EASST in Kenya: Research Highlights, Policy Discussions, New Directions

This post was written by EASST Program Associate Chelsea Downs and Senior Program Manager Maya Ranganath, recapping this year’s Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. EASST was privileged to collaborate with its key partner, the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA), on the summit; as well as Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, United-States International University (USIU), the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), and UN Kenya.

Participants at the EASST Summit (Credit: Olive Aseno)

CEGA’s East Africa Social Science Translation Collaborative (EASST), supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and NIH, fosters inclusive research ecosystems in which African scholars, US academics, policymakers, and practitioners work together to generate and disseminate rigorous research on poverty and economic development in East Africa.

Our signature evidence summit, held in a different East African country each year, is crucial in terms of expanding and cementing this network. This year’s summit in Nairobi — our 8th annual — was also our largest, bringing together over 200 diverse participants to discuss and debate the latest research on economic development, health, agriculture, financial inclusion, and labor markets in the region. Learn more about past EASST summits here.

In case you missed it, please see brief recaps of the keynote addresses, research presentations, and panels featured at this year’s summit below.*

Keynote Addresses

The UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee, kicked off the event with an inspiring keynote address. Drawing on his long career in humanitarian work and international development, Chatterjee emphasized how the convergence of data, innovation, and technology can be harnessed to dramatically transform development outcomes in Kenya. Building off of Chatterjee’s momentum, current advisor to the CS Ministry of ICT and former Minister in the County Government of Kisumu, Hon. Michael Onyango, shared insights on “Integrating Evidence into Policy Making.” He elucidated the importance of involving the local community and policy makers from the beginning of the research process, drawing on examples from his time in the Kenyan port city.

“A convergence of rigorous research, big data, and technology with policymaking holds the opportunity for development in Kenya.” — UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee, opening the 8th Annual EASST Summit in Nairobi (Credit: Olive Aseno)

Research Presentations

Below are short summaries of studies presented by EASST fellows and CEGA affiliates at the summit, organized by topic. Most of these studies utilize randomized or quasi-experimental methods, and many are funded by EASST.

Community-based Health

  • Samuel Muhula presented preliminary findings from an evaluation that suggests the community-based Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) model implemented by Amref Health Africa was effective in reducing the high rates of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGMC) in Kajiado County in Kenya.
  • Dan Posner discussed his evaluation of bottom-up, community based monitoring of primary health care providers in Uganda — he finds no impact on health outcomes or utilization rates. Read more in this Q&A.

Infectious Disease

  • Vedaste Ndahindwa presented findings from his study using interrupted time series analysis to suggest that the pressing Ebola outbreak in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will continue to grow as the insecurity from armed conflict in the region continues. This could put neighboring countries at high risk for an outbreak.
  • Marcella Alsan shared results from her study investigating the decline in HIV in the early 1990’s in Uganda. Alsan and co-authors find that reduced premartial sex among young women resulted in a 14 percentage point decline in HIV, and that enrolling in secondary education significantly increased the likelihood of abstaining from sex.
  • Chad Hazlett presented his joint research with EASST Fellow Werner Maokola on applying a new strategy for estimating the effects of isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) on TB prevention, without having to randomly choose people to receive the treatment or depending on covariate adjustment.
  • Grace Mhalu and Adrienne Mocello presented their research design to evaluate a clinical instructional video’s success in helping tuberculosis (TB) patients produce sputum samples of the quality required for TB diagnosis. This could increase treatment and reduce the burden of disease in Tanzania.
Chad Hazlett, Assistant Professor of Statistics and Political Science at UCLA (Credit: Olive Aseno)

Financial Inclusion and Governance

  • Alfredo Burlando discussed his evaluation of a formal bank product that provides Savings Groups (SGs) in Uganda access to loans and a saving account, as members are often unable to accumulate enough savings to meet their financial needs. Burlando and co-authors find that loans increased liquidity in SGs, but had some negative impacts on group dynamics, such as decreased satisfaction with the group.
  • Tewodros Tesemma shared a pilot design investigating if labeling savings toward specific goals and having access to an automatic transfer option can help to overcome some of the savings challenges among government employees in Ethiopia.
  • Michael Mbate discussed his study that finds that partisanship between Members of Parliament and the central government is associated with more stalled and “ghost” local development projects in Kenya.
Tewodros Tesemma, Associate Researcher at the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (Credit: Olive Aseno)


  • Tigist Melesse presented her evaluation of the World Bank’s Agricultural Growth Program in Ethiopia, which aims to increase productivity of smallholder farmers and reduce poverty. Melesse and co-authors’ findings suggest that the poverty headcount ratio and stunting rate both reduced significantly as a result of the program.
  • Muthoni Ng’ang’a and Jennifer Hamilton shared their research design for an RCT to use iBeacon technology to measure leakages and the misallocation of development goods in rural Kenya (specifically, the distribution of fertilizer.)
Tigist Melesse, Consultant at the World Bank (Credit: Olive Aseno)

