Current Projects

On this page, I provide information about a selection of current projects.

Brazil Project Co-PI, Evidence in Governance and Politics Metaketa III: Natural Resources Governance

In a cross-country experiment, the EGAP Metaketa III aims to identify the generalized effect of community monitoring on natural resources overuse and community welfare. The Brazil project (Co-PIs: Alicia Cooperman, Sasha Richey, myself) specifically will facilitate community monitoring of groundwater in Ceará, a drought-prone state of Brazil. In addition to executing the common arm of community monitoring and disseminating the monitoring findings via SMS message, our project will identify the complementary effect of disseminating the information gathered by the monitors via a social, in-person, household-specific meeting. Baseline data collection has concluded, and the interventions will be rolled out in April 2018.

Co-PI, USAID-DRG Impact Evaluation: Local Government Accountability Program (LGAP) in Malawi

USAID/Malawi is carrying out the five-year Local Government Accountability Program (LGAP). This large-scale accountability initiative includes many components, and the impact evaluation (Co-PIs: Lucy Martin and myself) is focusing on the components that aim to improve revenue generation at the local level. Specifically, in a 2×2 factorial experiment, we will examine how mitigating barriers to district tax collection capacity (a top-down approach) and mitigating barriers to market vendor tax compliance (a bottom-up approach) affect revenue from daily market fees. Baseline data collection has concluded, and the interventions were rolled out in November 2017. A summary of this project can be found on the IPA website here.

Co-PI, Income, Clientelism, and Voting Dynamics in Nepal

Past research has demonstrated a positive correlation between voter income and preferences for candidates who deliver public goods rather than clientelistic benefits. In partnership with two US-based co-authors (Steven Meserve and Daniel Pemstein) and one Nepal-based co-author (Jeevan Baniya at Social Sciences Baha), we will examine the causal mechanisms underpinning this relationship. Using a lab-in-the-field voting behavioral game and a conjoint experiment, we will adjudicate between various individual mechanisms and test how group-level socioeconomic composition affects the ability of the community to coordinate around voting against clientelistic candidates. Exploratory research was completed in August 2017 and data collection will roll out in early 2018.

Co-PI, Department for International Development (DfID) Impact Assessment of the Law Enforcement Response to Cashgate

In 2016, DfID Malawi approached co-author Gerhard Anders and me to propose an impact assessment on the deterrent effects of corruption trials and sentences following the large-scale corruption scandal, “Cashgate.” To understand how corruption prosecutions might deter future corruption, we collaborated with Edge Kanyongolo, a Malawi legal expert and conducted two parallel research threads. A qualitative thread included in-depth semi-structured interviews with bureaucrats in Malawi focusing on their impressions of how corruption patterns have changed based on the Cashgate prosecutions. A quantitative thread used a conjoint experiment to test the causal relationship between dimensions of the corruption punishment environment (swiftness, severity, certainty) on the level of corruption and bureaucratic performance more generally. Both threads of research indicate that the swiftness of corruption detection and punishment is the primary driver of corruption deterrence. Data collection for this project has concluded and we are drafting several articles for publication.

Malawi Country Lead, The British Academy – DfID Anti-Corruption Evidence (ACE) Programme

The PIs on this ACE project, Christian Schuster and Jan Meyer-Sahling, are managing an eight-country survey that focuses on the effect of management practices on bureaucrat performance. I am the Country Lead for Malawi, and will be a co-author on one meta-article presenting the cross-country results, as well as one of three co-authors (with Adam Harris and Rachel Sigman) on a series of papers presenting the findings of a module we designed and executed in three African countries. This module included two conjoint experiments: one on the effect of work environment characteristics on bureaucratic corruption and performance; and one on the effect of program structure, public awareness, and political oversight on program success. It also included a priming experiment to examine the effect of perpetual salary delays and under-payments in Malawi on bureaucratic morale. Data collection for this project has concluded and we are drafting several articles for publication.

PI, Exploring Scalable, Efficient Innovations to Improve Tax Compliance among MSMEs

In Zambia, tax compliance rates are very low, especially among the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Concerns have been raised by some MSMEs that the current institutions, modes, and approaches employed in taxing MSMEs are outdated, costly, or otherwise cumbersome. Funded by the International Growth Centre, the objective of this research project is to explore the possible barriers to and solutions for these low payment and filing compliance rates among MSMEs in Zambia. Beyond addressing a critical question affecting many revenue collecting agencies in Zambia, the study will shed light on more general barriers to tax compliance, a significant policy issue plaguing many developing countries, especially where formal-legal structures are weak and governments lack the capacity to expansively enforce tax policy. A primary aim of this research is to discern efficient and effective avenues for improving voluntary tax compliance and, perhaps more importantly, tax morale among citizens. As voluntary tax compliance is the antidote to coercive tax policy, explaining the drivers of tax morale enables tax authorities to avoid enacting costly, cumbersome, and coercive policies.

Co-PI, Politicization and Political Influence of Religious Leaders in Zambia

One of the primary means religious leaders in Africa communicate political ideas to their followers is through sermons. Unlike written material that may not reach an intended audience, may not be read because of low literacy, or can be seized by a controlling government, sermons occur in controlled settings where interruptions are not permitted, and they do not depend on a congregant’s ability to read. My co-authors (Robert Dowd and Clark Gibson) and I seek to rigorously examine the question: What is the nature of political messages embedded in religious sermons during a campaign period? To answer this question, we will conduct a content analysis on the political messages embedded in 260 sermons we recorded at 130 randomly selected churches during the campaign period leading up to Zambia’s 2016 election. We are now in the process of translating and transcribing the sermons for the text analysis. In a parallel experiment conducted among Zambian citizens during the same period, we wrote and recorded fake sermons. We varied the presence of religious symbols and the religious content of the message, to examine what about the “treatment” of sermons drives their high level of influence on Zambian citizens’ behavior. We are preparing the data from this experiment for analysis.

Project Manager of Experiments, Varieties of Democracy Project

As a Project Manager with V-Dem, my role is to conduct experiments that validate and improve the V-Dem data. So far, I have fielded three experiments and have another underway. The first experiment involves Amazon Turk respondents to evaluate pairs of countries and a Bradley-Terry model to validate the V-Dem aggregation procedures. The second experiment is the execution of anchoring vignettes to account for cross-country differences in scales across expert coders providing data to V-Dem. A third experiment, to be conducted among V-Dem expert coders in 2018, will evaluate the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations of expert coders. Finally, the fourth experiment examines the conditions under which crowd-sourced data can substitute for expert-coded data. I am also one of seven co-authors on a book about the V-Dem project, under contract with Cambridge University Press.


If you are interested in working as a Research Assistant on my research projects, please send a CV and cover letter via email. Please be sure you discuss particular research skills and past research experience that you have. If you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, please send me an email and find general information about the program and application process here. If you are interested in pursuing a M.A. in Global Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, please send me an email and find general information about the program and application process here.