Rackham Centennial Profiles: Cali Ellis


By Bai Linh Hoang
Jul 24, 2012 Bookmark and Share

Ellis 2012

Ellis 2012

According to Cali Mortenson Ellis, much of the political science literature to date addressing post-civil war peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction relies on observational data to assess outcomes.  While important to theory building, such data does not allow the investigator to draw inferences about causal relationships – what programs are actually working and why. Empirical analyses based on observational data are limited in their ability to explain the underlying causal processes that allow some post-civil war peace-building efforts to succeed while others fail.  

International organizations such as the World Bank and USAID are increasingly carrying out program evaluation of their reconstruction programs utilizing experimental and quasi-experimental methods, such as randomized control trials (in which subjects are randomly allocated to receive one or the other of the alternative treatments under study) or field experiments (which are conducted in naturally occurring environments rather than in a laboratory). This “gold standard'' of experimental design allows researchers to make more accurate causal inferences about the reasons for peace and stability after a civil war and provide more comprehensive policy prescriptions for durable peace.

Cali’s summer research project is a statistical meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental program evaluations carried out over the past ten years on post-conflict reconstruction programs. Her goal is to link political science theories based on observational data to the most current program evaluations carried out in the public policy world.  She is working with her advisor, Allan Stam.  

“I became interested in the project because there appeared to be a gap in the peace-building literature between political science theories based on observational data and the causal mechanisms identified by experimental program evaluations carried out over the past decade. It seems like a timely project and, hopefully, a useful one for both political scientists and public policy practitioners," she tells us. The Centennial Award supports Cali’s data collection and analysis for this project.

When Cali is not working on her dissertation, she enjoys activities that involve nature, especially hiking and camping.  This photo was taken on a trip to Patagonia.