Current Research

Our current research focuses on poverty, agency, development, and the nexus between the three, using insights from economics, law, and behavioral sciences. Our research aims to inform economic policies and programs to reduce poverty, to build agency, and to promote inclusive and sustainable development.


Our current research in this area includes realistic conceptualization and measurement of poverty; the economic, psychological, and social lives of the poor; effective and efficient targeting of the poor; understanding of poverty trap, the causes and consequences; gender, race, and social dimensions to poverty; effect of poverty on decision-making; effective designs of anti-poverty programs; and behavioral impacts of anti-poverty programs.


Individual agency is the foundation of individual development, and the lack thereof is its primary impediment. Agency, in effect, constitutes the best hope for an individual’s progress, and a lack of agency is a significant obstacle. Organizational agency is the pillar of effective organizations. State agency is the essence of effective institutions and governance. Our current research on agency attempts to provide a better understanding of the following interrelated issues:

  • Conceptualization of agency and dimensions of agency.
  • Formation of agency, how it comes about and how it can be created and fostered.
  • External validity to our understanding of the formation and evolution of agency, using the methods of laboratory and field experiments together in people’s natural living environments.
  • Causes of poor agency in important contexts (household, community, and public discourse)
  • Individual agency vs group agency.
  • Women’s agency; agency of the poor.
  • Understanding of organizational agency, why some organizations are more innovative than others, and why some SMEs grow while others fail, among other issues.
  • Technology and agency.
  • Understanding of state agency. While the ideas and resources have spread across countries, policies that are effective in generating economic development are often not adopted, are poorly implemented, or end up backfiring over time. While we know more about what policies and interventions are needed to generate better development outcomes, we know much less about why those approaches succeed so well in some contexts but fail in others (World Development Report 2017).
  • Law and agency: Our research in this area focuses on gender, race, economic, and cultural dimensions to the relationships between law and agency:
  • Law and culture in symbiosis: The beliefs and behaviors of individuals are strongly influenced by norms and culture, so it is critical to understand and make use of the relationship between law and culture. Law influences culture and vice-versa, but the influence can sometimes be symbiotic (moving toward the same goals) and at other times be reactionary and hostile (working at cross-purposes). How does the available evidence suggest laws can be designed to create virtuous cycles between law and culture so that freedom and opportunity are enhanced?

    Regulating digital assets and AI: What is the best design for digital competition policy, data privacy, and data security laws so that government and private industry in developing nations can use data to leapfrog some stages of development while simultaneously protecting the residents from privacy-related risks (manipulation, harassment, or abuse)?

    Gender: Improving the freedoms and safety of women is one of the most efficient strategies for promoting agency and prosperity because the baseline in many countries is so low. How can government leverage either public law or public programs to swiftly improve the security and opportunities of women and girls?

    Public health, crime control, and accident prevention: Reductions in disease, crime, and physical injury can very quickly yield big gains in agency and productivity. Which regulations or public programs give developing countries the biggest bang for the buck in terms of being fairly easy to implement while causing substantial improvements?

    Access to information and education: What sorts of institutions-- both private and public-- are the best for delivering high quality information, communications infrastructure, and education to increase the personal capacity and agency of individuals in the developing world?


    Our current research examines both micro and macro development issues, including individual and household behaviors; household dynamics; gender and development; economic, cultural, and social dimensions of development; women’s empowerment programs; rural livelihoods; institutions (formal and informal) and development; behavioral foundations of development; climate-resilient development; and nexus between poverty, agency, and development.

    Insights from economics, law, and behavioral sciences to inform identification and designs of effective development policies and programs to promote agency and economic development.

    Mailing Address:

    The Initiative for Agency and Development
    McClelland Park 304F, 650 N. Park Ave.
    University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85719

    We are a leading source of insights and policy dialogues concerning poverty, agency, and development:

    We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, with Tucson being home to the O’odham and the Yaqui. Committed to diversity and inclusion, the University strives to build sustainable relationships with sovereign Native Nations and Indigenous communities through education offerings, partnerships, and community service.

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