We are committed to supporting MIT graduate students conducting original field research and data collection on MIT GOV/LAB topics and themes of interest. Strong preference is given to applications that propose exploring collaborative research with practitioner partners. We offer two types of funding through a competitive application process:

  • MIT Governance Lab Dissertation Grant, a prestigious award to support primary data collection for dissertation research. Open to MIT GOV/LAB-affiliated students; generally up to two awards granted each year.
  • MIT Governance Lab Seed Grant to support exploratory fieldwork or preliminary research towards a dissertation. Open to MIT Political Science graduate students; multiple grants awarded throughout the year.

Over the last few years, we provided funding to more than fifteen doctoral students conducting research in countries across the globe. Their research questions cover a range of governance topics including citizen engagement and participation, urban informality, accountability within government, and ethnic violence. Below is a brief overview of the research projects and outcomes. For more information on the MIT GOV/LAB Dissertation and Seed Grants, contact mitgovlab@mit.edu.

MIT GOV/LAB Dissertation Grants

State Worker Networks and Activism in the Middle East and North Africa. Elizabeth Parker-Magyar explores how working for the state shapes political attitudes and claims-making in Jordan. Through a collaboration with Ahel, a local organization that trains activists on how to build their own narratives, particular attention is paid to the at-work networks individuals develop and how state worker activism shapes popular attitudes about governance. More on her research in MIT News. (2023)

Land, Urbanization, and Elite Incentives. Nicole Wilson is looking at how elite behavior with respect to land use in urban and peri-urban environments shapes citizens’ access to housing, services, and formal land rights, part of her ongoing research on Nigeria’s Lagos state. For more on Nicole’s work, see her research highlighted in MIT News. (2021)

Politics of public finance in West Africa. Building on previous fieldwork in Senegal and Mali, Stuart Russell is studying the politics of public finance in West Africa. He is particularly interested in how the fragmentation of political parties and political elites affects public expenditures, public procurement, and the broader bureaucracy in West African countries. (2021)

Electoral Incentives and Government Outsourcing of Public Services. Blair Read studies public services, state-building, and non-state service delivery in South Asia. Her dissertation examines the formation and development of public service sectors, focusing on state decisions to outsource education to non-state actors in India, building on her 2020 fieldwork in Delhi and Haryana. (2020)

Urban geography and political behavior in Sub-Saharan Africa. Paige Bollen’s project centers on how urban form shapes the nature and frequency of contact between groups. She explores how certain spatial configurations promote superficial contact between ethnic groups, contact which can then inform citizens’ perceptions of ethnic favoritism. She assesses these interactions by combining spatial and census data with a survey of West African urban citizens. More on her research in MIT News (2020)

How politics in bureaucrat hiring Impacts local governance in Brazil. Guillermo Toral’s research explores Brazilian municipal governments, focusing on education and healthcare. Using administrative micro-level datasets, surveys, and in-depth interviews, he studies the local politics around hiring. Guillermo’s research examines the following questions: How do politicians shape the bureaucracy? What kinds of political connections exist between bureaucrats and politicians, as a result of politicians’ efforts? How do those connections impact bureaucratic effectiveness, within-government accountability, and human development outcomes? More on his research here. (2018)

Indigenous participation in the Philippines. Nina McMurry explored how the legal recognition of traditional institutions affect governance and the functioning of the state. In partnership with Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), Nina is conducting research to evaluate the effects of establishing separate polling places for indigenous voters during elections. We are specifically examining the effects on electoral participation, harassment, and discrimination during elections, electoral competitiveness, and the substantive representation of indigenous peoples in local government. More on her research online. (2018)

Citizen engagement and voter behavior in Tanzania. Leah Rosenzweig explored under what conditions do voters evaluate election candidates based on performance and programmatic considerations in dominant-party systems? In partnership with Twaweza East Africa, a civil society organization focused on government accountability and citizen engagement, this research addresses key questions about how citizens engage with candidates, parties, and government authorities. (2017)

