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Why do some societies manage to raise taxes efficiently while some others don’t? What are the roles of the state and history in the process?

These are some of the fascinating questions Leander Heldring, a PhD candidate in Economics at Oxford, is investigating. In close collaboration with Laterite, and with the support of the International Growth Centre (IGC), Leander spent several weeks in Rwanda to run an experiment trying to shed light on these issues. He reflects on his time in Rwanda with Laterite.

Could you describe your research project shortly?

The project is concerned with effectiveness of government policy. I went to rural districts in Rwanda and I experimentally simulated a taxation payment, via simple games. In these games, I varied the instructions to mimic several broad areas of tools a government has at its disposal, such as the establishment of social norms, or more traditional coercive enforcement. The goal was to see how people would respond to different instructions and situations. 

Why did you choose Rwanda for your fieldwork

Because Rwanda has a long tradition of successful government, yet has substantial geographical variation in development today. It is an ideal laboratory to study government policy.

Did you find it easy to conduct research in Rwanda? How did the collaboration with Laterite work out?

Once you have obtained your research permission from the government, conducting research in Rwanda is remarkably easy. Rwanda's physical, technological and research infrastructure is very well developed, and this translates into a smooth research experience. 

Laterite has been instrumental in making my research happen. Laterite has advised me from the very first outline of an idea to the final dataset on doing research in Rwanda, as well as on doing research more generally. I especially appreciated how the team took ownership of my project and anticipated what was necessary for successful completion of the research much better than I ever could have.

What would be your one advice to someone interested in doing research in Rwanda?

Research in Rwanda is a lot easier if you cooperate with a government ministry. Think about whether your project fits in with the mission of one of Rwanda's ministries and try to work with them.


Leander presented preliminary results of his research in March at the Rwanda Research Roundtable, a conference about innovative solutions to developmental problems co-hosted by Laterite, the IGC and Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA).