Knowledge Exchange & Impact

Research to make sense of the world… and then change it.



ID has a dense web of formal and informal knowledge exchanges with a wide range of organizations, ranging from tiny NGOs working in African and Asian villages, to the World Bank, Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office, and other multilateral and bilateral agencies. Of special note are rapidly growing (from a small base) interactions with social enterprises/businesses.

Some of these are institutionally anchored. For example, Duncan Green is our resident ID Professor in Practice, and also Senior Strategic Advisor to Oxfam. Another example are the many agencies and organizations that participate every year in our applied consultancy project student exercises. Other examples include colleagues’ formal appointments to advisory boards, as well as consulting relationships, informal advising and other contacts.

One example of knowledge exchange based on research expertise is Tim Forsyth’s work on the environment and development, which led the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services to invite him to become a lead member, and the UK House of Commons Select Committee on International Development to appoint him as a specialist adviser. One strand of his livelihoods research shows how to acknowledge local contexts of risk and expertise within multi-scale policy frameworks. This is heavily cited in several reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose analysis it has significantly shaped.

Another example is research by Stuart Gordon, which identified how bank de-risking shapes the reach of humanitarian programmes, both globally and within specific conflicts, hindering access, reducing timeliness, and undermining the transparency of the emergency aid system. He has since given expert testimony to DFID, the Working Group on Counter Terrorist Legislation and the UK Response, UK Humanitarian Forum, a number of US Congressmen and Treasury and State Department Officials, and several other US and UK foundations and think-tanks.

A third example is Jean-Paul Faguet, who chairs the Decentralization Task Force, a team of prominent economists, political scientists, and retired cabinet-level policymakers, who work to enhance the quality of policy dialogue on issues of decentralization and federalism, at Columbia University’s Initiative for Policy Dialogue. IPD’s goal is to help developing countries explore policy alternatives, and enable wider civic participation in public decision-making. The task force has sponsored high-level policy discussions of decentralization in countries as far afield as Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and South Africa.

Some of the most remarkable initiatives have been led by PhD students and graduates. For example, Kara Blackmore curated When We Return, a project about ‘art exile and the remaking of home’. Collaborating with Holly Porter and Anna MacDonald, the project invited artists to reflect on research related to forced migration, displacement, and the possibility of rebuilding ‘home’ in the aftermath of war. This is one example of how ID research is increasingly reaching beyond social science and development policy, into the worlds of art and memory studies.

As the role of the private sector has increased in international development, the department has sown a number of links with social enterprises, fintech firms, and impact investors. Delightfully, a growing number of these (e.g. Zoona, Instiglio) were founded by ID graduates, marking a new level of feedback intensity in our quest to shape development thinking in the ‘real world’.


Tax reform in Chile


Tasha Fairfield’s research on taxation and top income shares in Chile guided the Bachelet government’s major 2014 tax reform. The reform increased income tax receipts from economic elites: average taxes paid by the top 1% of earners rose by 47.5% between 2014 and 2018. This allowed the government to increase social spending, notably via education reform. The research continues to make important contributions to public debate on wealth, inequality and taxation in Chile.

Detail of Research

Fairfield’s 2016 Review of Income and Wealth article [2], co-authored with Michel Jorratt, contributed to research on inequality and world top incomes by presenting the first calculations of Chilean top income shares and effective tax rates using individual tax return microdata from 2005 and 2009. This research paid special attention to business income, which dominates at the top. The analysis included not only distributed profits but also the large proportion of accrued profits retained by firms, which were rarely the subject of analysis given the difficulty of identifying individual owners. This was the first study to explicitly include data on undistributed business profits imputed to owners.

Analysis of the data revealed even the most conservative estimate of the income share of the top 1% to be 15%, the fifth highest in the top incomes literature at the time. Including accrued profits, and adjusting distributed profits for evasion, the share of the top 1 % reached 23-26%. Despite this impressive concentration of income, the top 1% paid modest average effective income-tax rates of just 15-16%. Based on this evidence, Fairfield and Jorratt concluded that “there is substantial room to increase taxes on the rich in Chile. Such initiatives could contribute to reducing inequality, both by raising more revenue to finance social spending, and by helping to curtail the growth of top incomes” [3], while paying close attention to redressing the incentives for evasion and avoidance that were created by the country’s peculiar integrated income tax system.

