[This page describes ongoing field projects; for information on completed projects and theoretical research visit the research section.]
I am currently working on a number of field projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these are impact evaluations — a type of evaluation whereby in which researchers work very closely with development agencies, practitioners and the private sector in order to determine what can work best and which approach is the most cost effective. These research projects try to answer the question, “Did the project achieve its aims?” but also, “Are these changes due to the project or to something else?” Many of these projects involve work with mobile phones and its impacts upon a variety of development outcomes, such as literacy, access to market information, cash transfers and agricultural practices.
Here are some of the main projects I am involved in at the moment, all with and through field-based NGOs:
Mobile phones and literacy in Niger (with Catholic Relief Services, Christopher Ksoll and Travis Lybbert). Known as Project ABC (Alphabetisation de Base par Cellulaire), we are working on assessing the impact of mobile phones on literacy and agricultural marketing outcomes in two regions of Niger. In an effort to determine how and whether mobile phones can be used as a literacy tool, villages were randomly assigned to normal or mobile-phone based literacy classes. In the second year of the project, farmers are also able to send and receive SMS on agricultural prices in a variety of markets. The project began in December 2008, and a midterm evaluation was completed in 2010. Classes will continue until 2011. The big questions here are: Can SMS be used as a tool to promote literacy in Africa, primarily by allowing participants to practice their skills during and after courses? Does access to market information via SMS support these literacy skills, and allow farmers to change their marketing behavior?
Mobile Phones and Cash Transfers in Niger (with Concern Worldwide). The introduction of mobile money transfer systems such as M-Pesa in Kenya has brought new opportunities for cash transfer and remittances in Africa. This project tests the effectiveness and efficiency of a mobile phone-based conditional cash transfer system as opposed to normal cash transfer systems in Tahoua, Niger. The big questions here are: Can mobile phones allow recipients to better manage cash transfers during food crises as opposed to traditional cash distribution mechanisms? If so, do the benefits outweigh the costs? The baseline survey took place in March/April 2010, with follow-up surveys in 2011.
Cash Transfers and Vouchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (with Concern Worldwide). There has been considerable debate over the use of conditional versus unconditional cash transfers in developing countries. Yet a key question is how the additional disposable income is spent. A key issue in many countries is the introduction of voucher programs, whereby households can spend their transfer on a more limited range of items. This project tests the effectiveness and efficiency of cash transfers versus vouchers in Masisi, Democratic Republic of Congo. The big questions here are: Can cash transfers provide greater freedom of choice and hence improve development outcomes? The baseline survey occurs in September 2011, with follow up surveys in 2012.
Information, Civic Education and Elections in Mozambique (with Pedro Vicente, Paul Collier and Jornal @Verdade). How does access to information affect voters’ perceptions and electoral behavior? In this field experiment in Mozambique, we worked with Jornal @Verdade and local civil society institutions to provide civic education messages to voters through different mechanisms prior to the October 2009 presidential elections. The baseline took place in September 2009, with a endline survey in November/December 2009.
Finally, there are other potential projects that I will be working on in 2012-2013:
Let it Reign: Adoption of Rainwater Harvesting Techniques in Niger.. What are the constraints to adoption of micro-catchment techniques in Sahelian countries? And how does the use of these water techniques affect farmer-herder conflicts in the Sahel?
Mobile Money Adoption in Ghana
Cell Ed — Mobile Phone-Based Literacy for Migrant Populations in California.