Youth and Economic Development

  • Ketki Sheth shared a research design for an RCT evaluating the effect of an alternative education program implemented by BRAC on participating girls’ formal education completion rates and parents’ investment in their higher education.
  • Livia Alfonsi discussed a new project with BRAC evaluating a tailored job-search assistance program in Uganda, where formal sector youth employment rates are below 30%.
  • Dagim Belay shared results from his study showing that Ethiopian households from which working members migrated experience a growth in productivity (possibly attempting to offset labor loss) and consumption, and a reduction in poverty status.

Additionally, this year’s summit featured three exciting, diverse panels that sparked a lively discussion among participants.

Health Data Systems in Africa

EASST Fellow Damazo Kadengye convened APHRC researchers to discuss how achieving Universal Health Coverage — one of President Kenyatta’s “Big Four” development goals — is inhibited because of the dearth of basic health-related data. As Abdhalah K Ziraba, Associate Research Scientist, declared, “we are born and die without a trace.” Even basic statistics on birth and death, as well as data disaggregated by gender and disability, is not always available. Researchers agreed that data integration and improvement in data quality to measure Universal Health Coverage is paramount.

Health Data Systems in Africa, from left to right: Damazo Kadengye, Abdhalah K. Ziraba, Caroline Kabaria, Hermann Donfouet (Credit: Olive Aseno)

Research Capacity Building — Practitioners

EASST was excited to hear from other organizations that build research capacity in East Africa, in an effort to take on new insights and explore new collaborations. CEGA Executive Director Carson Christiano moderated an exciting all-women panel of practitioners working on these programs. She was joined by representatives from the Mawazo Institute, Partnerships for Economic Policy (PEP), APHRC, and J-PAL Africa. The panel explored the various dimensions along which we measure progress (do we count publications? measure policy impact? or look at research funding secured by trainees?) and the timeframes within which we can expect to see this progress unfold.

APHRC’s Evelyn Gitau noted that “simply increasing the number of African researchers with PhD’s isn’t enough to create real research leadership — it’s a question of longer-term relationships and strong reputations, which can take a decade or more.” Others added that intermediary impacts such as exposure to recognized networks and the diffusion of skills and knowledge beyond those initially trained can be a valuable way to measure success on a shorter timescale.

Practitioner panel, from left to right: Carson Christiano, Joy Kiiru, Jane Mariara, Evelyn Gitau (Credit: Olive Aseno)

Research Capacity Building — Donors

Donor panel, from left to right: Maya Ranganath, Flaubert Mbiekop, Diva Dhar, JPR Ochieng’-Odero, Norma Altshuler

Lastly, audience heard from the Department for International Development (DFID)’s East Africa Research Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the research capacity building efforts they support and the successes and challenges they’ve observed. When asked for an example of success, Norma Altshuler (Hewlett) recalled one of EASST’s first fellows, Constantine Manda, who after completing his fellowship in 2012 went on to conduct randomized evaluations with Twaweza, began a PhD at Yale University, co-authored a paper with renowned development economist and CEGA affiliate Karthik Muralidharan in the Quarterly Review of Economics, and is now working Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) in Tanzania to bolster their policy impact.

The event also featured an introduction to the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA), presented by EASST fellow and NIERA Chair Amos Njuguna; a Research Transparency Workshop organized by the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences; an interactive behavioral games session hosted by the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics; and a Policy Opportunity Matchmaking workshop co-hosted by Innovations for Poverty Action. The event concluded with a one-day internal EASST-NIERA strategy session to discuss the past year and future directions.

Amos Njuguna, Professor of Finance and Dean, School of Graduate Studies, Research & Extension at USIU-Africa (Credit: Olive Aseno)

EASST is grateful to our partners for helping us pull off such a successful event. Every EASST Summit buzzes with new collaborations and intellectual exchanges, but the 2019 convening was the largest and most engaging event yet. We are excited to continue to cultivate our diverse and growing network, and look forward to seeing how EASST’s annual event continues to evolve as we co-host with NIERA in 2020.

EASST fellows and CEGA staff at the EASST-NIERA strategy day (Credit: Olive Aseno)

*We have done our best to accurately summarize the work that was presented at the 2019 EASST summit. If you would like to suggest a correction, please don’t hesitate to contact Chelsea Downs at cdowns@berkeley.edu.


The CEGA blog is a platform for discussing key issues related to poverty alleviation and global development.

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CEGA is a hub for research on global development, innovating for positive social change.



The CEGA blog is a platform for discussing key issues related to poverty alleviation and global development.

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