Evidence-based Research Designed for Action
- About Our Research
- Criminal Violence
About Our Research
In developing countries where basic rule of law institutions and law enforcement capacity are often lacking, the challenges of endemic criminal violence, predation in poor communities, and absence of opportunity for young people are an uphill battle. According to estimates by the Mexico Citizens Council for Public Security, Latin America is home to 43 of the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world. Between 73,000 and 90,000 homicides annually are caused by firearms, three times higher than the world average. From casual affiliation with gangs to full-time participation in international drug cartels, young men are the biggest target — and the chief victims — of this conflict.
The Poverty, Violence and Governance Lab carries out research designed to inform policy makers, government agencies, law enforcement institutions and community organizations about the underlying causes of violent crime and its devastating consequences in the developing world. Our work uses both established and experimental research methods to gain critical insights into the links between criminal violence, law enforcement policies and practices, and the well-being of citizens. We also leverage those insights to evaluate the impact of programs and to propose new approaches aimed at reducing violence, improving policing, mitigating human rights abuses, strengthening local governance, and providing educational and employment opportunities for at-risk youth.
Violence linked to gang wars, organized crime and narcotrafficking has become endemic in the developing world as criminals operate with greater impunity — and often in league with government and law enforcement institutions. Criminal violence is particularly acute in Latin America, where the impact falls disproportionately on the poor in this already socially and economically fragile region. The failure of governments to ensure security in poor communities leads to a law and order vacuum where criminal governance takes root, trapping victims in a perpetual cycle of violence, fear and predation. Criminal violence thrives where law enforcement is corrupt, dysfunctional or absent, crippling economic and social development and destroying trust in political institutions.
Our research agenda examines the devastating effects of criminal violence in the developing world, with a focus on: how criminal violence spreads and disperses geographically; impacts on economic performance, human capital accumulation, health outcomes, and persistence of poverty; design of policy interventions to address dysfunctional public institutions; and opportunities to build police and citizen partnerships to improve security and rebuild the social fabric in communities plagued by criminal violence.
There is broad consensus about the importance of good governance for poverty alleviation, yet little is known about how good governance is achieved. The design and implementation of government programs for improving the well-being of the poor have proven elusive for policymakers worldwide, as misaligned political incentives and weak institutions give rise to corruption, abuse of power, rent-seeking, and dysfunctional public services. Our research investigates ways to improve governance and ensure accountability in the delivery of public services in the developing world.
Our policy-oriented research examines political institutions and governance practices that affect poverty alleviation and the provision of public services. In partnership with government agencies and civil society organizations, we employ the tools of scientific inquiry to expand our knowledge about the institutional, behavioral, cultural, and contextual factors that can lead to better governance in the developing world. We then work to design and evaluate interventions aimed at improving public services, government accountability and the rule of law.
In poor Latin American communities, students and the schools they attend frequently operate in high-risk and under-resourced educational environments. Common structural problems such as poor-quality instruction and limited access to services are exacerbated by weak accountability in the educational system, resulting in low student performance.
Our research on education and its effect on the opportunities of young people is aimed at identifying ways to improve primary and secondary educational systems for the poor. We specialize in program design and evaluation of interventions that can enhance human capital formation, particularly among underserved populations, emphasizing quality and equity in education; education and politics; education and violence; and education and employment among young men. One the key objectives of our work is to provide governments and non-profit organizations with evidence-based policy recommendations for increasing instructional quality and academic performance through teacher training, evaluation and incentive programs.
We also study how the surge in criminal violence harms school-age children and affects child developmental outcomes, preschool enrollment, student learning and proper functioning of schools. Our work in this area includes an examination of the relationship between dropouts from high school and nearby gang activity, with a focus on assessing the effectiveness of government policies aimed at improving safety in public schools in Mexico.