This study built upon Fairfield’s previous research, published in Private Wealth and Public Revenue in Latin America: Business Power and Tax Politics [1], which analysed political obstacles to enacting more progressive taxation in Chile, specifically, and in highly unequal democracies more broadly. In Chile, increasing the corporate tax and, in particular, taxing retained business profits is critical to raising revenue and improving progressivity [1]. Chile’s integrated income tax, which taxed retained profits at very low rates, was intended to increase investment, but in practice business owners found many ways to consume these profits without ever paying the higher taxes owed on distributed profits. Business’s very strong instrumental (political) power, arising from close ties to right-wing parties, strong organisation, and institutionalised consultation with the executive branch, had long hindered efforts to increase progressive taxation, until student movement mobilisation counterbalanced business power and created opportunities for reform in 2014. Fairfield’s later works [1] [4] [5] analysed the political circumstances leading up to reform.

Details of the Impact

Shortly after her inauguration in March 2014, President Bachelet’s administration seized the opportunity created by student mobilisation to propose an ambitious tax system overhaul. In the 1980s, the Pinochet dictatorship had established an integrated income tax regime: the corporate tax (20% in 2012) served as a credit against the personal income taxes of capital owners. Since the top marginal personal income tax rate was much higher (40%), capital owners left most of their profits in their firm, where they paid only the low corporate tax. While this system was intended to promote investment, the large gap between the corporate and personal income tax rates also stimulated massive tax avoidance and evasion, which meant that in practice, capital owners in the top one per cent paid low effective tax rates of roughly 15%.

To eliminate these problems, the Bachelet government proposed an innovative imputed profits tax regime, designed by Jorratt, which drew extensively upon Fairfield and Jorratt’s research. The extensive reform package included multiple measures to curtail evasion and avoidance [D]. Overall, the government’s projections for increased tax revenues were equivalent to 3% of national GDP [D].

In September 2014, Chile’s Congress approved the tax reforms bill [G]. According to the Reuters report: “The passing of the bill into law is Bachelet’s biggest political success since she returned to the presidency of Chile”.

The reform imposed a major tax increase on the wealthiest Chileans [H]. The reforms have redistributed income in Chile, a country known for its extreme levels of inequality [I]. Increased revenues have helped extend scholarships for low-income university students, among other measures to strengthen public education [J]. Citing World Bank data [K], Americas Quarterly reports the success of the reforms in achieving their primary goal of increasing tax revenues from the highest earners: “Above all, the reform made the tax code more progressive, raising taxes on corporations and top earners. […]  The reform also removed opportunities for tax evasion and implemented new excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks, and “green taxes” on carbon and motor vehicles – part of the reason Chile is now a regional leader in renewable energy, with half of Latin America’s installed solar capacity” [I].

Underlying Research

1.      Fairfield, Tasha (2015) Private Wealth and Public Revenue in Latin America: Business Power and Tax Politics. Cambridge University Press, New York, USA.

2.      Fairfield, Tasha and Jorratt, Michel (2015) “Top income shares, business profits, and effective tax rates in contemporary Chile”. Review of Income and Wealth, 62 (S1). S120-S144.

3.      Fairfield, Tasha and Jorratt, Michel (2014) “Top Income Shares, Business Profits, and Effective Tax Rates in Contemporary Chile”, ICTD Working Paper 17

4.      Fairfield, Tasha (2015) “Structural power in comparative political economy: perspectives from policy formulation in Latin America”. Business and Politics, 17 (3). pp. 411-441.

5.      Fairfield, Tasha and Garay, Candelaria (2017) “Redistribution under the right in Latin America: electoral competition and organized actors in policymaking”. Comparative Political Studies, 50 (14). pp. 1871-1906.

6.      Fairfield, Tasha (2013) “Going where the money is: strategies for taxing economic elites in unequal democracies”. World Development, 47. pp. 42-57.

