Tara Grillos, Ph.D.


Purdue University

Country: United States (Indiana)

About Me:

Tara Grillos (Ph.D., Harvard University) is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Her research focuses on human decision-making and behavior in the context of sustainable development. She is interested in questions of participation, deliberation, collective action, and public goods provision, particularly with respect to natural resource dilemmas in developing countries. Her work has been published in policy-oriented peer-reviewed journals, such as Nature Climate Change, Nature Sustainability, Ecological Economics and World Development.

Research Interests

Environmental Policy


Public Policy

Political Participation

Experimental Research

Countries of Interest






Journal Articles:

(2019) In-kind conservation payments crowd in environmental values and increase support for government intervention: A randomized trial in Bolivia, Ecological Economics

There is growing use of economic incentives such as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) to encourage sustainable land management. An important critique is that such approaches may unintentionally disrupt environmental and social values, ‘crowding out’ pre-existing motivations to conserve. Some scholars suggest that the use of in-kind payments and norm-based framing, rather than financial transfers and a market framing, can mitigate these risks. There are calls to use more robust methods for impact evaluation in environmental policy. We use one of the only Randomized Controlled Trials of a conservation incentive scheme to evaluate its impact on self-stated environmental and social values and beliefs. Data from before and after the intervention, from households in villages randomly selected to receive the program or not, demonstrate that the program increased prioritization of environmental values (evidence of crowding-in as opposed to crowding out) and altered social beliefs related to inequality and the role of government. The findings demonstrate that this conservation program had a positive impact on environmental values and increased the belief that government involvement is appropriate. The scheme, with its use of in-kind payments and reciprocity framing, offers lessons to those seeking to develop effective schemes to incentivize positive environmental stewardship.

(2019) Assessing the impacts of governance reforms on health services delivery: a quasi-experimental, multi-method, and participatory approach, Health Services and Outcomes Research Methodology

Despite considerable advances in developing new and more sophisticated impact evaluation methodologies and toolkits, policy research continues to suffer from persistent challenges in achieving the evaluation trifecta: identifying effects, isolating mechanisms, and influencing policy. For example, evaluation studies are routinely hampered by problems of establishing valid counterfactuals due to endogeneity and selection effects with respect to policy reform. Additionally, robust evaluation studies often must contend with heterogeneity in treatment, staggered timing, and variation in uptake. And finally, on practical grounds, researchers frequently struggle to involve policymakers and practitioners throughout the research process in order to engender the type of trust needed for policy influence. While it can be difficult to generalize about appropriate evaluation methodologies across contexts, prominent policy interventions like governance reforms for improving health services delivery nonetheless demand rigorous and comprehensive evaluation strategies that can produce valid results and engage policymakers. Drawing on illustrations from our research on health sector decentralization in Honduras, in this paper we present a quasi-experimental, multi-method, and participatory approach that addresses these persistent challenges to policy evaluation.

(2019) Public Sector Governance Reform and the Motivation of Street‐Level Bureaucrats in Developing Countries, Public Administration Review

This article draws on health sector reform in Honduras to examine the mechanisms through which governance reforms shape the behavior of street-level bureaucrats. It combines insights from behavioral public administration with original data from lab-in-the-field workshops conducted with more than 200 bureaucrats to assess the relationship between decentralization and motivation. Findings show strong evidence that motivation, measured as self-sacrifice, is higher among bureaucrats in decentralized municipalities compared with bureaucrats in comparable centrally administered municipalities. Increased motivation is most pronounced in decentralized systems led by nongovernmental organizations compared with those led by municipal governments or associations. Additionally, the evidence suggests that higher motivation is related to changes in the composition of staff rather than socialization or changes among existing staff. Overall, this research helps move beyond indiscriminate calls for decentralization by highlighting the interplay between reform design and bureaucratic behavior, as well as the limitations of governance reforms in motivating more experienced bureaucrats.

(2019) Collective PES: More than the sum of individual incentives, Environmental Science and Policy

This study synthesizes findings from studies of the social and behavioral outcomes of collective payment for ecosystem services (PES) programs. The collective PES model is distinct from the conventional PES model in that by working with groups, not individuals, it breaks the direct relationship between an individual’s consent to participate, the economic incentive and the expected conservation behavior. In doing so, it raises concerns about whether the collective model is effective and socially just. Here, we assess these concerns by synthesizing findings on four distinct challenges for collective PES: (i) voluntary and informed participation; (ii) household compliance with PES restrictions; (iii) the balance of costs and benefits across community members; and (iv) the interaction with local governance conditions to address the second-order collective action problem inherent in collective PES. Through a review of 41 studies covering 16 collective PES programs located in 12 countries, we find that collective PES can change behavior and provide socioeconomic and ecological benefits, but institutional context matters. Our review points to how program design and local governance dynamics can influence the ability of collective PES to attain desired social and behavioral outcomes.

