Ongoing Research Projects

Below are descriptions of my ongoing research projects. For a list of completed working papers and publications, please see my completed papers page.

Lobbying and campaign finance reform

I have been actively conducting research on lobbying and campaign finance reform ever since writing my dissertation on the topic. My past research developed some of the first game-theoretic models of lobbying in which special interests use evidence to persuade policymakers and where political contributions are used to gain access. At that time, the literature typically modeled lobbying as a quid pro quo or bribery.

Dan Wasserman’s cartoon from the Boston Globe tells the story behind much of my lobbying research

My more recent research represents some of the first work to (i) extend the Bayesian persuasion framework to model competitive information production between special interest groups, (ii) show how informational lobbying (which is generally thought of as a strictly beneficial type of lobbying) can distort agendas and decrease welfare, and (iii) show how political contributions flow in greater quantity to clueless or uninformed politicians. Most of these past and ongoing papers consider how alternative campaign finance reforms influence policy outcomes.

I recently advised the Ministry of Attorney General of Brittish Columbia about the implications of campaign finance reforms, and have been invited to participate in a study by the Canadian Senate on the topic. I regularly discuss campaign finance and lobbying issues with the media and other groups trying to understand the likely impact of proposed policy changes.  My recent discussion with the media on these topics include conversations with the CBC (hereherehere), Canadian Press (here), The Globe and Mail (herehere, here), CKNW talk radio (here), The Vancouver Sun (here, here) and others. You can read my column on some of the issues at IRPP’s Policy Options.

Girls’ Education Challenge evaluation in rural Zimbabwe

The IGATE program is part of the Girls’ Education Challenge funded by the UK’ Department for International Development. From 2013 to 2017, the program is estimated to have reached more than 100,000 marginalized girls through a series of in-school and community interventions in rural Zimbabwe. I led an independent evaluation of the program in 2017 on behalf of World Vision. When the project was extended in October 2017 for four more years, I was selected as the Lead External Evaluator for the project’s evaluation team headed by Limestone Analytics.

This project involves designing an empirical mythology, developing data collection instruments including literacy and numeracy assessments, overseeing data collection, providing advice on project design and program monitoring, and measuring the impact of the program on behalf of the implementing coalition and DFID.

The IGATE program and its data provide many opportunities for learning. A series of academic papers are in the works, including:

  • “Can empowering girls improve math performance? Evidence from rural Zimbabwe” with Ardyn Nordstrom, Jordan Nanowski and Eric Richert
  • “The impact of severe droughts on the education of at-risk youth in Zimbabwe” with Ardyn Nordstrom
  • “Understanding the barriers to girls’ education in rural Zimbabwe” with Ardyn Nordstrom
  • “Outpeddling the poverty trap: The effect of bicycles on education in Zimbabwe”

Human capital development among students in US schools

I’ve been a member of a research team working on a series of field experiments designed to study student decisions to study or otherwise exert effort building human capital. The first experiment with Brent Hickman and Joe Price pays students based on their relative performance on a standardized mathematics exam in order to determine how study time and performance respond to affirmative-action-like incentives.

Press coverage at QuartzFiveThirtyEight, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

A related project with Brent Hickman, John List, and Joe Price conducts a series of field experiments within public schools in the Chicago area in order to understand the preferences behind different study decisions, and whether certain groups benefit more from small group or one-on-one attention.

  • Incentive Provision in Investment Contests: Theory and Evidence with Brent Hickman and Joe Price (previously titled “Affirmative Action and Human Capital Investment: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment”, NBER Working Paper w20397)
  • “Productivity Versus Motivation: Combining Field Experiments with Structural Econometrics to Study Adolescent Human Capital Production”  with Brent Hickman, John List, and Joe Price
  • “Who benefits most from more attention in the classroom?” with Brent Hickman, John List, and Joe Price

Crowdfunding and charitable giving experiments

My coauthors and I are working on a series of experiments designed to better understand donor behavior and fundraiser strategy in a world in which multiple crowdfunding projects or charities compete for funding. How does the presence of multiple projects simultaneously seeking funding affect total donor activity? My first paper on the topic was coauthored with Luca Corazzini and Paola Valbonesi and was published in the Journal of Public Economics. it is one of the first experimental studies of crowdfunding. It shows that donors who face multiple appealing options may suffer from choice overload or coordination problems, which ultimately decrease total donations.

Building on this initial work, an ongoing project with Corazzini and Tommaso Reggiani looks at how intermediary charitable organizations such as the United Way affect charitable donations. I have also been awarded a five year SSHRC Insight Grant for work with collaborators Luca Corazzini and Chloe Tergiman to explore how donor heterogeneity and communication influence donor and fundraiser behavior.

Youth Ready training programs in El Salvador and Honduras

Youth Ready is a training and mentoring program for youth in developing countries, which intends to provide at-risk youth the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to successfully enter the workforce. I’m working with World Vision International and Limestone Analytics to conduct a randomized evaluation of the program as it is rolled out in El Salvador and Honduras. An academic paper is planned for release following the endline analysis in 2019.

Evidence-based decision making and the optimal allocation of resources across projects or opportunities

My research on lobbying, crowdfunding, and charitable giving described above is related to a more general theme throughout my research agenda. I am interested in how governments, organizations, and individuals allocate scarce resources across competing opportunities, and how this allocation may be made more efficient.

I’m currently working to better understand how innovative financing mechanisms such as social impact bonds, development impact bonds, and payment-by-results financing opportunities change the incentives of project donors, social programs, and aid organizations. These funding opportunities, if poorly designed, can incentivize what I call the “kitchen sink” approach to project implementation, with the aim of maximizing short-run project impact, rather than smart design and long-run sustainability.

Other research considers how organizations produce information in competition for funding, how legislatures or committees compromise over the allocation of scarce resources, and how competition for resources affects the internal allocation of capital within firms or organizations. Some of this work considers how the availability of funding and the presence of evaluation changes the effort of NGOs or other organizations responsible for the design of programs.