This page gives a sense of my research. For my publications, go here. The question to which I want the answers is:
How can we effectively deliver public goods to poor people in the developing world?
My work investigates the determinants of public service delivery in the developing world. Public expenditures in poor countries are often ineffective and inefficient. Projects and programs are implemented over long periods to a low quality, and subsequent welfare impacts are meagre.
By modelling the political forces, institutional and individual incentive structures in the service delivery process, I aim to analyse corruption and capacity issues within developing country bureaucracies and organisations. These can be public, private, or third sector.
My fields of interest, elaborated on below, are:
The determinants of public service delivery efficiency and effectiveness in the developing world
Game theoretic foundations of bureaucracy
Microeconometric theory and practice
Public service delivery in Nigeria
Theoretical foundations of zero-accountability behaviour
My main research focus is on how to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public service delivery in the developing world.
Public expenditure in the developing world is often ineffective and inefficient. Projects and programs are implemented over long periods to a low quality, and subsequent welfare impacts are meagre. This is little surprise given the complex chain of interlinking incentives that constitue effective government. I believe effective service delivery is something like this:
Video: Advert for the Honda Accord
Institutions governing public expenditures in the developing world are typically characterised by low accountability, with public servants operating in incentive structures not accounted for by civil service rules, limited capacity, and weak institutional frameworks. My research aims to identify the optimal mechanisms for public service delivery given these prevailing conditions.
A basic premise of my work is that a key determinant of public service delivery in the developing world is the outcome of the strategic games played by actors in the service delivery chain (for example, by public servants in their everyday jobs).
The mechanism for these games is the formal and informal rules governing the bureaucracies in which they work. I am interested in those rules of bureaucracy that induce games whose equilibria provide optimal service delivery conditional on the constraints of accountability and capacity. I argue that as accountability and institutional capacity change, the optimal mechanism for public service delivery changes.
An example of this is well captured in a spoof of the Honda advert displayed above. In the context of limited institutional and technological capacity, the 118 boys' incentives are aligned with the social good:
Video: Advert for directory enquiries service 118 118
Assessing the accuracy of the theoretical predictions from the work described in the above two sections is an empirical task. My work aims to apply frontier microeconometric theory to data on public service delivery from the developing world.
Clearly, data on public service delivery is key to these efforts. I am interested in data on public service delivery from developing countries around the world.
Given the extent to which my research involves interacting with, working for, and directly influencing governments in the developing world, I felt I needed to isolate some guidelines for these engagements. My 'Guiding principles for researchers working with government in the developing world' outlines my commitments to the research community and to the governments with whom I work in the course of that research.
The analysis of bureaucracy in low-accountability settings is only one application of a much broader topic of analysis in which I am interested, that of settings of very low (dubbed 'zero') accountability.
Public institutions are designed to create incentives for socially desirable action through systems of reward and punishment. In a number of important settings, however, public institutions fail to provide adequate systems of accountability. Theoretical modelling of settings in which such failures occur, dubbed ‘zero-accountability’ settings, can improve understanding of the variance in social outcomes observed under zero-accountability conditions.
My research is rooted in economics. However, effective study of the delivery of public goods requires I work across many disciplines. This leads to wonderful encounters, confrontations, and adventures. I write an occassional blog about these which can be read here.