone is genuinely interested to support and help you to make your work great! It is truly worthy spending a semester at UC Berkeley as an EASST fellow and CEGA team is immensely supportive to make the stay great and memorable. Thank you all!