UCLA Luskin Assistant Professor Darin Christensen at a PRG workshop in Accra, Ghana.

Project on Resources and Governance Receives $1.4-Million Grant

The Project on Resources and Governance (PRG), launched in 2017 by three UCLA scholars, has received a three-year $1.4-million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. PRG seeks to address the “resource curse,” in which countries with abundant natural resources that can be drivers of growth and prosperity nonetheless struggle with poverty, conflict and corruption. The project seeks to apply cutting-edge social science research methods to test and discover policies that promote welfare, peace and accountability in resource-rich countries. PRG is the brainchild of UCLA faculty members — Professor Michael Ross and Assistant Professor Graeme Blair of Political Science and Assistant Professor Darin Christensen of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, who holds a joint appointment with Political Science. The grant will be used to initiate new research projects in natural resource governance; to build capacity of decision makers to generate, interpret and apply rigorous evidence; and to grow the knowledge base on what works to help countries maximize benefits from their natural resource endowments.

View photos from the recent PRG workshop in Accra, Ghana.

Read about the origins of the Project on Resources and Governance.


 

Conference Shares Research on Global Policy Problems 

Scholars and policymakers came together Sept. 21-22, 2017, on the UCLA campus to help launch a new initiative that is dedicated to finding policies that promote welfare, peace and accountability in resource-rich countriesThe two-day conference at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center focused on research by a global network of social scientists and practitioners known as the Project on Resources, Development, and Governance (PRDG). The founding members of PRDG include Darin Christensen, assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin, and UCLA colleagues Michael Ross, professor of political science, and Graeme Blair, assistant professor of political science. Hover over the image below to access a Flickr gallery of photos from the conference taken by Les Dunseith of UCLA Luskin Communications.  

PRDG Conference

Tackling the Resource Curse UCLA researchers launch the Project on Resources, Development, and Governance to design policies in countries where corruption, conflict undercut natural abundance

By George Foulsham

From left, Michael Ross, professor of political science; Graeme Blair, assistant professor of political science; and Darin Christensen, assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin, are the co-founders of PRDG. Photo by George Foulsham

For three UCLA scholars, it just didn’t add up. Why do so many people who live in developing countries with an abundance of natural resources struggle in poverty every day?

“You would think that it’s a simple thing to take wealth that’s underneath the ground and turn it into wealth on top of the ground for everybody to share,” said Michael Ross, a professor of political science at UCLA. “But we know from studying countries around the world that that very rarely happens.”

Social scientists call it the resource curse, and it’s one of the reasons why Ross and two UCLA colleagues, UCLA Luskin’s Darin Christensen and political science faculty member Graeme Blair, have created the Project on Resources, Development, and Governance (PRDG), a network of social scientists, policymakers, nongovernmental organizations and industry representatives dedicated to finding policies that promote welfare, peace and accountability in resource-rich countries.

“For the past 15 years or so, I have been living in two worlds,” Ross said. “One is an academic world where I do research and I speak to some of the smartest young social scientists in the world who are studying the problems of developing countries. In the other world, I’m sitting around the table with policymakers who are worried about how to fix a problem called the resource curse.”

About three dozen countries in the low- and middle-income world are economically dependent on oil, gas and mining, but they all seem to struggle despite the riches provided by the resources. Those countries include Angola, Kenya, Uganda, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Indonesia, East Timor and Kazakhstan.

“They tend to be conflict-ridden,” Ross said. “There are protests, there’s pollution, there are civil wars around these projects.” There’s also plenty of corruption, with many of the countries in economic turmoil because of bribery and other issues in regions of exceptional resource wealth, such as mining areas.

“There are so many opportunities for corruption, and politicians are a whole lot less responsive to the people and a whole lot more concerned with siphoning off money for their own bank accounts overseas,” Ross said.

Finding solutions to these challenging issues won’t be easy.

“We have a generation of super-smart young political scientists and economists who are interested in this problem,” Ross said. “Our project is designed to bring together the smartest sort of leading-edge people in political science and economics with the policymakers who are dealing with these problems on a day-to-day level.”

That mission officially begins Sept. 21-22, 2017, with the first PRDG summit at the Luskin Conference Center on the UCLA campus. Researchers and policymakers from UCLA, the World Bank, Barnard College, the University of Pittsburgh, the Natural Resource Governance Institute and many other organizations and universities will make presentations and discuss issues that range from creating successful research-policy partnerships to the research priorities of funders.

The September conference at UCLA was generously funded by the Luskin Center for Innovation, Natural Resource Governance Institute, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Burkle Center and UCLA’s Political Science Department. The initiative also recently received a one-year, $600,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to support additional workshops in Washington, D.C., and Accra, Ghana, and the research partnerships that emerge from these meetings.

