The white man's (research) burden

Please, please, please don't take this title as anything other than a goofy comment. No offense meant. Now that we have that out of the way, moving on: a really interesting paper just came out in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

In this work, titled "The white-man effect: How foreigner presence affects behavior in experiments", Jacobus Cilliers, Oeindrila Dube, and Bilal Siddiqi provide some of the first concrete and well-identified evidence that the composition of fieldwork implementation teams teams really matters for measuring outcomes. It probably doesn't come as a surprise to anybody that the identity of people administering experiments can sway the results - we have lots of evidence from the psychology literature to suggest that even question framing can have dramatic effects - but demonstrating this point in a developing-country context makes me want to think really carefully about how I conduct fieldwork. Development economists have known for some time now that employing locals is key to successful research in the field; this paper suggests yet another reason to work with enumerators from the survey region. 

Too much of this in development research. Before you start to worry that I'm calling out an actual person, realize that this picture comes from The Onion (whose original headline is spot on: "6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture")

Too much of this in development research. Before you start to worry that I'm calling out an actual person, realize that this picture comes from The Onion (whose original headline is spot on: "6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture")

It's always the case that as a white American development economist, I want to be sensitive about doing research in a way that can come off as paternalistic - one of the best things we can do in the field is to give our subjects agency. In addition to that, this paper highlights yet again why it is problematic that, for example, African scholars are underrepresented in the highest ranks of research about Africa.  I feel very lucky to be able to work in India, and to get to know (small pieces of) the country. I'm sure that I will keep this paper in mind as I do more work that requires original, in-person data collection.