Research Associate, Free Basic Electricity Project - J-PAL Africa

J-PAL Africa
  • South Africa
  • Bachelor's
  • Master's
  • Other advanced degree
  • Honours
Start Date (Earliest):
Start Date (Latest):
Language Requirement:
  • English
Length of Commitment:
Less than one year

J-PAL Africa seeks a Cape Town-based Research Associate to manage a project that will answer questions related to the impact of subsidised utility services on poor households, and optimal designs for such programs. The project is led by Kelsey Jack (Associate Professor, University of California Santa Barbara) and Anja Sautmann (Director of Research, Education, and Training, J-PAL).

Subsidised services are a popular component of support to poor households in many countries, partly because as they are easy to administer. In South Africa, the Free Basic Electricity (FBE) program provides poor households with some free electricity every month. Its low-cost delivery mechanism has been enabled by near-universal electricity metering and reliable data on past consumption. However, subsidisation also raises many questions about how to best target poor households and choose the best mode of delivery.

The City of Cape Town is considering increasing its FBE allowance to poor households. Our team of researchers are working closely with the electricity department and the economic research division in the City of Cape Town to design a randomised evaluation to measure the impact of this policy change. In helping them design a rigorous evaluation, we hope to learn more about how to design policies to effectively target the poor, whether providing domain-specific aid distorts consumption patterns, whether transfers should be in cash or in-kind, and the optimal size of such transfers.

The position will be based at J-PAL Africa, the Africa hub of J-PAL Global, located at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) in the University of Cape Town, School of Economics. This is a six month contract with an opportunity to renew.

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) consists of a global network of academics who specialise in conducting randomised evaluations of social policies/programmes in order to generate scientific evidence about what works in the fight against poverty. J-PAL’s research associates work closely with these leading academics and partner organisations (often NGOs and governments) to design and implement these studies.

The Research Associate will be expected to lead the implementation of the pilot study, closely working with the Research Manager, Principal Investigators, staff from the City of Cape Town, and other members of the J-PAL team to oversee the implementation of the research study. This role provides an excellent opportunity to work at the frontier of rigorous research and evidence-based policymaking, contributing to knowledge that can improve the lives of citizens across Africa and beyond. 

Responsibilities include:

  • Contributing to study design
    • Working closely with Principal Investigators to scope the feasibility of randomised evaluations and helping to design study implementation methods
    • Conducting literature reviews or consulting related literature to inform study design.
  • Managing the project and its stakeholders
    • Coordinating and cultivating relationships with study partners.
    • Managing finances and contributing to donor reporting.
    • Supporting funding proposals for full study
  • Leading data analysis
    • Cleaning administrative data for analysis
    • Working closely with Principal Investigators to analyse data for needs assessments, study design or computation of results (in Stata and/or R).
    • Performing cost-effectiveness analysis
  • Designing and managing data collection
    • Coordinating data collection efforts including hiring, training and managing teams of field staff.
    • Designing survey instruments, focus group discussions and other data collection tools and methods to achieve study objectives in partnership with academics.
    • Programming surveys, real-time checks and data cleaning processes (often in Stata and/or R).
    • Leading focus group discussions with potential recipients of the intervention
  • Training others on research practices and contributing to J-PAL’s global knowledge repositories and external capacity building efforts.


  • A minimum of an Honour’s degree in economics, social sciences or other Honour’s level degrees involving training in statistics or coursework in quantitative research methods. Candidates with a bachelor degree who have MITx Micromasters in Data, Economics and Development Policy are also welcome to apply.
  • Demonstrated strong quantitative skills. Proficiency in Stata/R and Microsoft Office suite
  • Strong oral and written communication skills in English.
  • Excellent management and organizational skills, attention to detail and ability to work under pressure
  • Creative and effective problem-solver, self-motivated and independent
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Familiarity with and interest in randomised evaluations and experimental methods
  • Right to work in South Africa (citizenship, permanent residency or critical skills visa).

Note: J-PAL Africa cannot sponsor work permits.


Highly Advantageous

  • Prior experience in field research
  • Experience with data cleaning, merging and management using Stata/R programming.
  • Survey programming experience in SurveyCTO or equivalent.
  • Proficiency in an official South African language other than English (e.g., isiZulu, isiXhosa).
  • Valid driver’s licence

How to Apply

Please complete this short application form. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and we encourage you to apply early. Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted and will likely be required to undergo an assessment process before interview rounds.

As cost of employment are being paid for from externally derived funds, this appointment is subject to the availability of funding.

Recruitment will follow UCT’s hiring procedure and remuneration is commensurate with UCT pay-scales. UCT is committed to the pursuit of excellence, diversity and redress. Our Employment Equity Policy is available at UCT reserves the right not to appoint.