Jennifer Bussell is a political scientist with an interest in comparative politics and the political economy of development and governance, principally in South Asia and Africa. Her research considers the effects of formal and informal institutions—such as corruption, coalition politics, and federalism—on policy outcomes. Her book Corruption and Reform In India: Public Services in the Digital Age (Cambridge University Press) examines the role of corrupt practices in shaping government adoption of information technology across sub-national regions and is based on fieldwork in sixteen Indian states, as well as parts of South Africa and Brazil. Her current research uses elite and citizen surveys, interviews, and experiments to further explore the dynamics of corruption and citizen-state relations as they relate to public service delivery in democratic states. She also studies the politics of disaster management policies in developing countries. Her work has been published in Comparative Political Studies, International Studies Quarterly, and Economic and Political Weekly. Prior to joining the Goldman School, she taught in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. She received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.
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Areas of Expertise
- Information Technology
- Public Management
- Comparative Public Policy
- Corruption and Governance
Last updated on 09/04/2018
GSPP Working Paper (December 2013)
Do public service reforms improve citizen services? Over the last two decades both public-private partnerships and information and communication technologies have been promoted as tools for reforming service delivery in developing countries. However, observational studies of policies intended to promote these reform models are hindered by selection bias. Experimental evaluations, on the other hand, can be limited in their potential for generalization to broader populations. In this study, I adopt a combined experimental and observational approach to evaluate the independent effects of privatization and computerization in an initiative to improve citizen services in the south Indian state of Karnataka. Through the use of a citizen survey and field experiment, I show that privatization of service delivery, combined with computerization, has a larger positive effect than computerization alone on a number of service quality measures, including the demand for, and size of, bribes from citizens. While private, computerized centers do not improve all facets of service delivery and, interestingly, do not engender higher levels of satisfaction from citizens, their effect on corruption in the service delivery process is substantial.
GSPP Working Paper (December 2013)
Constituency service is an important element of Indian legislator activity. Early interest in the importance of the personal vote in India paid particular attention to the relevance of Indian electoral institutions for promoting the supply of constituency service to Indian citizens. Yet analysts have paid little attention to the potential effects of other institutional characteristics, such as the major decentralization reforms of the 1990s, on the nature of politician-citizen interactions. In this paper I use survey evidence from citizens in the south Indian state of Karnataka to show that, despite nearly two decades of formal political and fiscal decentralization in the state, in the majority of cases citizens continue to rely on the assistance of state-level politicians to navigate the state bureaucracy rather than their local counterparts. In addition I find that party affiliation, rather than demographic characteristics such as gender or caste, plays a predominant role in shaping both whom citizens have asked for help in the past and who they expect they would ask for help in the future. These findings contrast with the literature on decentralization that emphasizes the importance of decentralization for increasing the representation of minority groups and highlights the important role of party politics in linking constituents to their representatives and the resources controlled by those representatives.
GSPP Working Paper (April 2013)
How is corruption organized? Studies of corrupt behavior to date shed light on both the causes and consequences of corruption. Yet we have little understanding of how corrupt activities are structured and the ways in which rents are, or are not, distributed across various actors—insightsthat would, in theory, prove enlightening for efforts to reduce corruption. In this paper, I analyze the organization of corruption through a set of related questions: Are rents from a single bribe distributed across multiple actors? If so, do different types of actors benefit differentially from different types of corruption? What factors, such as the type of corruption or the degree of government centralization, are associated with variation in the distribution of rents? To explore these questions, I first present a new, three-level typology of corruption emphasizing the type of actor paying a bribe and roughly reflecting the character of illicit acts across three realms: high-level policy-making, e.g. bribes for favorable legislation; mid-level policy implementation, such as kickbacks for government contracts; and low-level delivery of public services, for example the payment of “speed money” by citizens. I then draw on new and original data from surveys of Indian politicians to assess how the distribution of rents across actors varies as a function of the type of corruption and the degree of government centralization. I show that there is considerable division of rents across government and non-government actors and the perceived distribution of rentsis strongly associated with the type of corruption, though not necessarily in the ways predicted by existing theory. In addition, I find a mixed relationship between government centralization and the distribution of rents. These results validate the utility of a more disaggregated typology of corruption and provide the first clear evidence of the extent to which different political actors benefit from diverse corrupt acts.
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GSPP Working Paper (September 2012)
How do citizens access the state? While the nature of citizen-state relations is a key element of democracy, most analyses focus on only one element of this interaction, such as the links between citizens and their representatives, the use of an intermediary to facilitate service delivery, or payment of a bribe to a bureaucrat. In this paper, I evaluate the relationship between citizens and the state in India, focusing on the choices citizens make over a range of potential strategies for accessing state resources and the combinations of these strategies. I consider potential demographic, regional, and institutional causes of variation in these choices and find that citizens engage with the state in quite different ways depending on the government department from which they require services and the state in which they live. These analyses highlight the importance of a more comprehensive evaluation of citizen-state interactions that takes into account the spectrum of choices citizens may or may not have for accessing public services, thus providing a more complete view of democratic practice in India today.