Sources to Corroborate Impact

  • IMF Country Report No. 14/219, Chile: Selected issues paper
  • "La radiografía del cerebro tributario de Bachelet al 1% más rico de Chile", CIPER, 14 February 2014
  • "Factbox: Chile tax reform set to be approved", Reuters, 10 September 2014
  • "The key men for the success of the tax reform: Alberto Cuevas in Finance and Michael Jorrat 'fine-tuning' the SII", El Mostrador, 13 March 2014
  • "Chile passes landmark tax reform into law", Reuters, 11 September 2014
  • "Chile: Legislation intended to simplify provisions of 2014 tax reform", KPMG, 16 December 2015
  • "Michelle Bachelet’s Underappreciated Legacy in Chile", Americas Quarterly, 9 March 2018, which cites "Chile Efectos Distributivos de la Reforma Tributaria de 2014", World Bank (p.35)
  • "Why Chile's Controversial Education Reforms Are Likely to Last", World Politics Review, 14 April 2017
  • Blanco Cossio, Fernando Andres (2016). Chile - Distributional effects of tax reform 2014. Washington, DC: World Bank Group
  • Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, social investment database
  • “Researcher at the London School of Economics breaks down strategies of the Chilean elite to avoid tax hikes”, CIPER, 21 December 2015
  • "The zombies that Penta, LAN and Falabella used to try to evade taxes", CIPER, 27 March 2017
  • "Rolf Lüders and Juan Andrés Fontaine confront Thomas Piketty's approaches", Economía y Negocios, 16 January 2015
  • “Portrait of the elite who evade taxes and declare themselves respectful of the law", CIPER, 25 March 2019

Improving the efficiency of antenatal care in Mozambique


Research by Sandra Sequeira and colleagues that tested the effectiveness of a scheduling system to manage patients’ antenatal care visits in Mozambique has reduced average patient waiting times by 100 minutes and contributed to a 16 percentage-point increase in the number of women receiving the World Health Organization-recommended minimum 4 antenatal care visits. Patients attested to the benefits of the scheduling system in reducing logistical barriers to attending antenatal care services and improving overall household wellbeing. The success of this management intervention has seen the Ministry of Health declare it a national priority for 2017-2024 and include it in its official Strategy Plan. The intervention has since been rolled out across a further 46 antenatal care units and also been extended to 40 HIV units in public clinics across four provinces in southern Mozambique, alongside a wider programme of capacity-building at the clinic level. The government has also initiated the nationwide scale up of the intervention in both Central and Northern Mozambique.

Detail of Research

The provision of antenatal care in Mozambique faces particular challenges of patient retention. While the majority (91%) of women visit a health centre to seek antenatal care over the course of their pregnancy, only 55% receive the World Health Organization-recommended minimum 4 antenatal care visits. Even when women do receive the recommended number of antenatal care visits, they don’t always receive high-quality care, as core procedures do not always take place. For example, only 44% of women receive the necessary 3 doses of intermittent preventative treatment for malaria, just 51% of HIV+ pregnant women receive antiretroviral treatment, and only 19% of HIV+ pregnant women receive care ensuring the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Pregnant women are often left waiting all day in a queue. 74% of individuals responding to a survey about problems with health systems report that they have experienced very long wait times in public clinics (Afrobarometer, 2012). Like most developing countries, tools for managing patient flow in Mozambican public facilities, such an appointment system for scheduling next visits, are almost non-existent. There is no universal policy from the Ministry of Health for how to prioritise the order of the queue with most clinics taking patients on a first-come, first-served basis or by payment of bribes. Patients typically arrive early in the morning at the clinic, often have to wait several hours, and may even then be turned away. This can be particularly constraining for patients who need to seek frequent care, such as pregnant women.

To address this, Sandra Sequeira and colleagues designed an appointment scheduling system to increase the efficiency of public health provision in antenatal care. They collaborated with the Mozambican National Institute of Health and National Directorate of Public Health and Provincial Health, and the Harvard School of Public Health. The scheduling system was assessed between September 2016 and July 2017.

Evidence showed that scheduling appointments reduced waiting times for ANC. Despite concerns that even after scheduling, patients might continue to arrive early in the morning to guarantee a place in line, the study found that most patients arrived before or during their scheduled time, thus reducing an important coordination failure across patients and providers that rested on decades of social norms around queuing.