“One of the important parts of PRDG is the effort to bring in local researchers,” said Blair, assistant professor of political science at UCLA. “We want to provide training in modern social science research methods, and to provide learning-while-doing at matchmaking workshops where we bring together academics, policymakers and practitioners.”

Providing guidance on policy issues is Christensen, assistant professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “I think policy plays an essential role in this PRDG initiative,” Christensen said. “What PRDG is trying to do is bring policymakers and academics around the same table and allow policymakers to propose solutions and team up with researchers who can go to the field and determine whether these new initiatives are actually helping root out the corruption or address the grievances that often accompany these big mining, oil and gas projects.”

PRDG’s short-term goals include generating a series of new research projects on solutions to problems faced in resource-rich countries, bringing together researchers, policymakers and practitioners. “Another goal is to start joint learning exercises where we go out into the field and try to help build research into their existing program,” Blair said.

In the long term, the UCLA researchers are hoping that the conversation about these issues becomes circular — the research feeds back into the policymaking conversation, which generates new questions the researchers can tackle.

“We want to figure out ways to make a difference, and find ways to fix this problem,” Ross said.

A UCLA Luskin Welcome Departments of Public Policy, Social Welfare, Urban Planning welcome six new faculty members

By Stan Paul

Six new members of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs faculty were warmly welcomed at a reception held Oct. 18 and hosted by their new Luskin departments of Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning. Interim Dean Lois Takahashi and the three department chairs were also on hand to welcome the new teachers and researchers.

This year, the School’s three departments strengthened their faculty teaching and research rosters with the additions of Darin Christensen and Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld (Public Policy), Leyla Karimli and Laura Wray-Lake (Social Welfare), and Michael Manville and Kian Goh (Urban Planning).

In Public Policy, Darin Christensen will be teaching three classes at Luskin this year. “The students are great, really engaged,” said Christensen, who recently received his Stanford Ph.D. in political science. Christensen said he will be showing his Master of Public Policy (MPP) students how to bring evidence to bear on policy decisions, teaching them tools for wrangling and exploring data, as well as statistical methods that generate credible claims about “what policies work.” In another course offered this quarter, he is discussing how political institutions and public policies affect why some countries are rich and peaceful while others with persistent poverty and instability.

Also joining the Public Policy department this year is Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld, who will begin teaching this winter quarter on topics including social networks and protest. “I study protest,” said Steinert-Threlkeld, who completed his Ph.D. in political science this year at UC San Diego. “Wherever there is a protest in the world, I go to Twitter and see what people say. Are they expressing political grievances because they’re mad about the economy?”

Steinert-Threlkeld, who studies social media as it relates to subnational conflict, teaches analysis of “big data.” “If anyone wants to learn with Twitter data,” he said, “they can reach out to me. I would love to be working with motivated students or faculty.”

In Social Welfare, Laura Wray-Lake, who comes to UCLA from the University of Rochester, will be teaching two classes in winter: research methods with children and youth, and development and resilience for the Master of Social Work (MSW) students. “I was really excited about the interdisciplinary environment” at Luskin, she said, explaining that her area of research is civic engagement. “I’m really interested in how to get young people interested in politics and the communities, and solving social issues.”

Leyla Karimli brings an international focus to Social Welfare on topics including child welfare, education and child labor. With more than a decade of international research and practice, her work has taken her to a number of countries in Africa as well as Colombia, the Philippines, Tajikistan and Krgyzstan. She will be teaching on program evaluation and topics including a multidisciplinary analysis of poverty and social exclusion, one of her main research interests.

Returning to UCLA, assistant professor Michael Manville said he is currently teaching courses on transportation and the environment and another on shared mobility. Manville, who earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Urban Planning at Luskin, most recently was an assistant professor at Cornell University in the Department of City and Regional Planning. Manville said the rest of the year he will be teaching transportation, land use and public finance, primarily for the Urban Planning Department’s master’s students.

Urban Planner Kian Goh plans to teach a winter quarter seminar titled “Urban Futures,” with a focus on space, ecology and society. In the spring, she will teach a studio course on site planning and a qualitative methods course.

“This year I am continuing my research broadly on the politics of urban climate change adaptation and research on the L.A. region,” said Goh, who comes to Luskin from Northeastern University. “It’s inevitable, not just because I am here but because it so interesting. I think the L.A. region is an example of urban form.”

Goh has focused her research on cities from New York to Jakarta.

“It is really helpful to look at other cities,” she said. “I think of the challenges we face here and all of the opportunities. We’ve learned a lot from other regions.”

