ICTs for Better Governance

[6] Information Technology and Political Engagement: Mixed Evidence from Uganda. (with Macartan Humphreys, Gabriella Sacramone-Lutz)
Journal of Politics, 2020, 82(4): pp. 1321-1336. drawing drawing drawing drawing drawing

Abstract This study integrates three related field experiments to learn about how information communications technology (ICT) innovations can affect who communicates with politicians. We implemented a nationwide experiment in Uganda following a smaller-scale framed field experiment that suggested that ICTs can lead to significant "flattening": marginalized populations used short message service (SMS) based communication at relatively higher rates compared to existing political communication channels. We find no evidence for these effects in the national experiment. Instead, participation rates are extremely low, and marginalized populations engage at especially low rates. We examine possible reasons for these differences between the more controlled and the scaled-up experiments. The evidence suggests that even when citizens have issues they want to raise, technological fixes to communication deficits can be easily undercut by structural weaknesses in political systems.

[5] The Effect of Election Proximity on Government Responsiveness and Citizens’ Participation: Evidence from English Local Elections. (with Gemma Dipoppa)
Comparative Political Studies, 2020, 53(4): pp. 2183-2212. drawing drawing drawing drawing

Abstract Does political engagement depend on government responsiveness? Identifying the drivers of political action is challenging because it requires disentangling instrumental from expressive motives for engagement and because government responsiveness is likely endogenous. We overcome the first challenge by studying citizens’ reporting of street-problems—a form of participation arguably driven by instrumental considerations. We overcome the second challenge by taking advantage of variation in local elections timing in England’s district authorities. We report three key results. First, local governments address requests faster in the months leading to elections. Second, street-problem reporting increases in (pre)electoral periods. Third, the increase in requests sent in preelection periods is driven by districts in which government responsiveness is higher. These findings show that, individuals consider expected benefits when choosing to undertake at least some instrumental forms of participation. Our results also underscore the importance of temporal factors that increase the perceived benefits of one’s political engagement.

[4] It Takes a Village: Peer Effects and Externalities in Technology Adoption. (with Romain Ferrali, Melina R. Platas, Jonathan Rodden)
American Journal of Political Science, 2019, 64(3): pp. 536-553. drawing drawing drawing drawing

Abstract Do social networks matter for the adoption of new forms of political participation? We develop a formal model showing that the quality of communication that takes place in social networks is central to understanding whether a community will adopt forms of political participation where benefits are uncertain and where there are positive externalities associated with participation. Early adopters may exaggerate benefits, leading others to discount information about the technology's value. Thus, peer effects are likely to emerge only when informal institutions support truthful communication. We collect social network data for 16 Ugandan villages where an innovative mobile-based reporting platform was introduced. Consistent with our model, we find variation across villages in the extent of peer effects on technology adoption, as well as evidence supporting additional observable implications. Impediments to social diffusion may help explain the varied uptake of new and increasingly common political communication technologies around the world.

[3] Crowdsourcing Accountability: ICT for Service Delivery. (with Melina R.Platas, Jonathan Roddenc)
World Development, 2018, 112: pp. 74-87. drawing drawing drawing drawing

Abstract We examine the effect on service delivery outcomes of a new information communication technology (ICT) platform that allows citizens to send free and anonymous messages to local government officials, thus reducing the cost and increasing the efficiency of communication about public services. In particular, we use a field experiment to assess the extent to which the introduction of this ICT platform improved monitoring by the district, effort by service providers, and inputs at service points in health, education and water in Arua District, Uganda. We find suggestive evidence of a short-term improvement in some education services, but these effects deteriorate by year two of the program, and we find little or no evidence of an effect on health and water services at any period. Despite relatively high levels of system uptake, enthusiasm of district officials, and anecdotal success stories, we find that relatively few messages from citizens provided specific, actionable information about service provision within the purview and resource constraints of district officials, and users were often discouraged by officials’ responses. Our findings suggest that for crowd-sourced ICT programs to move from isolated success stories to long-term accountability enhancement, the quality and specific content of reports and responses provided by users and officials is centrally important.

[2] Texting Complaints to Politicians: Name Personalization and Politicians’ Encouragement in Citizen Mobilization. (with Kristin Michelitch, Marta Santamaria)
Comparative Political Studies 2017, 50(10): pp. 1325-1357. drawing drawing

Abstract Poor public service provision and government accountability is commonplace in low-income countries. Although mobile phone–based platforms have emerged to allow constituents to report service deficiencies to government officials, they have been plagued by low citizen participation. We question whether low participation may root in low political efficacy to politically participate. In the context of a text message–reporting platform in Uganda, we investigate the impact of adding efficacy-boosting language to mobilization texts —(a) citizen name personalization and (b) politician encouragement — on citizens’ willingness to report service deficiencies to politicians via text messages. Both treatments, designed to increase internal and external efficacy, respectively, have a large, positive effect on participation. The results are driven by traditionally less internally efficacious constituents (females) and less externally efficacious constituents (those represented by opposition party members), respectively.

[1] I would like u WMP to extend electricity 2 our village”: On Information Technology and Interest Articulation. (with Macartan Humphreys, Gabriella Sacramone-Lutz)
American Political Science Review, 2014, 108(3): pp. 688-705. drawing drawing drawing drawing

Abstract How does access to information communication technology (ICT) affect who gets heard and what gets communicated to politicians? On the one hand, ICT can lower communication costs for poorer constituents; on the other, technological channels may be used disproportionately more by the already well connected. To assess the flattening effects of ICTs, we presented a representative sample of constituents in Uganda with an opportunity to send a text message to their representatives at one of three randomly assigned prices. Critically, and contrary to concerns that technological innovations benefit the privileged, we find evidence that ICT can lead to significant flattening: a greater share of marginalized populations use this channel compared to existing political communication channels. Price plays a more complex role. Subsidizing the full cost of messaging increases uptake by over 40%. Surprisingly however, subsidy-induced increases in uptake do not yield further flattening since free channels are not used at higher rates by more marginalized constituents.