Research & Eval

Evaluations and Research Papers: 

The terms ‘indices’ and ‘indicators’ may immediately cause eyelids to droop. How, then, might they serve to impassion publics and, ultimately, promote social change? This paper is part of my work on communication about social change in that it builds theory about how social movement actors bring information about solutions to social problems into the media. It does so by examining the extent to which indices and indicators can be considered communication tools for social movements and social change. The analysis is based on a 2018 evaluation of one index based in the United States – the Ranking Digital Rights Index, which assesses privacy and freedom of expression in the ICT space – and incorporates interviews with civil society stakeholders. Bringing theory from the fields of journalism and social movements together with the data from the evaluation, the findings suggest indices can serve as useful communication resources for social movements under certain circumstances. In particular, the analysis suggests three communication resources – legitimate information, newsworthy information, and flexible information – that human rights indices are most likely to provide.

This paper was based on an evaluation of a housing facility for homeless survivors of intimate partner violence and is part of my effort to use evaluations to improve on-the-ground interventions and build theory regarding how media and communication can promote social change for marginalized communities. In this paper, I argue that CSC must better incorporate trauma healing into the concept of empowerment, and thus into a revised model of social change. Three broad theoretical arguments are offered regarding trauma within CSC: (1) trauma is rarely addressed outside peacebuilding interventions, but is relevant to other marginalized populations; (2) storytelling work has mostly focused on its politically empowering effects, and insufficiently on its healing effects related to trauma as a precursor to political empowerment; and (3) storytelling work almost always assumes an audience, but there is also value in internal communication – e.g. telling a story to oneself or journaling – when trauma has limited one’s opportunities for communication.

I also wrote a blog post about this piece. You can read it here.

This paper describes a research project that is part of my effort to build theory on the role of communication about development in promoting development outcomes. An online experiment was designed to test whether framing media portrayals of distant crises as “solvable,” by including concrete information about ways to address the problem, moves viewers to help more than framing crises as tragic and unsolvable. The common wisdom in the psychology literature on helping behavior is that sympathy is what drives action, not statistics and facts (which often in fact drive down helping behavior). We found that solvable frames were just as effective as unsolvable frames at promoting helping behavior, but that the prior influenced viewers through rationality, while the latter influenced by increasing sympathy.

Access the survey used for this experiment here.

This paper describes a research project that is part of my effort to build theory on the role of communication about development in promoting development outcomes. This paper introduced the concept of solutions-oriented information, meaning information related to causes of, context of, or ways to address social ills. The study investigates how journalists covering international humanitarian crises make decisions regarding the inclusion / exclusion of solutions-oriented information in stories of suffering. Interviews with journalists reveal an internal tension between maintaining a neutral, unbiased position and writing in a way that supports engagement and action. Ironically, perhaps, journalists find that including solutions-oriented information amounts to unethical and biased coverage, despite the fact that inclusion of solutions to social problems is an accepted and institutionalized aspect of the American news media’s mandate to the public. Reasons for this seeming contradiction are discussed, and I argue that solutions-oriented information not only can be included without demonstrating bias, but that it ought to be included to support ethical coverage that properly informs citizens about potential paths for political engagement.

This paper is based on an evaluation I conducted of an intervention in India and is part of my effort to use evaluations to improve on-the-ground interventions and build theory regarding how media and communication can promote social change for marginalized communities. It discusses how small group discussion might spur consciousness-raising, and thus bottom-up, community-led social change, in this case regarding violence against women.

This piece problematizes the notions of “accountability” and “learning” in aid policy and evaluation practice. It questions the role that project evaluations ought to serve. Accountability and learning are two terms that have been held up as twin pillars that will ensure a more effective aid-making system. Here, I question the ability of these concepts to improve aid in their current working forms. I offer a revised conceptualization of learning in order to improve funding and funding policy. The revised definition supports two particular areas in which “learning” is sorely needed but which are eschewed in most current institutionalized evaluation rhetoric: developing theory undergirding social change (such as theories relating to gender-based violence) and evaluating project design and implementation processes (such as participatory designs).

This is a report, funded by the U.S. Institute of Peace, on a pilot study of an IVR system in Rwanda, used to monitor and evaluate the success of an edutainment program. The study explores the potential that Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems have as both a distribution and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool, noting the limitations the current state of IVR technology imposes. The project explored mobile IVR technology for those engaged in peacebuilding, investigated the usefulness of the platform for information dissemination and infor-mation collection, and evaluated the platform as a tool to improve monitoring and evaluation. This work fills an evidence gap often found by organizations in the development field who are interested in using ICTs, but have inadequate information about effective and practical ways to do so.

