Friday, July 24, 2009

CRRC Data Initiative 2008 now online!

Do you want to know how the global financial crisis has influenced people in the South Caucasus, what their views of NATO integration are, how they feel about their relationship with Russia and the West, how many friends they have and how healthy they are? The CRRC Data Initiative has answers to these and many more questions on political attitudes, social development, health, education, migration, and social capital. The 2008 dataset is now online!

We interviewed around 8000 people in the South Caucasus, which makes it the single largest dataset available on the developments in the Caucasus. Comparison over time is also easier, as the dataset contains data from 2007 and 2008. While keeping the core section over the time, we have enriched the 2008 dataset with a section on people’s perceptions of the European Union.

Register here to receive free access to the dataset. You need SPSS to process it (trial versions available online, or through your university), and if you want to find out how to use SPSS, we offer a quick crash course on our website. (Important: as you analyze, make sure you filter for the right years and countries, otherwise you have all-Caucasus all-year responses jumbled together.)

Soon you will be able to use our datasets online, without SPSS, so stay tuned for updates!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Introducing More Subtitling in Georgia | Policy Supported by Evidence

Georgian parliament is set to debate the introduction of broader subtitling (to replace dubbing) of foreign-language films on television. From the research point of view, this is excellent public policy. There may be some aesthetic disadvantages to subtitling, and viewers may take some time to get used to subtitles rather than voiceovers, but overall the educational advantages far outweigh any possible disadvantage.

Subtitling, rather than dubbing, has long been associated with superior foreign language ability. Countries that subtitle generally tend to be good in foreign languages. Examples include the Scandinavian countries, but also Netherlands. Several transition countries have taken the clever decision to go for subtitling, in order to further boost foreign-language ability. In Georgia (and the Caucasus generally), English is not spoken very widely.
Yellow: subtitles; Red: dubbing; Green: voiceover.

Countries that dub systematically tend to be relatively poor in foreign languages, examples including Germany (in spite of fairly high-quality teaching in schools), France, and Spain, and even worse in their pronounciation. Georgia has great opportunities if it develops extensive foreign language skills in English, maintains the skills in Russian, and ideally adds yet other languages (French, Persian, Turkish, German). Subtitling is one important step in that right direction.

The research evidence for this is strong. Danish and Romanian high school students, according to a 2003 Danish study, outperform German and Italian students in English comprehension. Denmark and Romania provide subtitles, Germany and Italy dub foreign-language films. In one study, 25% of Dutch primary school children said that they learned more English from television than at school. Scandinavian success in educational tests is consistently linked to subtitling on TV. Many other experimental setups have demonstrated the positive impact of subtitling on foreign language acquisition, including a better understanding of pronunciation (see Koolstra, 2002). Realistically, Georgia would have to invest dozens of millions to achieve a comparable impact through teaching across schools, and would still not reach the out-of-school population.

However, there is another important argument in favor of subtitling -- but one that is less obvious. Average families in Georgia watch television for around three hours per day. International studies have shown that television has a negative impact on children and youth -- but this impact could be reversed if children watch television in a foreign language, with subtitles. Studies demonstrate that television with subtitles helps children to learn reading (more strictly speaking: text recognition, or "decoding"), since they need to rely on subtitles to recognize what is being said (Koolstra, 1997). In other words, by subtitling, television becomes a powerful educational instrument that strengthens the link to written language per se, including one's own national language.

This draft law is an excellent public policy initiative by the government. It is cheap, comprehensive, turns a potential problem (TV consumption by children and youths) into a real asset, and could increase educational levels. From the research point of view, the available evidence suggests that subtitling deserves unqualified support.

Koolstra, C.M., Peeters, A.L., & Spinhof, H. (2002). The pros and cons of dubbing and subtitling. European Journal of Communication, 17(3), 325-354.
Koolstra, C.M., van der Voort, T.H.A., & van der Kamp, L.J.Th. (1997). Television's Impact on Children's Reading Comprehension and Decoding Skills: A 3-Year Panel Study. Reading Research Quarterly, 32(2), 128–152.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Announcing New Fellowship | UC Berkeley Scholars Workshop

The Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES) at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), in collaboration with the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), is soliciting proposals from scholars in the Social Sciences and History from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to participate in a two-week workshop at UCB from November 7 to November 21, 2009. The workshop is funded by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

A total of four scholars from the South Caucasus (“Carnegie Fellows”) will be brought to UCB for an intensive review of the key literature, theoretical approaches, and methods employed in a particular field of scholarship. Each Carnegie Fellow will work with a paired UCB faculty member and graduate student with knowledge of the Carnegie Fellow’s field theme to develop undergraduate and graduate syllabi and teaching materials, explore innovative teaching and research techniques and technologies, and prepare a literature review for use by other Carnegie Fellows and scholars from the South Caucasus. The language of the workshop will be English.

Airfare, hotel, and meal expenses will be paid for by ISEEES. In addition, ISEEES will either pay for or reimburse each Carnegie Scholar for up to $600 in expenses relating to purchasing, copying, and posting teaching materials. ISEEES will provide letters of invitation, but each Carnegie Fellow will be responsible for obtaining a US visa with assistance from the local CRRC offices in Baku, Tbilisi, and Yerevan.

Who is eligible to participate?

• Citizens of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia
• Scholars who hold a "Kandidatskaya" degree or higher
• Scholars who have a level of proficiency in written and spoken English that is sufficient to conduct independent research and engage in a debate.