Bussell, Jennifer. eGovernment and Corruption in the States: Can technology serve the aam aadmi? 2012 in Economic and Political Weekly XLVII(25): 77-85.
The Indian central government has promoted efforts to improve the quality of public service delivery using information and communication technologies. However, state-level experiences with eGovernment since the late 1990s display significant variations in the ability of governments to successfully adopt new technologies to provide benefits to citizens. I evaluate state efforts to implement one-stop, computerized citizen service centers and show that policy outcomes are not correlated with measures of established explanations for reform, such as economic development. Instead, I argue that variations in policies result from the extent to which incumbent politicians expect reforms to affect the economic resources underlying their current and future electoral status—in particular, the availability of corrupt income from the process of service delivery. I show that levels of petty corruption are highly correlated with the characteristics of reform and these outcomes are magnified in coalition-led states, where politicians anticipate economic benefits from their participation in government. Analysis of four states, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh, illustrates these dynamics and highlights the ways in which politicians simultaneously use service reforms to target benefits to their preferred constituents.
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Bussell, Jennifer and Adam Colligan. Institutional Capacity for Natural Disasters: Methodology for Case Studies in Africa, 2013, Climate Change and African Political Stability program Research Brief #9.
The CCAPS program’s research on institutional capacity for natural disasters examines the causes of variation in government policies to reduce the risk of, prepare for, and respond to natural disasters. Natural hazards, such as floods, drought, earthquakes, and tropical cyclones, do not necessarily result in disasters, but they present a clear policy challenge for national governments: how does a country prepare for the often unexpected? This brief presents the methodologies used to investigate how governments answer this question. Through a qualitative analysis of ten African country case studies, this study provides a comprehensive evaluation of existing explanations for variation in government efforts to develop disaster management capacities. The research strategy also helps to overcome limitations of previous analyses focused on a small number of cases or inadequate quantitative data, thereby providing new insights into the practice of disaster preparedness.
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Bussell, Jennifer. Institutional Capacity for Natural Disasters: Findings from Case Studies in Africa, 2013, Climate Change and African Political Stability program Research Brief #10.
CCAPS research has aimed to document natural disaster response capacities in Africa and explore what drives government investment in disaster preparedness and response. The research shows that the two clearest predictors of investment in preparedness activities are economic strength and perceived risk of natural threats. However, these factors explain little when there is limited electoral incentive to invest in disaster management or minimal bureaucratic capacity to implement preparedness programs. Electoral conditions and political development affect whether governments have the incentive to invest in preparedness activities and the institutional capability to do so. In addition, domestic civil society and external actors often offer important support to governments, and it is the explicit focus by these nonstate actors on both preparedness and response that seems to limit the risk that international funding for disaster preparedness would reduce domestic spending on that goal in the majority of cases considered here. These findings have important implications for understanding the relationship between national governments and international aid agencies. Both domestic and international actors need to know what characteristics of states must be supported to encourage the development of vulnerability-reducing institutions in the face of dynamic natural hazards. This study attempts to shed new light on these issues and to inform debates over the most appropriate and efficient uses of aid and national resources for addressing natural shocks.
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Bussell, Jennifer. Corruption and Reform in India: Public Services in the Digital Age. New York: Cambridge UP, 2012.
Why are some governments better able to reform public services than others? Through investigation of a new era of administrative reform, in which digital technologies may be used to facilitate citizens’ access to the state, this analysis provides unanticipated insights into this fundamental question. In contrast to factors such as economic development or electoral competition, I highlight the importance of access to rents, which can dramatically shape the opportunities and threats of reform to political elites. Drawing on sub-national analysis of twenty Indian states, a field experiment, statistical modeling, interviews of citizens, bureaucrats, and politicians, and comparative data from South Africa and Brazil, I show that the extent to which politicians rely on income from petty and grand corruption is closely linked to variation in the timing, management, and comprehensiveness of technology-enabled reforms. The book also illuminates the importance of political constituencies and coalition politics in shaping policy outcomes.
Bussell, Jennifer. Explaining Cross-National Variation in Government Technology Adoption, 2011 in International Studies Quarterly 55(1): 267-280.
New information and communication technologies provide governments with opportunities to deliver public services more effectively to their citizens. But we know little about the reasons for variation in the adoption of these technologies across countries. Using cross-national data on government use of information technologies to reform public service delivery, or eGovernment, I argue that politicians’ expectations about the effects of more transparent service delivery on established patterns of rent seeking play an important role in shaping variation in the character of reforms. I show that the level of pre-existing corruption in a country is a robust predictor of eGovernment outcomes, with more corrupt governments less likely than their less corrupt peers to implement high quality public service reforms using information technology. This finding contrasts with those analyses that emphasize the role of economic conditions or regime type in explaining technological diffusion.
