10 August 2012

We asked Macartan Humphreys to tell us about his first year as a visiting Trudeau fellow at the University of British Columbia.

Professor Humphreys: “The Trudeau visiting fellowship came at a critical time for me. I was at a point where a set of major field-based experimental projects on governance and accountability were underway and were absorbing all my time. While they were in many ways fascinating, working on them had me feeling more and more like a burned-out project manager with little or no time for deep analysis, dissemination of findings, or reflections on the bigger picture.

UBC provided a wonderfully supportive and stimulating environment to turn that around. 

My first goal was to shift the balance of work and focus more on analysis and communication. I got to finish the major analysis of projects going on in Congo, Liberia, and Uganda but also got to travel to present the findings and help policy makers absorb them giving presentations to the UK government’s aid offices in Kinshasa and Nairobi and to organizations such as NDI, the Danish Refugee Council, Caritas, and IRC in New York, in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa. Closer to home we hosted a researcher/policy maker dialogue at UBC with representatives from DfID, IRC, Gates, Hewlett, and NDI to discuss ways to better link research and practice. The appetite among practitioners to engage with and challenge academic research is enormous.

My second goal was to take advantage of the intellectual space provided by the fellowship to start thinking more through the ways we do research in this area. I focused first on a new paper on the ethics of field experimentation, focusing on the difficult and sometimes unanswerable questions that arise when researchers don’t just look at the world but seek to manipulate it in different ways.  I then turned to focus on the problem of reporting biases that afflicts research in this area. The problem at base is that researchers prefer to report the interesting results and not the boring ones, leading to an overall biased set of findings. The problem is exacerbated by the ways that research gets picked up by traditional and social media. The paper proposes some big changes to challenge the current practice. A third new direction came from seeing UBC's formidable strengths in qualitative analysis in action. Much of my work has traditionally been quantitative and I have struggled with figuring the best ways to integrate qualitative and quantitative approaches. Conversations with Alan Jacobs in the UBC's Political Science Department quickly turned into a new project on ways to assess in what settings more quantitative and qualitative approaches are effective and when and how best to mix. Thinking through this problem has been intriguing and will have a big effect on the way I work.”

Macartan Humphreys

Professor Humphreys is internationally acclaimed for his innovative field experiment approach to issues such as the influence of resource management on civil war.

2011 Fellows