My goal is to provide empirical answers to theoretically motivated questions related to environmental policy, public goods provision, participatory governance, and inequality. My current and recent work spans the fields of comparative politics and public policy, and revolves around two basic and related questions: Which institutional features motivate citizens to participate in local governance institutions that are designed to be participatory, and how do these effects vary by ethnicity, class, and gender? How do local institutions interact with social factors, especially longstanding social inequalities, to shape how the benefits of policy reforms are distributed?

I examine these questions in the context of decentralization reforms in the areas of natural resource governance and service delivery. Most developing democracies have experimented in recent decades with participatory decentralization reforms that grant collective property rights over common-pool resources (forests, water resources, fisheries, and pastoral lands) to rural communities, and that establish participatory local institutions to govern these resources that represent the most important source of energy, food, water, and supplementary income in many rural areas. Arrangements such as these will become even more relevant in coming decades as governments continue to channel funds for climate change mitigation to local governance institutions under collective payments for ecosystem services (PES) schemes. Participatory decentralization has become similarly important in the area of public service delivery, exemplified by the rise of participatory budgeting as well as the broad devolution of authority to participatory village-level institutions, such as the Indian gram panchayat (village council) which plays a central role in the distribution of welfare services and the provision of basic infrastructure. I use institutions such as these to examine the conditions under which citizens (especially members of historically disadvantaged groups) participate in institutions that are designed to be participatory, as well as the conditions under which the supposed benefits of decentralization are realized. Most importantly, I examine how the governance processes and material outputs of these institutions become gendered, racialized, ethnized, and classed. This work adds to existing literatures on the institutional drivers of participation, the uneven effects of institutions by class, gender, and ethnicity, and the comparative politics of service delivery and land governance. Furthermore, it is relevant to current policy debates surrounding climate and environmental policy, decentralization, and political inequalities.  

To these ends, my work employs a variety of approaches, including (1) randomized trials and quasi-experimental methods that attempt to estimate the unbiased causal effects of institutional changes, (2) lab-in-the-field experiments designed to uncover how environmental policies and governance reforms change citizen behavior, and (3) machine learning methods that uncover detailed empirical patterns regarding inequality and the heterogenous effects of institutions.

My work appears in the journals Nature Climate Change, Nature Sustainability, and World Development, and I have presented my research at national and international conferences including the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, and the Western Political Science Association, the World Congress of Environmental and Resource Economists, the Environmental Politics and Governance conference, and the Biennial Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons. The research projects that I have worked on have been supported by the University of Colorado, the Committee to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences, CIFOR, and the National Science Foundation.

Back to Research