Within the broad theme of accountability for public services, my current research is motivated by a number of ongoing projects in West Africa and Brazil.
An incredible team of public servants has worked tirelessly in Nigeria to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. One innovative project involves the use of smartphones to collect and analyze survey data with an unprecedented degree of reliability, functionality and speed. Analysis of these 'Smart Surveys' suggests that long-standing traditional jurisdictions managed by chiefs and tribal leaders strongly shape the performance of local public services, even though they have no formal role in their operation.
Another project has sought to develop a more productive partnership between the three tiers of Nigeria's federal government, supporting states and local governments to invest in public services through the use of conditional fiscal transfers. This Conditional Grants Scheme has produced a wealth of insight into how sustainable improvements in public services can be rapidly achieved under the right political conditions.
Brazil's system of federal government bears striking similarities with Nigeria's, but the two countries exhibit markedly different outcomes. The comparison of federal systems points to the importance of examining distinct political dynamics even in contexts sharing the same formal institutions.
One recent success of a political discourse focused on social policy in Brazil has been investment in early childhood development policies. As these policies represent a radical shift in the way governments allocate funds and manage public services, this provides a great opportunity to study the political economy of early childhood development policy.
Finally, Ghana has made encouraging progress towards a mature political competition based on the relative competence and performance of the two main political parties. But evaluation of political leaders remains informal and contentious. Current efforts by civil society to increase the accessibility and credibility of information on government performance are expected to improve political accountability, but there remain a number of reasons why more information might not produce the desired effect.