Applied Political Science and Evidence-Based Foreign Assistance in Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance
Abbarno, Aaron J. and Bonoff, Nicole. 2018. PS: Political Science& Politics, 51(3), 559-562
As a Democracy Fellow at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), I helped manage the research priorities for the Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) sector. My focus was on expanding the scope and quality of impact evaluations (IEs) of USAID programming. Within the policy world, IEs specifically refer to experimental or quasi-experimental research designs for evaluating outcomes and effectiveness. Our team is currently managing or designing over 20 IEs where USAID works, with a total research budget of more than $15 million. This is on top of the money that is budgeted to implement programming that is being evaluated.
In addition to providing guidance on research design and programmatic design, I served as a Principal Investigator on three different RCT IEs.
Corruption and Illegal Campaign Finances in Peruvian Elections
Direct informational campaign to voters about levels and types of fraud in Amazon communities before elections
(with Noam Lupu and Aaron Abbarno)
Accountability among MPs in Zambia
MPs scorecards and pre-post election surveys among citizens to understand demand for and utilization of performance-based information in vote choice
(with Aaron Abbarno)
Integrated Governance Activity in the Health Sector in DRC
Participatory budgeting and audits with results-based financing of health clinics to improve service delivery
(with Kim Dionne and Gabriella Sacramone-Lutz)
Other IEs where I was heavily involved in the research design, but was not a Principal Investigator, include health clinic accountability in Zambia, secondary school civic education in the Republic of Georgia, community crime prevention and juvenile justice reform in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, and youth employment to reduce community violence in El Salvador.
Finally, I was involved in organizing an annual research summit and workshop for USAID that brings together staff from USAID Field Missions that have early-stage program designs suitable for IEs with academics who are paired with the projects. Over the course of a week, academics provide instruction on the basics of research design to policy makers while collaboratively generating experimental research designs for the specific programs. This allows for the research design to be embedded within the programmatic design to improve causal inference and the theoretical rigor of foreign assistance programming. The paired academics then typically follow these projects as Principal Investigators moving forward. As of 2016, three USAID DRG Impact Evaluation Clinics have been held. I contributed substantially to a handbook on initiating and managing IEs for USAID that will be used to guide agency-wide best practices.