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Dear MIT GOV/LAB Community,

2020 is off to a fast start! This month, Forbes and MIT News featured our research on the 2014 Ebola epidemic and how those lessons could be applied to the new COVID-19 outbreak. This study looked at how trust was built successfully between government and citizens and how volunteer door-to-door canvassing, sponsored by the government, helped stem the spread of Ebola in Liberia, even in a low-trust environment.

In January, twelve grad students finished our new Behavioral Science in the Field course in Kenya, designed and taught in partnership with Busara. The course trained students from the U.S. and East Africa in cutting-edge behavioral science research and lab-in-the-field experiments while forging cross-cultural ties.

On the civic technology side, we partnered with South Africa-based Grassroot to develop and pilot a new course for community organizers taught entirely over WhatsApp. Part of the challenge, of course, is how to create a message-app based course for low-data settings that has good content and that keeps participants engaged. We published research results as well as a how-to guide for teaching on WhatsApp with the details and what we learned along the way.

Speaking of lessons learned, we released a guide on how to have difficult conversations that arise in academic-practitioner collaborations. This is the latest in a suite of tools, like learning assessments, we’re developing to support engaged scholarship in an honest, frank way. We also published an evidence synthesis with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative looking at when information leads to greater accountability.

In our last update, you might remember that we issued our first open call for research proposals from academic-practitioner teams. The results are now in, and we’re awarding funding to four studies on citizen engagement and government accountability. One is in Brazil, two are in India, and one is in Zambia. We look forward to learning about the outcomes of these studies —be sure to check back for updates and results.

Let us know what you think by contacting us at We look forward to your feedback!

Below are some more highlights from the last few months.

  • Teaching on WhatsApp: Leadership and Storytelling for Grassroots Organizers. How-to guide for designing and delivering an interactive training course online, and research results.
  • To Improve Learning, Invite Friendly Criticism. Notes on how to conduct a learning assessment and what design features make for better exchange in the Learning Collaborative.
  • When Does Information Leader to Greater Accountability? The complete Learning from Evidence series on different ways to achieve accountability between government and citizens.
  • MIT News: How Door-to-Door Canvassing Slowed an Epidemic. Study finds that in Liberia, volunteers limited damage from Ebola by distributing information within their own communities.
  • Fourth Annual Political Behavior of Development Conference. Highlighting emerging theories and research on judiciaries, cities, bureaucrats, and misinformation in developing country contexts.
  • What Can the Ebola Epidemic Teach Us About the New Coronavirus? Forbes article features study on Ebola epidemic by Prof Lily Tsai and colleagues Benjamin Morse and Robert Blair.
  • New Graduate Student Research. Check out the latest graduate student research we are supporting in more than 15 countries.