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Water Security and Common Pool Resource Management

Lead PI. NSF: Collaborative Research: EAGER: SAI: Participatory Design for Water Quality Monitoring of Highly Decentralized Water Infrastructure Systems. With Alex Mayer, W. Shane Walker, James Doss-Gollin. No. 2121986. 2022 - 2023. 

Aging pipes and treatment facilities, droughts exacerbated by climate change, and contamination of water supplies all challenge America’s drinking water infrastructure. This in turn threatens the water security (reliable access to affordable water for a healthy life) of America’s population. Water is typically treated at central facilities and then piped to users, but recent technological advances could enable water treatment at the point of use (e.g., a house). In theory, this approach can make water systems more resilient to extremes, reduce the need for pipes and pumping, help water systems scale up or down as populations change, and filter contaminants that existing plants cannot treat cost-effectively. However, point of use water treatment also shifts the burden of maintaining water treatment infrastructure, monitoring water quality, and governing water systems onto end users, creating new vulnerabilities for water infrastructure systems. In this project, we test an iterative, collaborative frame­work for monitoring point of use water treatment in under­served communities that blends local expertise on social dynamics and water issues with our expertise in governance, water treatment, and systems modeling. We will co-develop this framework with communities near El Paso, TX called colonias where residents rely on a combination of trucked­ and bottled water.

Natural Disasters, Climate Change, and Covid-19

Researcher. NSF: RAPID: Public Responses to Personal and Societal Risk: Attitudes and Behavior on COVID-19 and Climate Change. PI: Elke Weber; With Robert Keohane and Sara Constantino. No. 2030800. 2020-2022.

The project studies public responses to COVID-19 and global change in order to advance the health, prosperity and welfare of American citizens and promote the progress of science. Addressing COVID-19 and global change requires large-scale collective action and governmental response. Yet, for both issues, the consequences of inaction are delayed, the costs and benefits of inaction are unequally distributed, and harms grow exponentially over time, if unattended. These features make it hard to learn from experience and lead to drastic underestimates of the costs of inaction. However, the response of the American public to the two risks appears to be very different. This research project will systematically compare public perceptions and reactions in the United States to these two crises, tracking them over the coming months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. Understanding people’s perceptions and responses will highlight promising (and likely different) policy responses to each crisis. A better social scientific understanding of public reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic under conditions of great fear and deep uncertainty is crucial to inform the design of effective and efficient policy interventions and implementation by public and private actors.

Co-PI. NSF: Collaborative Research: Responses to complex disruptive events: Cognition in a socio-political context. With Elke Weber, Rachael Shwom, Michael Oppenheimer, Sara Constantino. No. 2049796. 2021 - 2023. 

Health and economic crises, extreme storms, and other complex and disruptive events require decisions under high levels of risk and uncertainty. In these contexts, individuals often turn to trusted sources, such as close relations, community leaders, and political officials, for information about risks, responsibility and how to best respond. Some of these public actors are motivated to strategically highlight certain narratives surrounding such events, which can in turn shape the risk perceptions, beliefs and responses of their constituencies. Through a series of surveys, stakeholder interviews and social media analysis, the research team examines the factors that shape how individuals are impacted by, make sense of, and respond to extreme weather and other climatic pressures; and how public officials and other elites frame these events and communicate responsibility and blame. This research contributes to interdisciplinary research and psychological, social, and political theory by considering the interactions between individuals and the broader sociopolitical context. This work has implications for communication and policy making around complex, disruptive events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or other global change processes, and offers insights into how policy makers might tailor messages to different contexts and audiences. Furthermore, the research uses a longitudinal design to predict whether certain behaviors are a gateway for more costly ones, or a scaffolding for raising environmental awareness, political engagement, and social norm change. Coastal policy involves federal, regional, state, and local institutions that have overlapping responsibilities, which can lead to conflicting incentives. This work clarifies the net effect of these institutions on individuals and their responses. Finally, the researchers co-develop many of the study materials in partnership with local organizations and policy makers in order to maximize the contribution of this study to improve the welfare and livelihoods of front-line communities, and future generations.

Collective Action and Political Behavior

Cooperman, Alicia Dailey. "Bloc Voting for Electoral Accountability." Under Review. Available at SSRN

How do citizens hold local politicians accountable? I argue that citizens, especially through neighborhood associations, can using bloc voting as a grassroots strategy to develop relationships and pressure local political elites to provide public services. Politicians can monitor collective voting behavior at the precinct-level, and communities can switch their allegiance in the next election if politicians do not follow through. I focus on water access, which is an essential and often scarce resource that is prone to political manipulation. Drawing on 18 months of fieldwork, I analyze an original household survey and conjoint experiment with respondents from 120 rural communities merged with precinct-level electoral data from the state of Ceará in Northeast Brazil. I use 104 qualitative interviews with rural residents, local leaders, and bureaucrats to develop and illustrate theoretical mechanisms. Residents perceive that bloc voting is most common in communities with high activity in associations and responsive leadership, and bloc voting improves water access. However, institutions shape these incentives: this strategy is only worthwhile for communities that can clearly demonstrate their vote at their own polling station. My findings shed light on the influence of collective action on local politics and development.

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