Katherine Casey is an Associate Professor of Political Economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her research examines how asymmetric information in electoral contests affects voting choice and public sector performance in Sierra Leone, and the impact of foreign aid on collective action and economic development.
Featured Affiliate Interview
Some work I’ve done with other researchers on publicizing candidate debates in Sierra Leone has sparked quite a bit of policy interest... [We] are talking with partners about how to best scale them up and to answer new questions about how the availability of a free platform for mass communication with voters might influence who decides to run for office.
What got you interested in development economics?
In college I volunteered briefly on a Native American reservation with very high poverty rates. The elders in the community pushed us to develop strategies to kick-start economic development. All of our ideas were bad. The experience opened my eyes to how intractable many of the problems constraining development are and left me believing there was no more important challenge to work on.
What is one current research project that you're particularly excited about?
Eddie Lazear (Stanford) and I are working on a pilot project with the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia aimed at increasing the productivity of their workforce. It provides an opportunity to test standard principles of personnel economics in a government setting. While still in the early stages, the project already has raised interesting questions about defining and measuring work in meaningful ways, the optimal composition of teams, and how to recruit and retain talent.
What is your "dream evaluation"? (It doesn't have to be feasible!)
I have many infeasible evaluation plans focused on how to encourage great people to run for public office – at all levels, from local governments to heads of state. I’d like to know how much impact the right leader, at the right time, can have on the development trajectory of a poor country.
What is your most memorable story from the field?
A memorable, if mortifying, favorite is driving over a bridge in Sierra Leone to see one of our survey team trucks half-submerged in the river below, cab down, headlights on. Just as we were busy blowing out the clutch of a second rescue truck, the Financial Secretary of the country drove by (what are the chances?!). We soon, of course, had two trucks broken down side by side. All the Financial Secretary said was, “well, Kate, looks like you’ve got things under control,” and headed off.
Any other news you'd like to share with us, or hope for ongoing or future scale-ups with partners?
Some work I’ve done with other researchers on publicizing candidate debates in Sierra Leone has sparked quite a bit of policy interest. Many African countries have started hosting formal political debates, and Rachel Glennerster (Executive Director, J-PAL) and I are talking with partners about how best to scale them up and answer new questions about how the availability of a free platform for mass communication with voters might influence who decides to run for office.