(The survey’s project manager (left) displaying use of the 360-degree video glasses with an interviewer (right). Credit: Andrew Miller.)

Andrew was awarded a GOV/LAB seed grant in 2017 to conduct research in Nigeria on how and why citizens choose to cooperate with state authorities. Read the full research description here. Below is a Q&A update on his research.

In one sentence, can you describe why you are conducting this research?

Information from citizens is critical to addressing gang violence, so we need to better understand why witnesses often choose not to share what they know with the police.

How are you exploring this issue in Lagos?

A central component of the project surveys shopkeepers in five major Lagos markets. The survey includes a short experiment using 360-degree video, a lightweight virtual reality experience. The technology immerses survey respondents in a wrap-around video from the viewpoint of a Lagos shopkeeper witnessing a street fight. Although Lagos is generally safe, fights can break out when street gangs, known locally as area boys, vie for control of territory.

In the first scene, the shopkeeper stands outside their shop and listens to a well-known Lagos radio presenter introduce a text messaging system where citizens can provide information to the police about problems in the market. Speaking in Nigerian Pidgin, the presenter announces:

Lagos, una good afternoon o! I wan bring tori for una now. And the number one tori wey I wan throwey give una be sey government now don reach special number wey you go fit send text message go where area boys and touts dey fight. You go fit send message to that number now make police go fit go hold dem for trouser.

[Translation] Good afternoon, Lagos! I have news for you. Our top story is government has set up a special number for sending text messages when area boys and troublemakers fight. You can send messages to the number to help police catch them.

The video then shows a fight between two groups of area boys. After the fight, a market leader, commonly referred to as an iyaloja or “market mother”, visits the shopkeeper to discuss what happened.

After the respondents watch the video, they answer questions about what they saw and whether or not they would use the text messaging system. The videos have sixteen variations that test, for instance, whether or not providing anonymity increases the amount of information the respondent sends.

Why 360-video?

I felt 360-video was the most realistic way to explore this issue. However, during my first trip to Lagos in June 2016, I had no plans to produce a video. My initial goal was to see if competition between state authorities and street gangs was a relevant and important topic to Lagosians. My scoping research discovered that it was, and that people living and working in communities with a heavy area boy presence advocated for implementing a messaging system like the one portrayed in the video. Such a system requires buy-in from multiple stakeholders, establishing processes for the effective use of the information, and most importantly, safety protocols and safeguards against potential abuse.

Even though the messaging platform was not in place, I still wanted to explore cooperation between citizen and police in a rigorous and realistic way. I considered text, audio, and traditional 2D video but decided to use 360-degree video as it gives respondents a more immersive experience. Now that the technology for producing and viewing them is comparable to 2D, I saw it as an interesting challenge to take on. There has been little political science research done using 360-videos so far, but now that technological advances have made it cheaper and easier to produce them (the videos play on mid-range mobile phones with Google Cardboard), I saw it as an interesting challenge to take on.

Andrew, far right, on set in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Content Garage.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?

The first challenge was finding a Lagos-based production firm that could produce the videos. I issued a request for proposal through tender websites and contacts in Lagos’s small-but-growing virtual reality community, and after a lot of responses and interviews, I chose to partner with Content Garage. They were professional, fun to work with, and came through with a high-quality product.

Another concern I had going into the survey was that shopkeepers would be suspicious of a new technology like Google Cardboard, which covers the users’ eyes. Some respondents prefer to watch the video by holding and rotating the phone, so they can keep one eye on their wares. More often, respondents are intrigued by the technology and some want to watch multiple variations of the video, which we have to politely decline, since it would dilute the experimental “treatment”.

What do you hope to learn from your experiment?

There’s a lot of debate about what prevents cooperation with the police. Two theories predominate. The first suggests that citizens don’t see the police as legitimate. The police don’t respect my rights; they don’t respect my people’s rights; why should I cooperate with them? A second theory takes a more instrumental approach. Citizens don’t cooperate because they are worried what will happen to them. If I help the police, the gangs might come after me; the police might even accuse me of a crime; why should I take those risks? Hopefully from the experiment we can weigh the competing theories and identify what is driving citizen decisions on whether or not to cooperate.


Andrew C. Miller is a doctoral candidate in the MIT Political Science Department and Security Studies Program. His work in Lagos is funded in part by the MIT GOV/LAB seed program. Prior to joining MIT, he was assistant director and research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action. He has field experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, among other conflict-affected states. Andrew can be reached at millera@mit.edu.