Working Papers

“Media and Motivation: The Effect of Performance Pay on Writers and Content” with Ivan Balbuzanov and Emilia Tjernström. [Draft]

Abstract: We show that output-based performance pay increases overall productivity in an environment where agents choose how many tasks to undertake and how to allocate effort across them. In an online news firm in Kenya, journalists produce articles, choosing effort levels and topics with heterogeneous marginal returns. We exploit a field experiment in an online news firm in Kenya, which pays citizen-journalists for articles. The writers choose how many articles to write, on what topics, and how much effort to invest. Writers were randomly allocated either to a contract paying a flat rate per article or to a contract that is linear in the number of pageviews. The output-contingent contract reduces the number of submitted articles and incentivizes higher per-article effort–findings that are in line with our theoretical predictions. This results in a seventy-five percent increase in productivity. Our study shows that output-based incentive contracts have implications for journalists’ effort and content choices, with short and long-term implications for profitability and for the quality of news. 

“Confidence and Information Usage: Evidence from Soil Testing in India” with Ram Fishman, Avinash Kishore, and Patrick Ward [Draft]

Abstract: The imbalanced application of chemical fertilizers in India is widely blamed for low yields, poor soil health, pollution of water resources, and large public expenditures on subsidies. To address the issue, the government of India is investing in a large-scale program of targeted soil testing and customized fertilizer recommendations, with the hope that scientific information will lead farmers to optimize the fertilizer mix. We conduct a randomized controlled trial in the Indian state of Bihar in what we believe to be the first evaluation of the effectiveness of the program as currently implemented. We find no evidence of impacts of soil testing and targeted fertilizer recommendations on actual fertilizer use or the willingness to pay for micronutrients. To rationalize these findings, we model and test the impacts of confidence on farmers’ willingness to pay for and responsiveness to input recommendations and soil quality measures. We find that farmers with less disperse priors (more confident) have a lower willingness to pay for soil testing ex-ante and lower responsiveness of fertilizer usage to the recommended application rates.

“Seeds of Uncertainty: Information, Subjective Expectations, and Technology Adoption” with Emilia Tjernström

Abstract: Decision making under uncertainty at its core requires forming beliefs about the future, and acting upon those beliefs. Understanding how individuals form expectations, how they update them, and whether or not their actions are consistent with those beliefs is therefore crucially important to policy design in a range of domains such as agriculture, health, education, and many more. This paper uses a panel of Kenyan farmers, in which multiple moments of subjective beliefs distributions are elicited in each wave, to study how individuals update their beliefs in response to experimentally-varied information about a newly introduced technology. We document logical updating of farmers’ belief distributions after being exposed to the treatment, as well as coherent associations between past experience with a related technology and first-period beliefs. We further explore the relationship between beliefs and uptake of the new technology, using a novel instrument for respondents’ expectations. The instrumental variable regressions allow us to trace the effect of experimentally-varied information not only on beliefs, but all the way through to adoption behaviors. Our findings have implications for research on belief updating, technology adoption, and learning.

Works in Progress

“Impacts of Privatization on Market Performance in Dakar, Senegal” with Jean-François Houde, Molly Lipscomb, and Laura Schechter

“The Role of Learning on Technology Adoption” with Patrick Ward