Details of the Impact

Evidence generated by the study revealed that the scheduling system significantly reduced patient waiting times and increased attendance of the recommended minimum 4 antenatal care visits by 16%. Testimonies of the patients involved in the scheduling intervention also revealed the attendant benefits to their lifestyle and wellbeing, reducing anxiety and enabling patients to effectively balance their other professional and domestic responsibilities. Providers reported lower levels of stress and longer consultation times. In response to these findings, the Ministry of Health provided funding support to expand the scheduling system to other health services and to other regions of the country. The Ministry also requested the research team put in place a wider programme of capacity-building, providing technical support and training to healthcare clinic staff on how to successfully introduce management interventions at the clinic level.

Average waiting times decreased between 41%-53% after the intervention. Regression analysis, controlling for day of the week effects, showed a decline in waiting times of 100 minutes after implementation of the scheduling intervention. The scheduling intervention was particularly successful in clinics with higher volumes of patients.

Patients interviewed testified that with a scheduled appointment, they no longer had to anticipate "burning" an entire day at the clinic. They described being able to better plan their day around the clinic visit, which allowed them to resume their responsibilities before and after their appointment and rely less on the aid of others: "In that old system you would get up early and come here and wait until 2pm while you didn’t do anything at home. Now you can plan, you wake up at 5am, clean the backyard, do the dishes, clean the house, then make breakfast for the children who then leave, and you stay preparing the curry [dinner]".

Importantly, patients reported the fact that healthcare workers were less stressed and more likely to have longer consultations that would include all routine checks and procedures. This suggests the important role that management capacity at the clinic level can play in shaping both the perceived and actual quality of care. Healthcare workers also reported improved conditions as a result of the scheduling system. In interviews conducted as part of the impact assessment, nurses described how not having to manage a crowded waiting room has given them time to devote to other aspects of their work: "For our health center that used to get really full it’s been beneficial. Nurses have more time to think what to do. It’s going to help us all. It would be good if it were expanded to other kinds of appointments."

Following the success of the study, the scheduling strategy became a national priority of the Ministry of Health for 2017-2020. The Ministry requested support from the research team to expand the intervention to other areas of health care provision and to other parts of the country. Since the first study, the scheduling system has been rolled out across 46 antenatal care units on an experimental basis. Importantly, the government requested support for a rapid expansion of the scheduling system to help manage access to care for patients with chronic diseases such as HIV. The extension of the scheduling system to chronic diseases holds potential to have an even wider impact on economic outcomes.

Underlying Research

[1] Steenland M, Dula J, de Albuquerque A, Fernandes Q, Cuco RM, Chicumbe S, Gudo ES, Sequeira S, McConnell M. “Effects of appointment scheduling on waiting time and utilisation of antenatal care in Mozambique”. BMJ Global Health 2019; 4:e001788. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2019-001788

[2] Gong E, Dula J, Alberto C, de Albuquerque A., Steenland M, Fernandes Q, Cuco RM, Sequeira S, Chicumbe S, Gudo ES, McConnell M. “Client experiences with antenatal care waiting times in southern Mozambique”.  BMC Health Services Research 19, 538 (2019).

Sources to Corroborate Impact

  • Sequeira, Sandra et al. 2021. Mozambique maternal healthcare database
  • Sequeira, Sandra et al. 2021. Patient interviews.
  • Jornal de Noite, STV Notícias, 15 January 2018
  • "Para reduzir enchentes nas consultas: Saúde equaciona revisão de horários", O País, 16 January 2018
  • Ministry of Health guidelines issued to all district authorities, 27 March 2020

Regional and ethnic autonomy to deepen democracy in Bolivia


Jean-Paul Faguet’s research on decentralisation and local government was instrumental to Bolivia’s Framework Law of Autonomy and Decentralisation, and to subsequent legislation governing central-regional-local relations, as well as two national referenda in 2015-2017. These reforms created new kinds of subnational governments in Bolivia, increasing political participation markedly. Their cumulative effects were to deepen democracy by making government far more participative than during the previous centralized era, and to dramatically increase investments in social services and public infrastructure. Higher public investment was closely tied to local needs, and benefited poorer, rural Bolivians disproportionately. These improvements look set to continue indefinitely, as decentralisation is now woven into Bolivia’s constitution and its national identity.