Darin Christensen

Darin Christensen is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He received his Ph.D. in political science and M.A. in economics from Stanford University.

Darin studies political economy, focusing on institutions and policies that promote investment and mitigate social conflict in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. He has consulted on projects for The Asia Foundation, USAID, and The World Bank.

Darin is a co-founder of the Project on Resources and Governance (PRG) and an affiliate of several academic centers, including the California Center for Population Research, Center for Effective Global Action, Evidence in Governance and Politics, The Luskin Center for Innovation, and UCLA’s African Studies Center.

More information about his research and teaching can be found at darinchristensen.com.

UCLA Luskin Adds Six New ‘Outstanding’ Faculty Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning announce the appointment of two new scholars in each department

By George Foulsham

In the biggest expansion since its inception, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has announced the addition of six new faculty for the 2016-17 academic year. The new hires bring to 100 the number of professors, assistant professors, lecturers and instructors at the Luskin School.

“We are thrilled to welcome six new faculty to the UCLA Luskin family,” Interim Dean Lois M. Takahashi said. “These six outstanding scholars will bring to Luskin a wealth of expertise and knowledge that will be shared with our current — and future — students for years to come. This is a very exciting time to be a part of one of the best public affairs schools in the country. These new faculty members will help us continue the pursuit of our mission at Luskin: advancing solutions to society’s most pressing problems.”

The six new faculty members, by department:

Public Policy

Darin Christensen, a new assistant professor of Public Policy, will receive his Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University this year. His research interests, with support from the World Bank and other funders, span comparative politics, the political economy of conflict and development, foreign investment, and political accountability, with regional interest in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and German from Duke University, and his master’s degree in economics from Stanford. Christensen’s teaching focus at Luskin is expected to be comparative political institutions, the political economy of development and advanced data analysis.

Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld, a new assistant professor of Public Policy, will receive his Ph.D. in political science from UC San Diego this year. He also has a master’s degree in political science from UC San Diego and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and economics from Washington University in St. Louis. His research interests are in international politics; exploiting in particular vast social media data to study subnational conflict; the mobilization of mass protest such as the Arab Spring and Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests, as well as elite behavior and state repression in authoritarian regimes. At Luskin, his teaching focus will be on subnational conflict, statistics and advanced data analysis of various kinds, including the analysis of “big data.”

Social Welfare

Leyla Karimli, a new assistant professor of social welfare, received her Ph.D. in social welfare from Columbia University’s School of Social Work in 2013 and is completing postdoctoral training at New York University School of Social Work’s Institute for Poverty, Policy and Research. Dr. Karimli has 13 years of international research and practice experience focusing on poverty and social exclusion including post-masters practice experience with international development agencies in the former Soviet Union and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her research interests include a multidimensional and systems-oriented analysis of poverty and social exclusion that complements the Department of Social Welfare and Luskin School’s commitment to understanding the complex nature of social and economic inequalities and addressing the needs of vulnerable and diverse populations.

Laura Wray-Lake, a new assistant professor in social welfare, received her Ph.D. from Penn State University’s highly regarded Human Development and Family Studies program. Dr. Wray-Lake is a lifespan developmental scientist from the University of Rochester where she has been an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology. Dr. Wray-Lake utilizes a “civic engagement” framework to examine the social and income inequalities facing vulnerable children and families and how and why individuals can become re-engaged in society. Dr. Wray-Lake has a strong commitment to teaching and mentoring. Her courses on community engagement incorporate her social justice approach to teaching and as such, will support our commitment to diversity and social justice.

Urban Planning

Kian Goh, a new assistant professor of urban planning, received her Master of Architecture from Yale University and her Ph.D. in Urban and Environmental Planning from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. She is currently an assistant professor of Urban Landscape at Northeastern University. Dr. Goh’s research investigates the relationships between urban ecological design, spatial politics, and social mobilization in the context of climate change and global urbanization. Her work has centered on sites in New York, Jakarta and Rotterdam.  She also has ongoing projects on queer space and the sociopolitics of smart cities. In addition to her scholarly work, Goh is a licensed architect and co-founder of SUPER-INTERESTING!, a multidisciplinary architecture and strategic consulting practice located in Brooklyn.

Michael Manville, a new assistant professor of urban planning, is returning to UCLA Luskin after receiving his MA and Ph.D. in urban planning from UCLA Luskin.  Dr. Manville is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. His research examines the willingness of people and communities to finance different government services, and the tendency of local governments to hide the costs of transportation in the property market. Dr. Manville is particularly interested in how land use restrictions intended to fight traffic congestion can influence the supply and price of housing.