Based on Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s 2010 bestseller Half the Sky, the Half the Sky Movement conducted a multi-million dollar intervention to promote gender equality in India and Kenya through the use of media. Through a documentary film, educational videos, discussion groups, and mobile games, the project sought to change attitudes and behaviors regarding gender norms. The Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (where I was a post-doctoral fellow) was hired to consult on project design and to conduct monitoring and evaluation of the project. I led this effort.

This paper on communication about development (CAD) evaluates how three of the most well-known “celebrity diplomats” in the United States – Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, and Bono – differ in their method of speaking about development, crises, and conflicts, focusing on how their public discourse adds to, or detracts from, citizens’ abilities to understand, discuss, and respond to the issues presented in the public sphere.

This CAD paper explores how the U.S. news media construct the topic of hunger in Africa for U.S. audiences. Specifically, the paper addresses how newspapers define and delimit the relationship between U.S. citizens and foreign sufferers. Through a framing analysis and critical discourse analysis of randomly sampled newspaper stories, as well as interviews with media stakeholders, I argue that while news articles covering hunger in the United States usually frame the problem as pertinent to the public sphere, the victim as worthy of political action, and the reader as political agent, articles covering hunger in Africa frame the issue as irrelevant to the public sphere, the victim as removed from political action, and the reader as politically impotent. This serves to weaken (or sever) the relationship between the marginalized and those in a position to help.

This article, written as part of a research grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, explores whether, and to what extent, local voices feature in research on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa, with a particular focus on Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. We question whether the claims of the transformative power of ICTs are backed by ‘evidence’ and whether information emanating from Africans is taken into consideration by ICT-based development initiatives.

Only a small portion of project evaluations are done by scholars and are based on theory. This limits the potential of evaluations to build development and social change theory. This article discusses the potential for fruitful collaboration between academics and practitioners through reflection on our work with the NGO Radio La Benevolencija.

This evaluation was commissioned by Radio La Benevolencija (RLB), a Dutch NGO that aims to empower groups and individuals who are the target of hate speech and ensuing acts. The evaluation consisted of a document analysis of ten years’ worth of organization proposals and reports, as well as in-depth interviews. The report is owned by RLB but excerpts are available. I am currently finishing up an academic article summarizing how RLB’s work contributes to theory on the role of group discussion and social norms in behavior change.

This evaluation was commissioned by Susan Benesch, Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center and Director of the Dangerous Speech Project, as part of a grant from the Fetzer Institute. For this project, Benesch partnered with Media Focus on Africa (MFA) and the cast and crew of a Kenyan television comedy drama series, Vioja Mahakamani, to “inoculate” audiences against inciting speech, and make them more skeptical of it, by increasing understanding of what constitutes incitement to violence, the psychology behind incitement that helps prepare groups of people to condone or even take part in violence, and its consequences.

In 2012 I led a learning group, facilitated by Internews, of the three grantees of USIP’s 2011 Communication for Peacebuilding priority grant program. The purpose of the learning group was to facilitate knowledge-sharing, mutual learning, joint dissemination, and collaboration regarding how to use media and communication for peacebuilding. This report summarizes the findings from our two-day meeting.

This report was commissioned by BBC Media Action in order to assess how communication research and evaluations are used by policymakers and others. The project examined the extent to which different donor organizations, foundations, think tanks, practitioners, and academics utilize research in general, and BBC Media Action research in particular.

In this piece, we argue that public opinion polls can be used as tools by governments to change narratives around development policy options. We argue that polls can be used by governments to deflect the CNN effect by re-framing narratives and policy options; to trump the CNN effect by returning to a form of evidence-based policy making in which research, rather than media pressure, dictates decision making; and third, to circumvent the CNN effect by engaging in improved approaches to conflict resolution.

This article discusses the history of media deregulation in Southern Europe and Thailand and explores what sudden deregulation of media, in particular radio, can mean in terms of community radio and the ability of the radio sector to serve small or marginalized communities.

Roger Silverstone’s concept of the mediapolis is used to incorporate the role of both the media and the media audience in recognizing and acknowledging the distant other. This idea is then expanded to the case of global humanitarian crises and distant others in distress. In terms of the role of the audience, behavior prediction models from the fields of economics and psychology are used to discuss what kind of communication about development in the mainstream media might prompt a particular response from the Western reader toward the distant other.

Other Work