Detail of Research

Faguet’s research on the impacts of decentralisation began with his PhD dissertation (2002), where he combined econometric evidence from all of Bolivia’s municipalities with qualitative case studies based on 300+ interviews, ranging from community leaders and grass-roots citizens, up through municipal and regional officials, to cabinet-level ministers and the President. This work showed that decentralisation caused a large shift in public investment towards primary services and human capital accumulation, and made government more responsive to ordinary Bolivians’ real needs. It led to a number of publications in English and Spanish, including most prominently [1]. As the first country to show clear success, Bolivia became a cause célèbre amongst decentralisation scholars and policy experts.

Additional fieldwork and data collection between 2007-2015 developed the research further, doubling the size of the database, and greatly expanding the qualitative evidence’s scope and timescale. The resulting book [2] provided a comprehensive evaluation of the effects of decentralisation in Bolivia based on nine municipal case studies and 21 years of econometric evidence. [2] was awarded the Political Studies Association’s W.J.M. Mackenzie Prize for best book published in 2012, and was re-published in Spanish in 2016. Additional research [4, 5 and 6] followed, probing decentralization’s effects on broader issues of governance and development. [5] is an edited volume (Oxford) with some of the leading lights in the field, including two Nobel laureates, which integrates academic and policy-maker perspectives on the opportunities decentralization offers for pushing development forward.

Details of the Impact

Before decentralisation, a highly centralised Bolivian government systematically under-invested in education, health, and water & sanitation, concentrating what sums it did invest in richer, more developed municipalities. After reform, decentralised governments hugely boosted social-sector investment. It did so in ways responsive to both objective and subjective measures  of local needs. For example, during the seven years preceding reform, centralised government invested nothing in education in 85% of Bolivian municipalities. Following reform, 97% of municipalities invested in education immediately, rising to 100% three years later. More importantly, districts with worse educational outcomes (e.g. lower literacy – an objective measure) invested more. These changes were driven not by sophisticated cities, but rather by small, poor, rural municipalities. Such marginalised communities prioritise investments in education, health, water and sanitation, and the environment (i.e. subjective measures; [2]).

Decentralisation achieved this by creating new, elected local governments, equalising their funding on a per-capita basis, and ensuring that local officials’ incentives point downwards towards voters, rather than upwards towards the centre as previously. A major book in Spanish [3] re-contextualised these findings in the longer frame of Bolivia’s political and fiscal history since independence, with contributions from some of the most prominent Bolivian thinkers in this field. Additional work by Faguet and others expanded the scope of this research thematically and regionally, leading to cross-country comparative studies employing blended qualitative-quantitative methods [4 & 5].

But then history turned. An ascendant President Evo Morales sought to re-centralize power. This contributed to a political crisis in 2008, with massive protests across Bolivia. The Constitutional Congress was shut down, demonstrators were killed in the capital, and private militias began arming themselves. As government and opposition leaders groped for a solution, Faguet and his colleagues launched a campaign to disseminate their research findings to a broad audience via national and regional events, including on national television. This culminated in a high-level debate where Faguet argued in favour of further, deeper decentralisation with the then-Minister of Decentralisation and his predecessor, during the crucial period when the future of decentralisation was in play. Before an audience of congressmen, academics from the country’s main universities, NGO officials, and the press, Faguet presented research findings (outlined above) and recommended ways to build on the successes of 1994 reform and address its weaknesses.

In the end, the Morales government executed an about-face, rebranding decentralisation as ‘regional and ethnic autonomies’ and making it their own. Faguet’s recommendationsto devolve more money and authority over more local services to municipalities, and to deepen popular participation in local decision-making [6], are clearly visible in the final version of the Framework Law of Autonomies, as well as the clauses of the municipal acts and indigenous autonomy statutes adopted following referenda in 2015 and 2017 (examples below). But Bolivian legislation also contains elements, such as indigenous/peasant autonomies, that are highly original.

