Placement with Busara Center for Behavioural Economics

Phillipa Hammond, DPhil candidate in Anthropology

Description of the placement

Busara is a research and advisory firm that puts behavioural science at the centre of its projects. With a head office in Nairobi and other offices across Africa and India, Busara conducts behavioural research in the Global South, and applies insights from this research to help their clients understand human behaviour better and incorporate it into their products, programs and policies.

During my placement with Busara I was involved in two main projects; one which I joined well into its development, and the other which started as I joined Busara and which I worked on to completion. The first involved the compilation of several case studies and reports on digital credit and financial inclusion in developing countries to inform and improve philanthropic work in this field. In this project I was involved in interviews with stakeholders and the consolidation of data from end-users to produce case studies and reports.

For the second project, I was involved in conducting several rounds of research – both qualitative and quantitative – on the current reach of Participatory Forest Management in Kenya. This included research into the challenges of expanding community-based resource management, and investigating the potential for developing monitoring tools and Payments for Ecosystem Services. I played a lead role in designing and implementing research, as well as analysing and presenting the results to the client and stakeholders in the field.

In my academic research, I am interested in the very fundamentals of human behaviour and how we respond to environments. I am interested in the evolution of behaviour, but also in understanding human actions in modern contexts through disciplines like behavioural economics. I found it extremely engaging to work with an organisation that takes insights gained from behavioural science and applies them to improving or solving current problems.

Setting up the placement

I had seen the internship with Busara advertised on the Oxford Careers Centre internship webpage, and as I have followed their work for several years, I decided to apply through the Careers Centre and apply to the ESRC for support through the Placement and Internship Scheme. I had an interview scheduled with Busara when the pandemic started but the internship was cancelled when people began working from home and travelling to Kenya became unlikely and unsafe. However, later in the year, once organisations had adjusted to working from home, I wrote to Busara to see if I could still do the placement remotely. I was very impressed with how smoothly I was able to join the organisation from another country, and the experience was really great, especially considering that I never went into the office or met any of my colleagues in real life.

Benefits and challenges of the placement

I think I benefited most from learning to apply my research and communication skills in a very different environment to the academic one I am used to. Working in teams and to tight deadlines, I learned a lot about collaboration and time management to work effectively and efficiently. My research and writing skills were also improved by having to address different types of questions, apply new methods, and produce reports in several different styles and for different audiences. I also benefited hugely from working with colleagues who demonstrated good management skills and gave me a lot of responsibility and independence with my work whilst always providing feedback and assistance where needed. I think that there is potential for future collaboration and possibly more work with Busara.

I think Busara benefited from my adaptability and my familiarity with working independently, making it possible to add me to projects where I could pick up responsibilities quickly. Although quite different to the research methods I use in my academic work, I think my familiarity with designing methods and collecting and analysing data was also beneficial to Busara.

Overall, the placement exceeded my expectations – I feel my time was put to very good use and the experience was mutually beneficial for me and Busara. The only challenges I expected to face were from joining and working with an organisation remotely, but I found that Busara had set up smoothly managed systems for remote work and everyone was very welcoming.

Advice for other researchers

My advice would be to find work with an organisation that does not necessarily have an obvious and direct link to your academic research, but that works in a field you are interested in and employs methods similar to those that you are trained in. I found the change of focus from my own research very refreshing and I really enjoyed applying my skills in a different setting before returning to my DPhil work with a fresh set of eyes.