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Dear MIT GOV/LAB Community,

Does change happen incrementally or through major disruption? Can protests bring structural change? Is it possible for a pandemic to leave us with good governance outcomes, like more trust in our governments?

Covid-19 has painfully exposed (yet again) how our institutions and democratic values are applied unjustly. We know that anti-Black racism and inequality are embedded in all our institutions, and MIT GOV/LAB is no exception.

The historical moment we’re in has not changed the fundamental nature of governance challenges and has only reinforced our commitment to work on these issues through engaged scholarship. With this framing in mind, we want to open the door for conversation and provide an update on our ongoing initiatives:

  • Engaged scholarship during health crises. Building on our experience conducting research quickly and safely during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, we are working with partners on Covid-19 response initiatives in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Uganda. This research focuses on understanding critical issues like the importance of trust in fostering citizen cooperation, and how to best support decentralized community mobilization.
  • Surveys to inform data-driven decisions. Starting in Sierra Leone, we launched a rapid national survey with local civil society and national government partners to gather data on people’s awareness of coronavirus, their trust in government, health information, and their ability to endure a lockdown for different periods of time. The early results are already having an impact on policy, including the design of Sierra Leone’s Covid-19 response and lockdown strategy, featured in Science Magazine.
  • Designing and learning from government <> citizen exchanges. Combining the best social science evidence with design-thinking and engaged scholarship, these initiatives consider both government and citizens as end-users to ensure that the results are more likely to be taken up.

If you are working on similar issues or want to learn more, please be in touch ( / @mitgovlab). More than ever, we need all hands on deck.


Below are some highlights from the last few months.

  • June 26: E-learning on WhatsApp with Grassroot. Mobilisation Lab featured our research on teaching grassroots organising and leadership on WhatsApp. On June 26, join our webinar with Grassroot. RSVP here.
  • July 7: Behavioral science in the field with Busara. We’re presenting on our new interdisciplinary course in Kenya. RSVP to Also, check out the course syllabus.
  • [Podcast] Learning from Ebola. The Strategy Scholars Network hosted Lily Tsai and Ben Morse to talk about Ebola and lessons for Covid-19. Take a listen.
  • Preliminary results on Covid-19 in Sierra Leone. Check out our policy brief with data and visualizations from the first rapid survey in Sierra Leone. More on the partners and project in MIT News.
  • How to build trust and cooperation? We published a journal article on our Ebola research in Liberia, also covered in Forbes and MIT News.