fieldwork

Officially SSMART!

I've been a bad blogger over the past month or so, something I'm hoping to remedy over the coming weeks. (Somewhere out there, a behavioral economist is grumbling about me being present-biased and naive about it. Whatever, grumbly behavioral economist.) I'm writing this from SFO, about to head off to Bangalore (via Seattle and Paris, where I'll meet my coauthor/adventure buddy Louis), thanks to USAID and Berkeley's Development Impact Lab. We're hoping to study the effects of the smartgrid in urban India, as well as to learn more about what energy consumption looks like in Bangalore in general. There is a small but quickly-growing body of evidence on energy use in developing countries (see Gertler, Shelef, Wolfram, and Fuchs -- forthcoming AER, and one of my favorite of Catherine's papers! -- and Jack and Smith -- AER P&P on pre-paid metering in South Africa -- for a couple of recent examples). Still, there's a lot that we don't know, and, of course, a lot more that we don't know that we don't know. Thanks a lot, Rumsfeld.

Feeling SSMARTer already!

Feeling SSMARTer already!

In other exciting news, the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) has released its SSMART grant awardees - and my new project (with Matt and Louis, and overseen by Catherine) on improving power calculations and making sure researchers get their standard errors right has been funded! Very exciting. Check out the official announcement here, and our page on the Open Science Framework here. Since this is a grant explicitly about transparency, we'll be making our results public as we go through the process. Our money is officially for this coming summer, so look for an update / more details in a few months.

Where we are currently: there are theoretical reasons to be handling standard errors differently than we currently are in a lot of empirical applications, and there are also theoretical reasons that existing formula-based power calculations might be ending up under powered. In progress: how badly wrong are we when we use current methods? 

My flight is boarding, so I'll leave you with that lovely teaser!

I see what you did there, Kickstarter

I'm not about product placement on this blog - only about fair and balanced commentary, obviously - but this opportunity was way too good to pass up. Remember when Cards Against Humanity was a Kickstarter? I didn't either. Who knew? Anyways - a crew of development practitioners has taken to Kickstarter to produce a C-A-H / Apples-to-Apples-like game they're calling JadedAid. I'm definitely going to order one. Or two. Or seventeen for all of my development-oriented friends. Maybe.

A sample hand from the game.  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

A sample hand from the game. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.


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.