Alternatives to clientelism in accessing state services in Mexico. Tesalia Rizzo conducted a field experiment to explore the role of brokers and clientelism in accessing state services in Mexico. As a follow-up project, GOV/LAB supported Tesalia to understand what incentivizes local officials to respond to citizen needs and demands; and what constraints, motivations, and considerations influence the behavior of bureaucrats. Tesalia also mentored an undergraduate intern who supported logistics and fieldwork in Mexico. (2017)

​Community policing and trust in Liberia. Ben Morse researched whether community policing builds confidence in the police and improve community cooperation. In collaboration with the Liberian National Police and Parley Liberia, the research team tested whether community policing can build confidence in the police, increase crime reporting, improve information sharing, and ultimately reduce the incidence of crime and violence. This project was part of the EGAP Metaketa Initiative, more online. (2017)

MIT GOV/LAB Seed Grants

Investigating annual audit reports. Jerik Cruz, in partnership with the Ateneo School of Government in the Philippines, is building one of the most comprehensive databases of annual audit reports in the developing world. Applying a variety of machine learning, natural language processing, and causal inference methods to the data, he hopes to yield new conceptual insights on the granular evolution of state capacity, anti-corruption mechanisms, and accountability relations in developing democracies over the past two decades. (2023)

Intergroup Cooperation in India. Eyal Hanfling received travel support to attend the MoPED-IGR workshop at WBZ Berlin to receive feedback on an experimental design for a lab-in-the-field experiment on intergroup cooperation in India, which is part of his larger dissertation work. (2023)

Community-value-driven framework. Leonard Francis Vibbi is co-designing and working closely with select communities in Sierra Leone to design and implement a project by building a comprehensive community-value-driven framework to deploy in communities for ethical and responsible data engagements in times of humanitarian crises. (2023)

The air pollution crisis in South Asia: Beyond state capacity. Anum Mustafa is examining why the air quality crisis persists despite ample legislation targeting air pollution and clean air action plans in most cities. This project moves beyond state capacity explanations to explore the role of business and special interest groups in explaining implementation patterns. (2022).

Frontline workers, networks, and activism. Elizabeth Parker-Magyar is studying how working for the state shapes political attitudes and claims-making in Jordan. Unpacking the different selection processes for public employees, she pays particular attention to the networks individuals develop at work and how state worker activism shapes popular attitudes about governance. (2022)

Why Do Politicians Support Private Schools? Exploring Political Incentives. Blair Read is researching the politics of education to better understand why some countries have seen such a massive explosion in privately-managed education. This seed grant supported her to conduct fieldwork in India to learn more about the various actors involved in the country’s education system. (2020)

Within-government accountability in Senegal. Stuart Russell is exploring how public sector unions complicate accountability relationships in the education sector in Senegal. Specifically, he is interested in understanding whether the partisan affiliation and strength of unions influence how elected and unelected officials oversee teachers. His research seeks to unpack within-government accountability relationships and highlight how public sector unions ultimately influence the quality of education. Stuart’s fieldwork will bring new data and fresh perspectives to a topic that is understudied in developing country contexts like Senegal. (2019)

Patterns of violence in ethnic conflict. Jasmine English is conducting research to examine variation in the content and intensity of violence across communal conflicts, drawing from the cases of Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her research asks, why is extreme violence the outcome in some communal conflicts, but not in others? What factors explain variation in the quality of communal violence? This seed funding supported Jasmine to collect archival and interview data in Northern Ireland, high-level reflections available online. (2019)

Accountability through national statistics in Vietnam. Minh Trinh is studying the production of internal government statistics in Vietnam, to better understand the extent, causes, and effects of misreporting by government agencies in single-party systems. To do so, he is collecting and digitizing a large administrative dataset to begin unpacking the relationship between top-down and bottom-up accountability mechanisms as reflected by government statistics. More on his research online. (2019)

Who benefits when government decides not to act. Matias Giannoni is researching the incentives behind forbearance, or why the government chooses not to enforce the law. To do so he is focusing on the case of informal settlements in Argentina, which often lack essential public utilities like water, energy, and waste removal. Though some literature seeks to answer this question from the perspective of the electoral returns that politicians obtain from low-income communities that often inhabit informal settlements, Matias is exploring government incentives from the perspective of middle class and elite Argentinians as well as the direct and indirect benefits they might obtain from non-enforcement. (2019)

