My research interests revolve around the politics of development and foreign aid, including development and aid effectiveness measurements.
I am particularly interested in the political choices that drive decisions concerning both aid project evaluation at the micro level and development measurements at the macro level, as well as expanding micro-level development theory concerning the role and incentives of local actors in development projects. To this end, I engage with interdisciplinary literature on development, institutions, organizations, effectiveness studies, and the political economy of evaluation/measurement. I have done previous fieldwork in the Philippines, Washington D.C., Costa Rica; public opinion surveys with U.S. and Indian populations; and have fieldwork planned in Mauritius and Malaysia in 2019.
Summaries of current projects are given below. For my CV, please contact me at email@example.com or through the Contact Page.
The Role of Local Actors in International Development: How Individual Incentives Affect Foreign Aid Effectiveness (Dissertation)
Background: The goal of my research is to analyze the micro-level variables that shape development aid project outcomes in a targeted country. I posit that the type of incentives that induce local actor ‘buy-in’ into foreign-funded development projects relate directly to the sustainability of outcomes, namely that nonmaterial incentives will lead to longer-lasting outcomes.
Method: I am conducting field research on a number of projects executed between 1990-2016 in Costa Rica, Mauritius, and Malaysia using a mixed-methods approach.
Implications: This study will allow us to better understand the conditions under which aid is effective in the long-term, and conceptualize and operationalize aid effectiveness beyond the macro-level. These results offer clear policy impacts and innovative scientific evaluation tools in the arena of international aid and development.
Research Assistants: Riley Mallon, Jesúa Reyna Méndez, Claudia Rojas Rios, Andrés Madrid, Natalia Ruiz Guevara, Hannah Rae Warren, Juan Martín Gutiérrez Trejos
The Political Economy of Impact Evaluation: Which World Bank Projects Get Evaluated? (Co-authors: Vincenzo di Maro, Dan Honig, Brad Parks)
Background: When do international development organizations – and more specifically their personnel – decide to subject their projects to rigorous impact evaluations? Despite incentives against it, we have witnessed a rapid increase of these impact evaluations in the international development sector since 2000, but there is little systematic research on the determinants of selection into impact evaluation.
Method: Using quantitative techniques to analyze World Bank projects carried out between approximately 2014-2018, we put forward new theory and an analysis of the project and project leader characteristics that are associated with selection into the impact evaluation process.
Implications: A better understanding of these factors offers us novel insights into the political economy of impact evaluation in international development organizations, and provides decisionmakers with new evidence on the determinants of evaluation adoption.
Research Assistant: Eric Teschke
Beyond Donor ‘Success’ or ‘Failure’: A New Tool to Classify Development Project Outcomes
Background: When evaluating development projects, the concepts measured by traditional development indicators (i.e. economic growth, poverty levels, life expectancy) are subject to local, domestic, and international forces that may have nothing to do with the project, leaving us little recourse to separate out project effects. Measures additionally rely on donor interpretations of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in reaching their goals, which may not be the desired outcomes for all actors involved.
Method: To address this deficit, I have combined a multidisciplinary literature review, field work in three world regions, and interviews with development professors and practitioners to create a new project outcome measurement that evaluates the level to which project activities have been institutionalized.
Implications: Such a process-based measurement can help advance development theory, link micro to macro aid effectiveness outcomes, and avoid the trap of Rocha de Siqueira’s (2017) 'good enough' numbers used by international organizations.
Research Assistants: Jesúa Reyna Méndez, Andrés Madrid
Leveraging Aid Transparency for Political Gain: Project Evaluations as Donor Bargaining Chips in International Cooperation Negotiations
Background: Evaluation has become a way for traditional donors to set themselves apart in an increasingly crowded field, used as a way to signal their commitments to recipients. Thus, regardless of outcomes, we should see more published evaluations for development projects where the donor can leverage maximum political gain. I propose three hypotheses: we should see more projects with published evaluations 1) in low income countries that are politically unaligned with the donor, 2) in the health sector and more broadly the social sector, and, 3) when implemented by a third party other than the recipient government.
Method: I examine the case of USAID projects (1997-2010), and find support by estimating two logit regression models.
Implications: The results of this project have important implications for theoretical issues concerning the political economy of measuring aid effectiveness, as well as the future of the current evidence-based policymaking trend in aid.
The Changing Practices of Development Cooperation: What Practitioner Perspectives Reveal About Power and Transparency in the International Aid Regime
Background: International development practices have undergone substantial change over the past two decades, taking a more ‘local’ turn via participatory approaches with community-level beneficiaries. Underlying this turn is the idea that recipient-led projects will create more sustainable outcomes, revealing the power donors believe locals have over the effectiveness of their funds.
Method: Based on 35 interviews in Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Washington, D.C., with multilateral, bilateral, and NGO aid practitioners and their local partners, I provide evidence of the ways that local actors exercise power over donors, employing a four-part power classification proposed by Wrong (1979) to illustrate.
Implications: This evidence shows that when locals use their power, the consequences can range from simple project adjustments to legal force and the content of project evaluations is unclear, posing new challenges for development aid effectiveness under this ‘local’ approach.
Research Assistant: Jesúa Reyna Méndez