Former Visiting Fellow Kristin Michelitch has been named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow and awarded $200,000 to support her research on politicians and democracy in Uganda. She was one of 35 fellows announced April 26 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York to receive grant money to go “toward the funding of significant research and writing in the social sciences and humanities.”
Michelitch, assistant professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, will research methods of holding politicians accountable in low-income, newly democratizing nations.
“There are few more important topics than the performance of elected officials and their success representing ordinary citizens in developing countries,” said David E. Lewis, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. “This research has the potential to transform our understanding of the citizen-elected official relationship and how to improve it.”
Michelitch said that most social science research examines citizens’—rather than politicians’—behavior because the latter is much more difficult.
“Performance of individual politicians, let alone initiatives to improve such performance, is understudied, because gaining access to politicians is much more labor- and time-intensive,” she said.
“Moreover, research on monitoring efforts aimed at improving politicians’ job performance can be challenging, because politicians wield the power to discredit or shut down the monitoring or research efforts if NGOs and researchers are not successful in involving the proper stakeholders and walking a tightrope in which politicians maintain confidence in the process while submitting themselves to monitoring.”
Michelitch and her collaborators have maintained a unique five-year partnership with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), an NGO in Uganda, to test multiple policy interventions aimed at improving politicians’ performances at the subnational level. Tracking the work of politicians, Michelitch and her collaborators will investigate the following:
Whether the dissemination of a performance scorecard, which tracks how politicians fulfill legally defined job duties, to citizens subsequently improves politician performance;
Whether text-messaging technology for citizens to communicate policy priorities and public service deficiencies to politicians results in politician representation of those priorities in plenary sessions;
What drives underperformance by female politicians and whether they are nonetheless better at representing women’s interests;
Whether poorly performing politicians are ultimately challenged by new candidates and voted out in an election, and whether that improves post-election performance; and
Whether the NGO’s activities resulted in superior performance as a whole compared with subnational governments that do not get any assistance.
As a 2012–13 Kellogg visiting fellow, Michelitch collaborated with Faculty Fellow Jaimie Bleck on “Good Morning Timbuktu! The Impact of Radio in Rural Islamic Africa,” which utilized a field experiment in Mali to ascertain whether access to radio via a radio distribution program could emancipate ordinary citizens’ political behavior from traditional elites such as village chiefs and imams. At the time, she was also conducting field research on political accountability in Uganda.
Overall, the Carnegie Corporation of New York will distribute $7 million in grants to 35 fellows. The winning proposals will address issues including inequity in US education, climate change and the legal limbo facing immigrants.
“The health of our democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and our universities, academies and academic associations play an essential role in replenishing critical information and providing knowledge through scholarship,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Thirty-three prominent scholars, educators and intellectuals served as evaluators of 200 universities’ candidates. The jurors were asked to consider the merits of each proposal based on its originality, promise and potential impact on a particular field of scholarship. Each fellow is expected to produce a book or major study.
Michelitch, who received her PhD in political science from New York University, has worked with democratization and development organizations, including the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (BPB).
First appeared at news.vanderbilt.edu