Underlying Research

1.      Faguet, J.P. 2004. “Does Decentralisation Increase Responsiveness to Local Needs? Evidence from Bolivia.” Journal of Public Economics, 88(4): 867-894.

2.      Faguet, J.P.2012. Decentralisation and Popular Democracy: Governance from Below in Bolivia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Ø  Published in Spanish as Faguet, J.P. 2016. Descentralización y Democracia Popular: Gobernabilidad Desde Abajo en Bolivia. La Paz: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

3.      Zuazo, M., J.P. Faguet, and G. Bonifaz (eds.). 2012. Descentralización y democratización en Bolivia: La historia del Estado débil, la sociedad rebelde y el anhelo de democracia. La Paz: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

4.      Faguet, J.P. 2014. “Decentralisation and Governance.” World Development, 53: 2-13.

5.      Faguet, J.P. and C. Pöschl (eds.). 2015. Is Decentralisation Good for Development? Perspectives from Academics and Policy Makers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Faguet, J.P. 2014. “Can Sub-National Autonomy Strengthen Democracy in Bolivia?” Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 44(1): 51-81; doi: 10.1093/publius/pjt020.

Sources to Corroborate Impact

The International Criminal Court and the struggle for justice in Central Africa


Research by Tim Allen and collaborators amongst the Acholi people in northern Uganda, during and after the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army, made significant contributions to understanding justice and security issues, direct benefitting the International Criminal Court. The researchers’ expert testimony aided the successful prosecution of LRA commander and war criminal Dominic Ongwen, helped to protect the welfare of witnesses, and contributed to an important judicial precedent for the prosecution of sexual crimes. The research also highlighted the importance of ongoing monitoring and long-term support for people returning or recovering from war.

Detail of Research

Allen and colleagues described in detail the background to the war, rooted in the politics and history of Uganda and its neighbours. He analysed both the atrocities of the LRA (which included massacres and mutilations, and forcible recruitment of thousands of people, with large numbers of children forced to train as fighters or given to LRA commanders for sexual purposes), and the brutal anti-insurgency operations of the government (including the internment of over one million people in appalling conditions). Allen and, more recently, Dr Holly Porter interviewed LRA combatants and formerly abducted persons, and edited and contributed to the most authoritative, comprehensive analysis of the group available [1].

Following the referral of the LRA case to the ICC in 2004, Allen’s research became more focused on post-conflict accountability and debates about international criminal justice. Working closely with Ugandan colleagues, notably Jackeline Atingo (who was herself abducted by the LRA in 2006, but was rescued before being forced into sexual relations with an LRA commander), Allen took issue with the prevailing analysis of the time, which criticised the court as imperialist, ignorant of the realities on the ground, and counter-productive to reconciliation efforts. Allen and Atingo found that many affected people were enthusiastic about criminal prosecution, and much of activists’ and aid agencies’ antipathy towards the court's intervention was misplaced [2]. Allen was sceptical about the promotion of a blanket amnesty with no time limit, and was critical about the funding and promotion of purported traditional justice mechanisms by international organisations and some local actors as a viable alternative to the ICC. He also highlighted problems with the process of re-establishing traditional chiefs to implement externally-funded rituals. He argued that promotion of this kind of patriarchal ethno-justice contributed to an impression that northern Ugandans require their own special measures, perpetuating a damaging historical caricature of the population as innately violent and primitive, as well as reinforcing potentially oppressive gender norms. Allen also drew attention to the inadequate support and lack of monitoring associated with people returning from the LRA at the time, including thousands of children. This work was written up in widely circulated reports, and discussed in detail with relevant organisations in Uganda, as well as international actors based in Europe and elsewhere – notably, USAID, DFID, Save the Children, UNICEF, and the ICC.

Among the most striking insights is that those who spent longest with the LRA are least likely to be stigmatised and most likely to receive official aid. Most of these held rank in the LRA and still exert authority over other returnees. In contrast, a majority of returnees live in rural locations, on ancestral land and in impoverished circumstances, commonly feared or abused by relatives and neighbours. Many were vulnerable children, returned from the LRA with the support of humanitarian organisations, only to have been largely abandoned. Unsurprisingly, it was also found that aspects of life for the Acholi population were affected by legacies of the war and mass forced displacement, such as land conflicts and high incidence of sexual violence.

