How Research Affects Policy: Experimental Evidence from 2,150 Brazilian Municipalities
This paper investigates if research findings change political leaders’ beliefs and cause policy change. Collaborating with the National Confederation of Municipalities in Brazil, we work with 2,150 municipalities and the mayors who control their policies. We use experiments to measure mayors’ demand for research information and their response to learning research findings. In one experiment, we find that mayors and other municipal officials are willing to pay to learn the results of impact evaluations, and update their beliefs when informed of the findings. They value larger-sample studies more, while not distinguishing on average between studies conducted in rich and poor countries. In a second experiment, we find that informing mayors about research on a simple and effective policy (reminder letters for taxpayers) increases the probability that their municipality implements the policy by 10 percentage points. In sum, we provide direct evidence that providing research information to political leaders can lead to policy change. Information frictions may thus help explain failures to adopt effective policies.
We thank the Lemann Brazil Research Fund at Harvard, the Weiss Family Fund, the Warburg Fund, and a JPAL Governance Initiative Pilot Grant for financial support; Teresita Cruz Vital, Xinyue Lin, Brian Wheaton and especially Deivis Angeli and Vinícius Schuabb for excellent research assistance; and Alberto Alesina, Juliano Assunção, Doug Bernheim, Stefano DellaVigna, Pascaline Dupas, Benjamin Enke, Bruno Ferman, Claudio Ferraz, Gustavo Gonzaga, Gianmarco León, Joana Naritomi, Muriel Niederle, Rohini Pande, Rudi Rocha, Chris Roth and seminar audiences at Columbia, the Escola de Economia de São Paulo, Harvard, PACDEV, PUC-Rio, Stanford, U.C. Davis, and USC for helpful suggestions. This project underwent ethics review by the Committee on the Use of Human Subjects at Harvard University. The policy-adoption RCT reported in this paper is registered at the AEA’s Social Science Registry, number AEARCTR0004273. The initial draft of this paper was part of Juan Francisco Santini’s Ph.D. dissertation at PUC-Rio. Juan would like to thank all members of his dissertation committee for guidance and support throughout his Ph.D. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Jonas Hjort & Diana Moreira & Gautam Rao & Juan Francisco Santini, 2021. "How Research Affects Policy: Experimental Evidence from 2,150 Brazilian Municipalities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 111(5), pages 1442-1480, May. citation courtesy of