Between State and Citizen: Decentralization, Institutions, and Accountability, a review of Going Local: Decentralization, democratization, and the promise of good governance by Merilee S. Grindle and Controlling Governments: Voters, Institutions, and Accountability edited by José María Maravall and Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca. 2010. India Review. Vol. 9, No. 2.
Are politicians accountable to the demands of their citizens? What facilitates political behavior that meets citizen needs and desires? Under what circumstances will citizens reject politicians who fail in this task? The two books considered in this review essay attempt to answer these questions largely through empirical analyses of politician and citizen behavior. These works touch on two distinct but related topics in comparative politics—the ability of governments to govern and the reaction of citizens to government performance. While Grindle assesses the capacity of governments to deal with changing patterns of authority and responsibility, the contributors to the Maravall and Sánchez-Cuenca volume focus primarily on understanding, first, how and why citizens reward and punish politicians in particular ways and, second, how politicians respond to this expected behavior. In both cases, while many potential state and societal characteristics are taken into account, the nature of formal institutions plays a predominant role
in explaining the behavior of both politicians and their constituents. Jennifer Bussell is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Asian Democracy, University of Louisville.86 India Review Given the differing theoretical agendas of these two books, I will, for the most part, discuss them separately. In both cases, I will focus on the relevance of these analyses, grounded in general theories but evaluated largely in the context of Western Europe and Mexico, for
understanding the dynamics of political behavior in India. It is true that the specific empirical realities examined here may have only limited similarities with micro-level Indian politics. What these works provide, rather the prospect of direct empirical comparisons, is instead an opportunity for broadening the range of theoretical and empirical analyses in India. In other words, I argue that these works are most relevant for shedding light on new or under analyzed questions which, if posed to the Indian case, could provide important new insights into the behavior of both citizens and their representatives.
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Bussell, Jennifer. Why Get Technical? Corruption and the Politics of Public Service Reform in the Indian States, 2010 in Comparative Political Studies 43(10): 1230-1257
The emergence of new information and communication technologies in the 1990s offered governments opportunities to deliver public services more effectively to their citizens. Yet national and sub-national authorities have employed such technologies in highly uneven ways. Drawing on a new dataset of technology policy adoption by Indian states, I argue that political calculations drive variation in the timing and scope of technology policies. Politicians weigh the expected electoral benefits from providing new goods to citizens against the expected electoral costs of reduced access to corrupt funds due to increased transparency. I show that the level of bureaucratic corruption in a state is the best predictor of both when states implement policies promoting computer-enabled services and the number of services made available. This finding contrasts with arguments that posit economic or developmental conditions, or alternative electoral and institutional characteristics, as the major drivers of technology investment.
Review of The Information Revolution and Developing Countries by Ernest Wilson. 2006. The Information Society, Vol. 22, No.1.
Bussell, Jennifer, Taylor Boas and Thad Dunning. Will the Digital Revolution Revolutionize Development? Drawing Together the Debate, in Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2005.
This concluding article returns to the broad question that motivates this special issue of Studies in Comparative International Development: Will the Digital Revolution constitute a revolution in development? In addressing this issue, we explore a number of common themes emphasized by the different contributions: the future of the North-South divide, the role of the state in promoting digital development, the transferability and adaptability of specific information and communication technologies, the challenges and potential benefits of controlling digital information, and the developmental effects of digitally enabled communities. We argue that the Digital Revolution’s ultimate impact on development will depend on several key variables, including the extent to which these technologies foster within-country linkages among different sectors and socioeconomic classes; the degree to which new technological applications may be customized or transformed to advance local development; and the outcome of political contests between organized interests that are promoting different ways of organizing and governing the global digital economy. While it is difficult to fully assess a transformation while living in the midst of it, research on the social, political, and economic implications of the Digital Revolution will constitute an important agenda for development scholars in the years to come.
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Bussell, Jennifer and Steven Weber. Will Information Technology Reshape the North-South Asymmetry of Power in the Global Political Economy? in Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2005.
Digital technologies are sufficiently disruptive to current ways of doing things to call into question assumptions about the “inevitability” or “natural state” of many economic processes and organizational principles. In particular, the impact of digital technologies on our conceptions of property rights has potentially dramatic implications for the North-South divide and the distribution of power in the global political economy. Drawing on recent experiences with open-source property rights regimes, we present two scenarios, the “imperialism of property rights” and the “shared global digital infrastructure,” to highlight how debates over property-rights could influence the development of the global digital infrastructure and, in turn, contribute to significantly different outcomes in global economic power.
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Katherine Boo, Jason Corburn, Tapan Parikh, Isha Ray
Event: Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: What Works for Tackling Poverty?
Date: September 25, 2015 Duration: 76 minutes
302 Hearst & 770 Barrows