In January 2018 , the Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE) held its international meeting at New York University-Abu Dhabi (NYU-AD). WGAPE is an international forum for academic researchers, ranging from graduate students to faculty, who meet semi-annually to have discussions on selected papers--providing a unique opportunity for presenters to receive extensive feedback from participants. EASST fellows Constantine Manda, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Political Science at Yale University, and Michael Mbate, who is currently pursuing a PhD in International Development at the London School of Economics, were among the five African scholars selected to present at the NYU-AD meeting. Ten more students and junior faculty from sub-Saharan Africa participated in a Learning Days training opportunity sponsored by Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) and the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS). In a recent blog post, CEGA affiliate Brian Dillon delves into the details of Manda’s paper, “Minority Presidents, Ethnic Diversity, and the Onset of Civil War.” Read the full post here.
EASST Fellow, Dr. Kizito Omala, was recently featured on CEGA's Blog, speaking about the influential role of his background in teaching and his work to adapt Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL), a proven education program, for students in Uganda. In the post, Dr. Omala also touches on the impact of the EASST fellowship, "I am completely different since the fellowship. I can see that EASST has widened my network and improved my teaching methods." Read the full post here.
On January 22nd the EASST Collaborative announced its 2018-2019 Visiting Fellowship Application.
With a network of 21 fellows already, the Fellowship seeks to continue equipping East African social scientists with the skills needed to carry out rigorous evaluations of social or economic development projects in East Africa. During a four-month fellowship (Fall 2018 or Spring 2019) based at UC Berkeley, fellows will audit courses, present research, attend economic development seminars, develop curricula, and design collaborative research projects.
To be eligible, researchers must be residents of an East African country (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, or Uganda) and hold a staff or student position at a research institution, university, or other organization headquartered in East Africa. Applicants must already have a PhD or be working towards a PhD. Researchers from economics, epidemiology, statistics, and other quantitative social science disciplines are encouraged to apply.
This year, we will give preference to researchers interested in infectious diseases, agriculture, and digital financial inclusion. Female researchers are especially encouraged to apply.
Please see the EASST 2018 Visiting Fellowship Announcement, for more information and detailed application instructions.
Each month, EASST compiles a list of funding, research, and employment opportunities for East African researchers. To view opportunities available in the month of January, please visit the "Other Opportunities" page here.
Of note, there are several upcoming deadlines to submit papers for international conferences and workshops:
2018 Symposium on Economic Experiments in Developing Countries
The symposium, held in the Netherlands, will bring together the community of scholars who employ laboratory experimental economics methods for research in developing countries. Submissions are invited for papers that involve lab experiments in the field. Submit online by January 22, 2018.
International Workshop on Poverty, Inequality Dynamics, & Economic Development
The workshop, held at Kings College London, will focus on mixed-method research on poverty, inequality, economic development, as well as on their interactions. Refer to their website for additional information on the call for papers. The deadline for submissions of abstracts is January 31st, 2018.
Higher Education and International Development Conference
The conference, hosted at the UCL Institute of Education in London, will address the role of higher education in sustainable development and showcase innovative research in the field. Proposals are welcome for presentations on diverse aspects of higher education in low and middle-income countries, involving empirical research, policy analysis or theoretical engagement. Refer to their website for information on the thematic focus areas. The deadline for submissions of abstracts is February 1st, 2018.
When EASST Fellows come to UC Berkeley, they not only strengthen their networks by meeting with CEGA Affiliates and PhD students, but they also gain access to a wealth of opportunities to collaborate with other programs at CEGA. The following stories illustrate our fellows' connections across CEGA.
Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) Catalysts
BITSS was established by CEGA in 2012 and “aims to enhance the practices of social scientists in ways that promote research transparency, reproducibility, and openness.” One component of the initiative is the Catalyst Program. Similar to the EASST catalyst grant program, which awards fellows grants to train others in impact evaluation, BITSS Catalysts become leaders in the open science movement by passing on their knowledge to others.
EASST Fellows Jayne Tusiime and Kizito Omala first became exposed to BITSS ideas and methods while at Berkeley, and later went on to become BITSS Catalysts. Thus far, they have conducted four research transparency trainings, and have trained over 425 participants. Most recently, Jayne and Kizito were invited to attend the 2017 BITSS Annual Meeting in Berkeley where they met with other catalysts and leaders in the movement.
Fellows’ papers accepted to the Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE) January 2018 Meeting
CEGA’s WGAPE program was founded in 2002 and is an international forum for academic researchers who combine deep field research experience in Africa with training in political economy methods. The meetings provide a unique opportunity for researchers to obtain in depth feedback from meeting participants, who have all read the papers that are being discussed. Two of our EASST Fellows, Constantine Manda and Michael Mbate, were recently selected to present their papers at the upcoming meeting in January 2018 at New York University-Abu Dhabi. Constantine’s paper, “Minority Presidents and Ethnic Politics,” analyzes a dataset covering 142 countries and finds that ethnic diversity and ethnic minority leadership has a negative association with the onset of civil war. Michael’s paper utilizes a spatial policy implemented in Kenya to examine the effects of politicians’ strategic interactions on public spending. He finds that “politically motivated adjustments in government spending are associated with significant short-term budgetary distortions.” The misallocation of budgetary resources is welfare reducing and significantly affect public goods with positive externalities. Although this is the first time our fellows will be presenting papers, EASST Fellow involvement in WGAPE predates the January meeting. Several fellows have attended as non-presenters to provide feedback to participants on their papers, and at the WGAPE Spring National Meeting, Michael led the impact evaluation training.
On November 28th, our Fall 2017 EASST Visiting Fellow Dr. Damazo Kadengye traveled to UC San Diego to present his research plan to graduate students and faculty. Damazo’s research focuses on maternal health, and he presented his planned study, “Effectiveness of potential interventions to change social norms on prevalence of intimate partner violence in Uganda: Implications for IPV programming in pregnancy" at UCSD’s Economics Seminar.
Damazo is interested in researching the effectiveness of various programs that aim to curb intimate partner violence (IPV) through countering harmful gender-related norms in Uganda. In addition, he plans to rigorously test whether IPV could be better prevented through integrating tailored couple’s counseling sessions in existing antenatal health programs in Uganda.
Damazo will be presenting his research plan at UC Berkeley’s Development Lunch on Tuesday, December 12th, from 12:30-1:30 in 648 Evans.
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.