With respect to the latter, drawing on in-depth interviews with almost 200 women [6] [7], Porter’s doctoral research provided extensive evidence and a nuanced understanding of widespread rape and its aftermath, arguing that conventional understandings of what is appropriate are dependent on consent, a concept that does not exist in the same way in the Acholi context in northern Uganda. Instead, what is permissible depends on other conditions, such as whether sex contributes to the establishment of a "home", whether it provides children, and whether certain customary exchanges have happened beforehand. None of these conditions, Porter showed, were present in LRA forced “marriages”. Through this analysis of the Acholi-specific context, she was able to demonstrate that LRA sex was transgressive in ways that outsiders had not appreciated.

Details of the Impact

This research has had significant impacts on the justice and reconciliation process in post-conflict Uganda. It will likely have much larger, global impacts by pioneering methods for the collection of evidence of rape crimes in war that are efficient, sensitive, and acceptable to victims, and through the establishment of a highly visible legal precedent for the successful prosecution of such crimes. The former set of impacts includes shaping the work of the ICC, as well as initiatives to better protect the welfare of those being reintegrated after war. Beneficiaries include the ICC prosecution team, victims of wartime violence, NGOs and others involved in supporting reintegration, and more than 300 individuals and their families who have returned from the LRA or have been affected by the violence. The latter set of impacts involve justice for victims of wartime rape worldwide, and are likely to be invoked in ongoing peace and reconciliation efforts across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Impactson the ICC trial of Dominic Ongwen

LRA commander Dominic Ongwen was handed over to the ICC in 2015. He was charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. His trial began in The Hague in December 2016, and ended in March 2020. The judges then deliberated under Covid-19 constraints, finally announcing their guilty verdict in February 2021. From May 2015, Allen’s team made sustained contributions to the ICC’s work on the trial, as described below.

Provision of expert witness testimony and reports

In May 2015, Allen, Porter, and LSE colleague Dr Anna Macdonald were invited to The Hague to brief the prosecutorial team and meet with the Trust Fund for Victims and the Victims’ Participation Unit. Following this meeting, Allen was invited to act as “Witness 1” (i.e. the prosecution’s expert witness) in Ongwen’s trial. Ahead of the trial, he was asked by the Office of the Prosecutor to provide an independent report [A] for the court covering the environment in which key wartime events took place.

Once the trial began, Allen returned to The Hague in January 2017 to give testimony in court for two days, including cross-examination by the defence counsel. His testimony provided further information about the organisational relationships within the LRA, its training and use of child soldiers, allocation of abducted girls to LRA commanders as “wives”, and also the spiritual beliefs that informed the actions of LRA members, particularly how a spiritual inspiration came to be ascribed to its founder and leader, Kony. With respect to the latter, Allen explained the ways in which spiritual engagement is not in itself unusual in the region, and that association with spiritual forces, both inside and outside of Christianity, did not mean that people did not have a capacity to make choices [B].

Allen’s report and court testimony were directly informed by the underpinning research [1] [2] [3] [6] [7] and helped to highlight and explain layers of meaning necessary for the prosecution and defence to understand the context of spiritually-influenced warfare. A trial lawyer of the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC subsequently attested to the value of Allen’s witness contributions: "His testimony will undoubtedly feature in the final trial judgment expected in early 2021, as an important contextual reference for the judges on conflict in northern Uganda" [C].

Provision of information contributing to the expansion of charges against Ongwen

An additional, confidential report was submitted to the ICC by Porter, drawing on her research on sexuality and violence [6] [7]. This report helped the prosecution team understand typical modes of distribution of girls and women within the LRA, and the nature of these relationships. Crucially, the research team was able to provide detailed information about notions of consent, marriage, and sexual norms in the Acholi context. The report and oral briefings described dynamics amongst women who spent time in forced LRA marriages upon their return, and particularly the experiences of so-called “junior wives”, who were often more willing to describe appalling incidents of abuse [4].

