This learning case discusses the research collaboration process. For research results see: MIT GOV/LAB Research Brief. 2018. “Testing Access to Information in Kenya with Mystery Shoppers” and “Testing Access to Information in Tanzania with Mystery Shoppers.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Governance Lab.

Suggested Citation. MIT GOV/LAB Learning Case. 2018. “Navigating Access to Information with Twaweza and MIT GOV/LAB.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Governance Lab.

Summary

As part of a larger suite of projects, MIT GOV/LAB and Twaweza East Africa partnered to conduct a mystery shopper field experiment looking at access to information and government transparency. The project was piloted in Tanzania in 2016 and then in Kenya in 2017. This learning case focuses on the process of adapting the research design to new country contexts and the challenges of meeting timelines for practitioner relevance.

Key Takeaways

Recognizing that learning is a process, and that some tension can make for creative collaboration, here are a few lessons from the GOV/LAB-Twaweza partnership that we are working to put in practice going forward:

  • Getting local offices on board. Initially the aim was to conduct the same mystery shopper research in the three countries where Twaweza operates, in order to provide a comparative analysis aligned with Twaweza’s overall strategy. However, upon beginning the Kenya work, different priorities emerged between Twaweza headquarters in Dar es Salaam and the Twaweza Kenya office in terms of where this research fit into their operational plans. Ultimately, we were able to reach consensus, but making sure everyone was on board before commencing the project would have allowed for better preparation and tailoring the design to local priorities.
  • Balancing timeliness with rigor. GOV/LAB took too long to analyze and deliver final results to Twaweza, leading to premature reporting of incorrect results and a loss of momentum in making the data useful in policy discussions on the ground. Additionally, delayed results limited the opportunity to learn from the first experiment in Tanzania in order to better adapt the design for Kenya.
  • Leaving space for research to evolve. The mystery shopper approach was not originally part of our initial research agreement. The design emerged through various discussions between Twaweza and GOV/LAB and would not have come to existence without a fluid and iterative relationship, marked by frequent dialogue and willingness to adjust plans and budgets. As the project developed, both teams became increasingly interested in the mystery shopper approach – first as a way to test comparatively across East Africa and later as a preliminary step to conducting further research on government or bureaucrat behavior, an emerging priority in both practitioner and academic spheres. The organic evolution of priorities for both teams is an important reminder not to predetermine the utility of any single effort, since creative collaboration can move in unexpected and interesting directions.

Featured Research Project: Tsai, Lily L. and Alisa Zomer. “Evaluating public information provision and government transparency using a mystery shopper methodology.” Work in progress.

Partner: This research collaboration was undertaken with Twaweza, a civil society organization that works on enabling children to learn, citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda (www.twaweza.org).