In recent years, behavioral sciences, or ways to better understand determinants of human behavior, have emerged as a leading innovation across disciplines and sectors. These novel methods and data allow us to measure what incentivizes individual and group behavior to inform numerous interventions; for example, targeted online marketing, incentives for healthier eating, improved educational pedagogy, enhanced community policing protocols, effective policy design for compliance with public health ordinances or paying taxes. Lab in the field experiments, in particular, are one of the gold standards to test behavior using a method that most closely resembles real life. Training in behavioral sciences is a critical skill for students to master across disciplines, and is one of the most exciting developments for bridging the gap between theory and practice with proven potential to achieve real world impacts.
MIT GOV/LAB will launch a new 4-week short course over January term (IAP 2020) that trains graduate students from MIT and local universities in East Africa in cutting-edge behavioral science research. The course will provide students with practical experience in implementing a lab in the field experiment. We are excited to partner with the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, who will host the course in their headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Busara is a pioneering research organization dedicated to advancing and applying behavioral science in the Global South.
Graduate students participating in the course will gain hands-on experience in designing and implementing behavioral experiments in the field. Students will come away with a novel behavioral game and data for an academic publication. Other outcomes include:
- Developing, testing, and iterating on this new practicum model for teaching behavioral experiments in the field, using cutting-edge methods and applied, interactive pedagogy;
- Providing students with the opportunity to engage with diverse communities and local researchers, through hands-on experience in a developing country setting; and,
- Creating an international learning exchange through the cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary cohort of MIT and East African students
The course is innovative in enabling MIT graduate students to learn, design, and implement behavioral experiments in the field. Typically this material is only learned in a classroom through course lectures and readings. The course is novel in bringing students directly to the location of their research subjects in Kenya. It allows students to develop lab experiments while being embedded within Kenya’s social, economic, and political context.
Who is eligible?
In its first iteration, the course will have limited enrollment and be open to MIT graduate students and East African researchers. To encourage innovative thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries, the course will be open to graduate students in the social sciences more broadly (e.g. political science, economics, business, cognitive science). All applicants are expected to have taken at least one year of statistics or econometrics (or the equivalent) and to be familiar with experimental methods.
The course is made possible in collaboration with Busara Center for Behavioral Economics and with generous support from MIT’s J-WEL Grant in Higher Education Innovation.
(Image: Voter registration center in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Alisa Zomer).