(2019) Gender Quotas Increase Equality and Effectiveness of Climate Policy Interventions, Nature Climate Change

Interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions strive to promote gender balance so that men and women have equal rights to participate in, and benefit from, decision-making about such interventions. One conventional way to achieve gender balance is to introduce gender quotas. Here we show that gender quotas make interventions more effective and lead to more equal sharing of intervention benefits. We conducted a randomized ‘lab’-in-the-field experiment in which 440 forest users from Indonesia, Peru and Tanzania made decisions about extraction and conservation in a forest common. We randomly assigned a gender quota to half of the participating groups, requiring that at least 50% of group members were women. Groups with the gender quota conserved more trees as a response to a ‘payment for ecosystem services’ intervention and shared the payment more equally. We attribute this effect to the gender composition of the group, not the presence of female leaders.

(2018) Experimental evidence on payments for forest commons conservation., Nature Sustainability

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) represent a popular strategy for environmental protection, and tropical forest conservation in particular. Little is known, however, about their effectiveness. Many argue that even if PES increase conservation while payments last, they may adversely affect other motivations for pro-environmental behaviour in the longer term. We test whether conditional payments also encourage forest users to conserve shared forest resources after payments end. Using a framed field experiment with 1,200 tropical forest users in five countries, we show that (1) during the intervention, conditional payments increased conservation behaviour; (2) after payments stopped, users continued to conserve more on average than they did before the intervention, especially when they were able to communicate with each other; and (3) trust amplified the lasting conservation effects of the interventions. PES effectiveness may increase when interventions facilitate interpersonal communication and when implemented in contexts where forest users enjoy high levels of trust.

(2018) Women's participation in environmental decision-making: Quasi-experimental evidence from northern Kenya., World Development

Greater inclusion of women is widely believed to improve environmental decision outcomes. Pastoralism faces increased vulnerability to climate change, and pastoralist women are both disproportionately affected by severe drought and underrepresented in formal decision-making processes. Increased participation by women in decision-making thus promises to offer a win–win solution: greater gender equality as well as enhanced resilience to persistent drought. This quasi-experimental study evaluates an intervention that aimed to increase drought preparedness in northern Kenyan pastoralist communities through the empowerment of women at the household and community levels. It uses a difference-in-differences design combined with matching estimation to causally isolate effects of the intervention. At the community level, there was an increase in women's political awareness and participation in formal decision-making processes, but that participation did not translate into meaningful outcomes. At the household level, however, there was a large and positive effect on actions taken to better prepare for drought (which mostly took the form of pre-emptive livestock sales). Given the entrenched gender roles related to livestock sales in this setting, this finding is encouraging and warrants further research.

(2017) Economic vs. non-material incentives for participation in an in-kind payments for ecosystem services program in Bolivia., Ecological Economics

This study examines the motivations that drive participation in a compensation program for environmental conservation in Bolivia. Previous research on payments programs suggests that institutions that appeal to both economic and non-material incentives should be encouraged. This program attempts such a strategy, offering in-kind compensation for conservation while simultaneously attempting to engage with environmental values and traditional social norms. I take advantage of a comprehensive household survey conducted prior to the offer of the program and employ means-comparison tests and multi-level regression analysis to compare those who chose to participate with those who did not. My research examines whether motivations for participating in this program reflected purely financial calculations regarding the costs and benefits of the program, or whether non-financial motivations such as environmental or social beliefs and norms played a role as well. I find evidence that the program's effort to engage with social motivations was successful and that social factors, not financial incentives alone, affect participation in the program. Findings also suggest that environmental values did not play a very large role, and that the financial determinants of participation are related mainly to prohibitive costs or barriers to entry, rather than the size of anticipated benefits.

(2017) Participatory budgeting and the poor: Tracing bias in a multi-staged process in Solo, Indonesia, World Development

This paper examines a participatory budgeting process in the city of Surakarta (Solo), Indonesia. Using newly digitized records of the infrastructure spending results from three distinct phases of the process (proposal, prioritization, and implementation), I assess the degree to which the resulting geographical distribution of spending allocations targets the poor. I find a poverty-related bias in the distribution of infrastructure projects funded by the program. While results vary across neighborhoods, on average, sub-units with more poor people receive a smaller percentage of funding than would correspond to their share of the general population. Furthermore, although the implementation stage exhibits significant divergence from the decisions made during the more public proposal and prioritization processes, the small group of elected officials in charge of implementation are not to blame for the bias. I find no evidence that deviations from decisions made during public meetings are based on something other than legitimate technical considerations. Instead, the bias originates in the proposal stage, with the poorest sub-units less likely to submit proposals in the first place. I conclude that the literature would benefit from more studies that look at differences across stages of decision-making within a particular process. Whereas contextual differences across settings may be difficult to change over the short-run, identifying procedural differences and points of vulnerability across a single process can help to diagnose problems which have the potential to actually be resolved by policy-makers.