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December 2020 Newsletter

It’s been quiet here at 427 Scotland Street for almost ten months now. This rambling old house is at its best when it's full of students, faculty, and staff. There are few substitutes for conversations around the water cooler, barbecues in the front yard, or late night coding sessions on the third floor that are fueled by peer-to-peer learning and pizza. This is where so many of our research collaborations are formed and this place reinforces our sense of community. We thrive on amazing personal and professional interactions, and there is no doubt this pandemic has taken its toll on us.

But our big ideas are still alive. From bedrooms and makeshift home offices all over Williamsburg, the country, and the world, we’ve produced high-quality research that has shaped real-world decisions, created new methods for gathering data and hosting events, and launched a new strategic plan that will guide our work going forward.

Before I describe the remarkable work of my colleagues and students, I’d like to revisit a promise I made to you back in June. I promised to follow up and share specific ways that GRI was moving from acknowledgement to action on issues of diversity and inclusion. In our strategic plan, we identify Diversity & Inclusion as a Director’s initiative for the current fiscal year and our revised, action oriented DEI plan is publicly available on our website. Our approach is multi-faceted and I welcome feedback on all elements of our plan, but I can report that we are already investing additional resources, helping campus partners to raise funds, and prioritizing sustainable funding for our own Post-Doc for Academic Diversity that will bring excellent scholars to W&M and provide additional research opportunities for students from under-represented groups. We are no longer just planning. We are acting on our promise.

As usual, this newsletter shares the results of 12 student-faculty research teams that create new knowledge to make a difference in the world. Perhaps more important than the research findings are the ripple effects this research has beyond W&M. As a result of research from Carrie Dolan’s Ignite lab, the World Pediatric Project reports being able to secure more funding for life-changing pediatric surgeries in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. With guidance from Professors Amy Oakes and Dennis Smith, white papers written by PIPS Fellows will now be presented to a broader range of policy shops around DC and will be part of GovWhitePapers, making their work more accessible to policymakers and practitioners. And Phil Roessler’s work on mobile technology is shaping decisions at the Gates Foundation about how to invest its resources to improve development outcomes in Tanzania and Malawi.

Our approach at GRI is to produce applied research that can shape decisions and outcomes. This work has never been more critical than in 2020, a time when so many awful and preventable outcomes followed directly from policies that were not informed by the best scientific evidence.  We are working to help change that through more and better research that informs the decisions of our partners and other policy practitioners. As important, we continue to engage the next generation of leaders to teach them through research and provide them with the skills and the inclination to use evidence to make better decisions.

Speaking of evidence, we have almost a year’s worth that says our students and faculty can perform under the most trying conditions. Working with these highly motivated students and faculty is a daily inspiration and convinces me that we are moving in the right direction. I hope the stories below inspire you as much as they do me.

GRI is at its best when we are together, and I’m looking forward to student lightning talks, BlockchainLab dinner seminars, and long conversations in rocking chairs on our front porch. Until then, please drop me a note at [[mjtier]] if you would like to chat more about these research projects, or any others at the GRI. May you find joy and cheer this season.

Here’s to 2021!
Mike Tierney


In collaboration with the Center for Global Development, AidData's Executive Director Brad Parks and Program Manager Joyce Lin published a new set of standardized metrics to gauge whether Chinese loan restructurings favor lenders or borrowers. They find that the generosity of deals depends more on China's exposure than the borrower's needs.


Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project

Just before the election, a TRIP Snap Poll showed that a staggering 92% of IR experts believed foreign governments will be more likely to cooperate with the U.S. under a Biden administration. They also identified the most likely areas for bipartisan cooperation in U.S. foreign policy: Cyber, China, and Pandemic Response.


Project on International Peace and Security

PIPS Fellows wrote their white papers on emerging issues in national security including: transnational repression, global asymmetric ethical standards, weaponized deepfake technology, and a framework to combat authoritarian disinformation. For the first time, Fellows also recorded short video presentations summarizing their findings.


International Justice Lab

IJL Director Kelebogile Zvobgo published "Demanding Truth: The Global Transitional Justice Network and the Creation of Truth Commissions" in International Studies Quarterly in September 2020. Professor Zvobgo also wrote several op-eds for The Washington Post and Foreign Policy magazine.



Jeff Kaplow, Director of NukeLab, won a grant for the project, "The Past and Future of Nuclear Proliferation." He and his students will produce a reliable set of findings on proliferation trends, helping scholars and policymakers understand whether particular policy tools - such as economic sanctions, security guarantees, and international institutions - will be effective against today's nuclear proliferation challenges.



Led by Samantha Custer, AidData's Policy Analysis Unit published a first-of-kind report for the U.S. Department of State examining the benefits of the U.S.-Kenya partnership to Kenya’s growth and prosperity from a whole-of-society perspective. Their research found that the United States collectively contributes an estimated USD 3.05 billion annually to Kenya’s development.


Blockchain Lab

The Blockchain Lab ran a call for proposals designed to source empirical research on blockchain applications for international development, business adoption, trade, and supply chains. Six awardees are working on a range of research initiatives from supply chain management to enhancing nuclear safeguards together with W&M student research assistants.



As developing countries transition away from the most subsidized types of aid, what happens to early childhood health? Ignite Director Carrie Dolan published a PLOS ONE article examining this question together with W&M undergraduate McKinley Saunders '19 and AidData's Ariel BenYishay. Their research is especially important in understanding how donor exits could derail progress in health improvement.


Center for African Development

CAD Co-Director Phil Roessler with Rob Marty ’14 and Kyle Titlow ’15 published novel findings on the origins of spatial inequality in Africa, after building the most comprehensive and detailed dataset to date on subnational colonial extraction across 38 countries in Africa. They find that colonialism left much of Africa trapped in a negative feedback loop of weak institutions and spatial inequities; their findings were also featured on Vox EU.



Ariel BenYishay, Director of AidData's Research and Evaluation Unit, recently co-authored two papers in Nature Sustainability; one on how land titling impacts deforestation in the Amazon and another on how land tenure security is essential for sustainability goals. In the first, using geospatial impact evaluation methods developed at AidData, BenYishay found that contrary to popular belief, land titling programs do not reduce deforestation.


Diplomatic Courier Bookazine

Kathryn Floyd, Director of W&M's Whole of Government Center of Excellence and Director of GRI's e-Internship Program, edited the fourth volume of Diplomatic Courier's "Chronicling COVID-19" series of bookazines. In this timely bookazine, GRI alumna Gabrielle Hibbert '17 and Troy Wiipongwii, Director of the Blockchain Lab, published an article.


American Bosnian Collaboration Project

In summer 2020, the ABC Project conducted analysis of its own past research endeavors. These short analyses aimed to improve and inform future research, while also making more accessible ABC Project research to practitioners and policy makers. The project's Bosnian and American co-teaching pairs worked collaboratively to craft summaries and analyses of five previous studies.