Social Science Field Research Labs
The last few years have witnessed a revolution in development thinking. On the one hand, policy makers and scholars have become acutely aware of the importance of governance issues and political processes in explaining the shortcomings of development strategies. On the other hand, evaluations of policy interventions have been transformed on the empirical front by a keen awareness of the problems of inference in offering social scientific explanations, and the use of various techniques involving quasi-experimental or experimental methods to assess causality. These positive developments afford a great opportunity for rethinking the way in which the development research agenda should be pursued in the years to come.
The research agenda of the Social Science Field Research Laboratory (SSFRL) will be primarily focused in understanding governance experiences in the field. Our goal will be to provide policy makers advice on how to enhance the effectiveness of policy interventions to promote the goals of the Center for United States-Mexico Studies (USMEX) based on scientific studies in the field that combine experimental methods, survey research and observational data at the lowest possible level of aggregation, within an integrated approach. Any assessment of development programs must be informed by theoretical approaches drawn from economics and political science, as well as best practice accounts derived from a public policy or public administration approach. But local contextual factors, historical specificities and actual processes on the ground (which have been stressed more by anthropologists, sociologists and historians) should be at the forefront of an evaluation of development programs.
We have already identified a set of substantive priority issues that may be explored during the first years of activity. Although the specific research projects might differ in terms of the relative emphasis to be put on the various methodological approaches (laboratory or field experiments, embedded experiments in surveys, aggregate data gathering and analysis, or more traditional field research based on interviews and qualitative data collection), the shared understanding will be on the importance of designing projects with a strong emphasis on the risks of faulty causal inference. The priority or sequence of projects will be determined by a combination of the learning process and ongoing within USMEX, the accumulation of knowledge, the receptivity of policy makers to the results generated by the studies, and the availability of donors and partners.
The areas we have identified thus far are the following (not ranked in any particular priority):
1) Ethnic discrimination.
2) Local public good provision.
3) Access to justice, human rights and rule of law.
4) Effects of information on accountability.
5) Education performance and reform.
6) Clientelism and vote buying.
7) Local tax collection and administration.
8) Natural disasters response and effects.
9) Public administration reform at local level.
10) Social capital and participation.
11) Public health birth and death registration.
13) Gender and empowerment.