Measuring geography-based collective action in urban informal sectors in Indonesia. Ying Gao is investigating whether citizen participation in informal sectors increases informal collective action but reduces demand for essential public services in cities. Because fine-grained data on the informal economy is not readily available, Ying will be working to connect, assemble, and analyze data to inform her research question. In rapidly urbanizing contexts, like Indonesia, a better understanding of how citizens in informal sectors differently participate, and how the government responds (or does not respond) to their collective action, is critical to informing urban service provision. (2019)

Causes and consequences of uncertainty among the urban poor in Lagos. Nicole Wilson received two grants to support research in Nigeria facilitated by Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a non-governmental organization that supports the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (the Federation). Together, JEI and the Federation work to empower residents of informal settlements to hold the government accountable through legal assistance, community organizing, and social media awareness campaigns. Nicole spent time getting to know some of the communities that JEI and the Federation support and interviewed residents and community leaders about the political challenges they face; initial observations online. (2018)

Exploring performance in the Malian civil service. Stuart Russell received seed funding to support preliminary research with a civil society partner in Mali. His field research examined Accountability Lab’s project Integrity Idol (now Integrity Icon), which celebrates bureaucrats nominated for the integrity and hard work they demonstrate in their job, to better understand how the finalists and their colleagues react to the publicity the program generates. High-level results available online; this work was also featured in The Economist. (2018)

Women and the armed Maoist struggle in Nepal. Apekshya Prasai’s research focuses on women’s roles and experiences in Nepal’s civil war. She asks: what motivated women from such patriarchal communities to challenge societal norms, and often their families’ expectations, to join the Maoist insurrection? What was their path to becoming an insurgent and what roles and responsibilities did they take on once in the movement? How were gender dynamics within the Maoist movement? How were women uniquely affected by the termination of the war and the Maoist advancement in mainstream politics as a political party? Initial observations from the field available online. (2018)

The many faces of urban informality. Three graduate students, Blair Read, Paige Bollen, and Ying Gao, explored citizen participation and service provision in informal urban communities in Pakistan, Liberia, and Indonesia respectively. Their research questioned: How do poor urban citizens come together as communities—both formal and informal—to gain access to public services? How do the urban poor participate in place-based communities (such as slum settlement neighborhoods) and non-spatial communities (such as religious or work-related groups or networks)? Does participation in different types of communities make a difference in the urban poor’s relationship with the government, or the strategies that they use to obtain—or create—public services, such as sanitation, transport, and security? More details online. (2017)

Rebel-controlled localities in post-war Côte d’Ivoire. Philip Martin conducted research in northern Côte d’Ivoire examining the social and political roles of former rebel group members and ex-rebel commanders within local communities. Through a series of surveys and structured interviews, he documented how the Forces Nouvelles (FN) rebels established a political system and carried out a number of extra-military functions typically performed by governments (e.g. policing, taxation, and settling disputes). More detailed information on his research questions and results online. Phil also mentored MIT GOV/LAB intern Kennedy Middleton (Spelman ‘18) in conducting research on rebel to military integration in Côte d’Ivoire. (2017)

Citizen compliance in Nigeria’s contested territory. Andrew Miller explored the following question: What motivates a citizen to comply or not comply with state or non-state actors? Understanding what motivates compliance and how citizens perceive risk can help states establish authority in contested environments. More on his research in Nigeria online as well as a report back on data collection using virtual reality in the field. Andrew’s research was featured at our conference on the Political Behavior of Development. Andrew also supported MIT GOV/LAB intern Nichols Newton-Cheg on a comparative case study exploring the causes of low arrest rates for homicides in Baltimore, Maryland. (2017)

Political effects of expected vs. actual returns to higher education in Chile. Loreto Cox’s research explores to what extent, and under what conditions, do the benefits of higher education live up to expectations? What happens when graduates – who invested a great deal of time and money in higher education – realize that the labor market does not value their degree as expected? How does this gap in expectation affect the political engagement of recent graduates? Does this change their political preferences and attitudes (e.g., their political identification or how much they support redistribution)? More on Loreto’s research and report back, as well as initial research results. (2017)