The contributions of Porter, Allen, and other team members provided information (including access to witnesses) that helped prosecutors expand the charge sheet against Ongwen to include sexual and gender-based crimes, such as forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery, and enslavement. This brought to 70 the number of charges against Ongwen, up from seven when warrants were first issued. Based substantially on information and advice Porter, Allen, and the team were able to provide, Ongwen has become the first person prosecuted and convicted by an international court or tribunal for sexual and gender-based crimes. Crucially, the trial's interpretation of the ICC Rome Statute defined rape as sexual penetration in a context of coercion, rather than specifically in the context of absent consent. A prosecution trial lawyer subsequently confirmed Porter’s report’s value and influence: "Rich in anthropological and contextual analysis, Dr Porter’s report directly informed litigation decisions by the Office of the Prosecutor" [C].

Impact on international judicial practice

In addition to having greatly eased the burden on those testifying as victims of sexual crimes, the Ongwen case set a ground-breaking international precedent in the ability to prosecute crimes of a sexual nature, with potentially significant implications for the prosecution of rape more broadly. The Ongwen case removed legal impediments that have long been criticised by feminist anti-rape scholarship and activism (e.g. MacKinnon; Boesten; Halley; Chinkin). Article 56 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court allows for consideration of "a unique opportunity to take testimony or statement from a witness...which may not be available subsequently for the purposes of a trial". It was this provision that was invoked to record victims’ testimonies. Should this precedent be applied more broadly, as it likely will once it becomes a matter of public record following completion of the trial, it will aid the prosecution of crimes of sexual violence in both domestic and international jurisdictions. This view has already been advanced in the International Criminal Law Review, which has hailed this aspect of the Ongwen case as “a milestone precedent for future cases[H].

Underlying Research

[1] Allen, T. and Vlassenroot, K. (Eds.) (2010). The Lord's Resistance Army: Myth and Reality. Zed Books. ISBN: 9781848135628.

[2] Allen, T. (2006). Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord's Resistance Army. Zed Books. ISBN: 9781842777374.

[3] Allen, T. (2015). Vigilantes, Witches and Vampires: How Moral Populism Shapes Social Accountability in Northern Uganda. International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, 22(3), pp. 360-386. DOI: 10.1163/15718115-02203004.

[4] Allen, T., Atingo, J., Atim, D., Ocitti, J., Brown, C., Torre, C., Fergus, C. A., and Parker, M. (2020). What Happened to Children Who Returned from the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda? Journal of Refugee Studies, 33(4), pp. 663-683. DOI: 10.1093/jrs/fez116.

[5] Atingo, J. and Parker, M. (2018). Humanitarianism in Uganda: Outcast in your own Home. Africa at LSE. Available at:

[6] Porter, H. (2017). After Rape: Violence, Justice, and Social Harmony in Uganda. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 9781107180048. This was a finalist in the 2018 Herskovitz Book Prize, which recognises the most important scholarly work in African studies published in English during the preceding year.

[7] Porter, H. (2019). Moral Spaces and Sexual Transgression: Understanding Rape in War and Post Conflict. Development and Change, 50(4), pp. 1009-1032. DOI: 10.1111/dech.12499.

Sources to Corroborate Impact

[A] Independent background report for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, related to the environment in which the events with which the trial of Dominic Ongwen is concerned took place, August 2016.

[B] Media reports covering the Allen testimony, in Africa Times (17 January 2017), International Justice Monitor (17 January 2017), and AA News (17 January 2017).

[C] Supporting statement from trial lawyer, Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, 10 December 2020.

[D] Supporting statement from representative of formerly abducted persons and people returned from the LRA.

[E] "Parliament approves support for LRA returnees", New Vision, 19 February 2019.

[F] “LRA returnees need counselling, govt told”, New Vision, 30 July 2019.

[G] The Trust for Child Soldiers website, beneficiaries’ stories.

[H] Bradfield, P. (2019). "Preserving Vulnerable Evidence at the International Criminal Court – the Article 56 Milestone in Ongwen", International Criminal Law Review, 19(3), 373-411.

[I] The Prosecutor v. Dominic Ongwen, Trial Judgment, ICC-02/04-01/15-1762-Red, 4 February 2021 | Trial Chamber IX | Decision.

[J] Personal communication between the main trial prosecutor and Allen, 4 February 2021.