Illuminating New Solutions and Programmatic Innovations for Resilient Spaces (INSPIRES)
Senior Research Associate

The INSPIRES project combines programming from four large international CSOs and presents an unprecedented opportunity to increase understanding of the role played by civil society in promoting democratic accountability, the strategies used by states to shrink the space in which civil society operates, and factors that drive states to restrict or expand civic space. Our research combines an original cross-national survey of local civil society practitioners in more than 20 countries with webscraping, big data, and machine learning to forecast changes in civic space around the world and identify their predictors. This original data provides an unparalleled opportunity to track global and regional trends in the behavior of governments and civil society actors and accumulate evidence for the conditions under which civil society is most likely to flourish.

ResiliencyCambodia Impact Evaluation [Baseline Report DAC ID: PA-00X-47C ; EGAP ID: 20220425AC]
Primary Investigator (with Erik Wibbels)

The importance of civil society for the proper functioning of democratic institutions has been a central topic in political scholarship. In an attempt to undermine this critical source of oversight, governments around the world have stepped-up efforts to restrict organizations that promote accountability and good governance. At the same time, international funding is becoming increasingly scarce, depriving civil society organizations of a key sources of revenue. These trends threaten to undermine the independence of the civil society sector and erode its ability to act as a check on governments. This project designs and tests an innovative capacity-building program designed to increase the resiliency of NGOs to closing civic spaces by strengthening network ties between NGOs, the for-profit sector, and the public and promoting financial diversification. Using matched-quadruplet randomization, we investigate whether stronger community ties between NGOs and other non-government sectors can help NGOs diversify funding, improve organizational capacity, and increase political independence. This project will help to identify the local conditions that facilitate a robust civil society and provide strategies for fostering these conditions.

Increasing Youth Engagement while Mitigating Conflict: A Youth Forum RCT in Ethiopia (LASER PULSE)
with Hareg Adamu, Mesele Mengsteab, Juan Tellez, and David Dow

Increasing youth civic engagement is a necessary step to render government more responsive to the social and economic needs of youth and to secure the role of youth in shaping the political development of their country. However, increased political mobilization can also promote tension, instability, and conflict. In Ethiopia, ethnic tensions, regional instability, and electoral violence give cause for concern that increased youth mobilization can potentially exacerbate local instability, especially in universities where there have been multiple instances of confrontations in recent years. Recent research suggests that certain types of social interaction can increase youth participation or increase social cohesion, but studies have yet to consider how these interactions interact with one another or with gender dynamics. Using a randomized control trial, we evaluate the impact of an interactive youth forums designed to (1) increase youth civic engagement; (2) connect youth to opportunities to participate in politics and with opportunities to benefit from youth development programs; and (3) foster social cohesion and tolerance among youth.

The Effect of Government Intervention on the Operational Decisions of NGOs: Evidence from Uganda, Cambodia, and Serbia [EGAP ID: 20220421AA]
with Erik Wibbels, Maria Nagawa, Graeme Robertson, and Simon Hollerbauer

Civil society has been a key force for democratic accountability around the world. To limit oversight and mobilization by civil society, governments with authoritarian tendencies often use harassment to repress the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, NGOs engage in a variety of activities, ranging from delivering health services to mobilizing citizens for contentious collective action, and repression likely affects NGOs in these sectors differently. Similarly, repression is used differently across settings, driven by variation in state capacity, legal environments, etc. These differences across NGO activities and government behavior have implications for the activities NGOs are willing to undertake, the locations where they are willing to work, and the types of partnerships they are willing to enter into. To understand these dynamics, we conduct a series of conjoint survey experiments on NGO employees in three countries.

Retrospective of USAID’s Response to Pandemic-Enabled Democratic Backsliding [DAC ID: PA-00Z-6HN]
Democratic Backsliding Specialist

The COVID-19 pandemic created at least two major challenges for USAID Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG) programming. First, in many countries, the pandemic exacerbated the very problems that DRG programming intends to address. Second, the pandemic limited USAID’s and other donors’ ability to respond, with reduced in- person activities and staff working remotely. Given that COVID-19 affected many countries at the same time, it presents a learning opportunity to derive common lessons learned to an external shock. The goal of the study is to derive lessons learned from adapting to pandemic-enabled democratic backsliding. These include lessons both about the process of adapting and about achieving outcomes of countering pandemic-enabled democratic backsliding. This study uses data from an original survey of DRG officers, evidence from in-depth interviews, and original high-frequency, machine-generated data on Covid-19 response and civic space events.