Kenya-bound for more Uwezo research

I head off tomorrow for a few weeks of meetings and research in Kenya. I’ll join my collaborators, Lily Tsai and Dan Posner, and our project manager, Jessica Grody to continue our work trying to understand the impact of the Uwezo initiative. We’ll get started in Nairobi, and from there we’ll do some traveling around the country.

In our research so far, we have examined whether the direct provision of information to parents – specifically, their own children’s literacy and numeracy test results as well as information about what parents can do to be more active citizens – actually leads them to higher levels of local involvement in education. Like many other scholars, we are trying to understand if and when the provision of information leads to greater government accountability in terms of the delivery of key services.

For good reason, a great deal of impact evaluation research these days is being carried out using experimental methods. And if the definition of an experiment requires that the analyst randomly assign treatment to subjects, then technically speaking, ours was not an experiment. But fortunately, Uwezo had decided for various reasons to carry out this portion of their initiative to a random sample of villages around the country. Thus, one could not make the claim that there was something systematically distinctive about the villages that received the intervention. In order to estimate the effects of these informational “bundles” we required a control group. So prior to beginning our study, we identified a set of villages that were highly similar to the ones that had been randomly selected by Uwezo. Then we conducted surveys, focus groups, and other research in both sets of villages. We will complete a draft of a scholarly paper on this study fairly soon, and we will be presenting our results at the late August meetings of the American Political Science Association.

As for our estimates of the effect of those “information bundles”…. Well, we didn’t find any substantial impact. But in fairness, we didn’t hold particularly high expectations for an effect. It was important to see if this aspect of the initiative could drive desired outcomes on its own. It can’t. And now, we will investigate whether some of the much larger information dissemination campaigns make a difference.

On this trip we won’t be carrying out any systematic research – just learning about what Uwezo has been doing and what they plan to do going forward. Hopefully, we will finalize some interesting proposals for research in the coming years.

Making budgets more transparent around the world

The international budget project has updated their website, and has posted a series of papers on the causes and consequences of budget transparency. One paper by Michael Ross finds that

… among autocracies, greater oil wealth is correlated with less fiscal transparency, while greater non-fuel mineral wealth is paradoxically associated with greater transparency…There is some evidence that among autocracies, oil reduces transparency because it helps dictators stay in power.

The IBP is shedding light on how budget processes work, measuring the extent to which citizens actively participate in this key governance function, and is also actively promoting more participation by, among other things, supporting NGO partners involved in this type of work.

Avoiding a twitter revolution in Swaziland

Various scholars and analysts will continue to debate the role of social media within the Arab Spring. But Swaziland’s King Mswati III isn’t taking any chances: According to the M&G, he’s planning to ban criticism on facebook and twitter. I am guessing that the little kingdom state probably doesn’t have the capacity to track down its cyber-critics. But perhaps the relationship between Mswati and the largely South Africa-based mobile and internet providers is cozier than I assume it to be?

At the moment, the Swaziland facebook page is replete with nasty critiques: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Swaziland/48672481450, and renewed calls for protest on April 12.

Note to autocrats: don’t bother proposing a ban on free speech unless you can actually carry it out!

Twaweza responds to Ugandan police seizure of calendars

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Ugandan police’s seizure of Twaweza-produced calendars promoting active citizenship. This week,  Twaweza’s Uganda country director spoke out about the calendar’s intended message and why he believes the police should release the calendars.

What reason did the police give to impound a consignment of Twaweza calendars?

They say the calendars contained messages which could incite the public. But we think this is a message that tells citizens to wake up to the realisation that they have to change their livelihoods not to wait for leaders, governments or NGOs to solve their problems. We believe empowering these people can help them make changes in their lives. We think this is a misunderstanding that the police should not have caused.

So do you don’t (sic.) believe what the police say about your calendars?

Absolutely not; we think the calendars are not inciting as they want you to believe. It is colossal misunderstanding on their part.  There are no political innuendos in these calendars.

The full interview can be found here

The country director argues in the interview that the calendars were not intended to be “partisan” or “political,” but rather to encourage citizens to be change-makers in their own lives. Fair enough. But given that there was absolutely no suggestion of inciting violence in these calendars, their confiscation is a clear denial of open and critical political discourse. Irrespective of the goals or intentions of the sponsoring organization, the Ugandan state’s actions contravened any pretense of upholding democratic norms.

Legal Resource Centre challenges S. African Secrecy Bill

George Bizos defended Nelson Mandela and other ANC luminaries during the Rivonia trials of the early 1960s. Now, he is putting forth a challenge to the so-called “secrecy bill,” authored by the current ANC government. Bizos, who works in the constitutional litigation unit of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), argues that the bill contradicts the constitution’s guarantee of citizens’ right to information (see M&G).

The ANC sullies its reputation by continuing to consider this piece of legislation.

Ugandan government impounds Twaweza citizenship calendars

Last Friday, the Ugandan government confiscated 700,000 calendars produced by Twaweza. As far as I know, they remain in police custody.

The calendar was an effort to realize Twaweza’s mission to promote government accountability. Phrases such as, “who will change your world in 2012?” and photographs of various government officials were intended to provide information and to increase citizen awareness.

According to an article in The Monitor, police have charged that the calendars incite violence. More stories and debate about this incident can be found here.

 

Uwezo Uganda film on the value of education

Uwezo Uganda just released a short film on the dreams (of becoming president) and challenges (of going to school when burdened with responsibilities) of an 11-year-old boy named Kyosiga.

Since the goal of this NGO is to inspire parents to place a higher premium on education, the intuition seems just right: Drama is a potentially powerful tool for disseminating key ideas. Along these lines, social scientists like myself need to make peace with the idea that coldly presented facts about the value of education — for example, with evidence about income gains from schooling — are probably not particularly persuasive for most people. Those facts may be necessary for getting a full picture of reality, but in turn, most people seem to be convinced by stories. A dramatic film that makes the case for education through the drama of a single individual who can stand in for the “average child” sounds promising. Whether the intended audience will actually get to see the film, and how they will respond to it remains to be seen.

Premier of Kyosiga's Dream (Daily Monitor)