My policy related work is directly related to my academic research on armed conflict, political institutions and, increasingly, machine learning. I have worked in projects for the United Nations (UN), the World Bank Group (WBG), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Banco de España (BDE), the International Growth Centre (IGC) and the Universal Rights Group (URG).
In my policy projects I have analyzed the economic costs of armed conflict and the factors behind economic recovery post conflict. Building on this research I have conducted a study on the economic benefits of prevention of armed conflict and the prevention of human rights violations. This latter work heavily relies on my academic research on forecasting which I have also used in a study on the role of fiscal capacity building and fragility.
With the Banco de España I am developing a project on forecasting political risks in which we will provide monthly updates of risk for over 190 countries worldwide. This will be made available on through this webpage. I am also engaging in various research projects with the central bank in which we try to improve the forecasting of economic activity.
For the ECA I have conducted a project on structural transformation in Northern Africa and the role of political factors in this transformation. This project was presented to stakeholders of the region in Rabat in 2018. We are currently working on a follow-up project which will use firm-level data from Morocco.
I have worked on a project with Tim Besley for the IMF in which we try to bring his joint work with Torsten Persson around building state capacity into the world of fragile states. Our advice is that the building fiscal capacity in these contexts needs to pay close attention to the political and cultural realities. This means that so-called "teachable moments" where public services are provided and legitimacy is increased are a key aspect of building a tax system. A key take-away for me from this project was that building new indicators for fragility could be extremely useful.
Key to my research is not a geographic focus but a methodological focus. My goal is to tailor my research to the policy questions but at the same time maintain the academic rigor to provide useful empirical findings. This typically means that I use a wider range of data sources to produce a more conclusive empirical picture.
Policy makers need to take decisions which affect people's lives. The goal of my work is to improve these decisions by providing analysis and data. Often, this also means providing a point of view on the data which comes with a lot of responsibility. But I believe this is better than not providing better information and analysis.
My background in academic research means I am all too aware of the pitfalls of bad empirical identification. In policy work this is way too often ignored. Correlations do not identify causal mechanisms and it is dangerous to base policy advice on correlations in the data.
However, paying sufficient attention to this is also not feasible at all times. It is simply impossible to run an RCT or to find a good instrument for every policy question one is interested in. We need to gather and collect as much data as we can and do the best with the data that we have access to.
The key to my work is therefore often to combine different data sources, to do more descriptive work and to try and derive a consistent picture of what is going on. However, even here, data is often a biting constraint.