How to apply/documents to submit

• Completed application form
• Statement of purpose, explaining the applicant’s research and teaching experience and future plans (not exceeding 3 pages)
• Sample of scholarly research (not exceeding 10 pages)
• Curriculum Vitae

Application forms can be found at CRRC website. The website also has a detailed description of the purpose and design of the workshop. Applicants should be sure to read the Program Description to ensure that they are familiar with the design and requirements of the program.

Applications should be submitted via email to no later than September 11, 2009.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Georgian IDP Settlements: UNICEF Report

How are the thousands of people in Georgia who were internally displaced by last year’s conflict faring? A partial answer is found in UNICEF’s June 2009 report assessing water, sanitation and hygiene conditions amongst IDPs in Georgia nine months after the August 2008 conflict, which, at its peak, displaced 138,000 people.

The authors of the assessment, carried out jointly by Action Contre la Faim and the International Rescue Committee, commend the Georgian government for acting quickly to resettle the nearly 30,000 people who could not return to their homes after being displaced. However, as the one-year anniversary of the conflict approaches, there is concern that the momentum is fading, while many of the gaps in infrastructure that resulted from the rapid resettlement process remain unaddressed.

The report evaluates both temporary collective centers and new settlements for IDPs, as well as a representative sample of villages adjacent to the settlements. The assessment is based on interviews with “key people and representatives” in the communities (although it is not entirely clear how these people were selected), as well as evaluations by experts. The report therefore allows one to compare community members’ own perceptions of their circumstances with the observations of specialists. The resident and expert evaluations often align rather closely, although there are some divergences. For example, the chart below shows that IDPs in a number of communities have a more positive assessment of their water supply than experts, while for most of the villages there is a consensus that the situation is rather bad.

These discrepancies could be related to displaced persons’ prior living conditions: if, for example, an IDP formerly only had access to water from a well or spring, then running water for two hours a day in the new location may seem adequate – even if an expert would view the situation as in need of improvement.

Given the central role that water, sanitation and hygiene conditions play in day-to-day life, it is unsurprising that IDPs rank these items below only income and jobs (approximately 90% of IDPs are unemployed) when assessing their greatest needs. The report identifies a number of serious problems, the most pressing of which is reliable access to water (necessary not only for drinking and bathing, but also cooking, cleaning, and operation of toilets). Furthermore, although the large majority of collective centers and villages had safe drinking water, 40% of new settlements did not have water that passed national standards.

However, water was not the only issue of concern. Washing facilities in the majority of the settlements, regardless of type, were rated as either poor or non-existent. Problems with solid waste disposal impact not only these communities, but also the surrounding environment: the surveyed population dumps 6,000 tons of waste onto the Georgian landscape each year. On a positive note, all settlements scored very high on hygiene knowledge and practices.

One of the most noteworthy findings of the report is that the villages assessed were in many respects worse off than the IDP settlements – the chart above gives some sense of this. Moreover, 75% of villagers do not have access to an adequate quantity of water, versus 41% of of IDPs. Sixty-four percent of villagers, as opposed to 33% of IDPs, lack access to any bathing facilities. It appears that the water and sanitation conditions of ordinary rural Georgians lag behind those of displaced persons. And the infrastructure of those villages in which IDPs have been resettled face the additional strain of the extra population.

Fortunately, the report proposes some actions for the future, employing a detailed prioritization formula to determine a cost-benefit ratio based on the project cost, projected benefit and number of people served. Projects with low cost-benefit ratios (such as installing new waste bins) are recommended, as well as those that are durable (have a long-lasting impact) and those in settlements in critically poor condition. In addition to infrastructure fixes, the report suggests some more creative approaches, such as starting recycling and composting projects to cut down on solid waste (something even most US communities have yet to do satisfactorily).

The full report can be found here.

2008 Armenia Corruption Survey of Households Report

2008 Armenia Corruption Survey of Households report highlights the main findings of USAID MAAC Activity Corruption Survey of Households. The report includes survey & sample methodology, opinions on general situation in Armenia, perceptions of corruption, personal experience with corruption and awareness of anti-corruption initiatives.

The report is available for download in English and Armenian at CRRC-Armenia website.

This is a cross-post from CRRC-Armenia blog.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Joel Lazarus on Political Parties and Western Democracy Promotion in Georgia

Why, after almost two decades of independence, do Georgia’s political parties and party system remain so weakly institutionalised? Joel Lazarus, a PhD student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, attempted to answer this question in a public lecture on June 18th at the CRRC-Georgia entitled "Georgian Political Parties and Western Democracy Promotion".

While acknowledging Georgia’s democratic potential from a theoretical perspective, in his doctoral research Lazarus seeks to identify the domestic and international explanations for why political parties in Georgia and the party system within which they operate remain so weakly institutionalised.

Joel explored the following major domestic explanations:

  • No early experience of democratic politics;
  • Lack of a tradition of rational bureaucratic governance;
  • Remaining patron-client structures, fiefdoms;
  • Privatisation of social sphere;
  • Weak citizen-party linkages;
  • Low levels of organisation; Very low levels of trust in parties and other political institutions;
  • Absence of pro-democratic values, such as: tolerance, self-reliance, restraint.
Joel proffered these international explanations:
  • Political democracy promotion usually expressed in backing “reformers” and excluding all others;
  • The international community ignoring and sometimes even praising unfree and unfair elections and constitutional/electoral code manipulations;
  • A shift in donor funding from civil society/media to direct government support after Rose Revolution.
To summarize, Joel argues in his thesis that Western “democracy promotion” has actually served to exacerbate polarization and conflict in Georgian party politics, thereby serving to undermine any potential process of party and party system institutionalisation.

You can see the PowerPoint presentation below!

Joel Lazarus is a PhD student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research focuses on: “Promoting Democracy? Georgian Political Parties and Western Democracy Promotion.”