Carolyn Hill (MA ’96)

Karl Scholz was instrumental in opening up the possibility of me of getting a PhD and thinking about the best kind of program given my interests. I loved my coursework and learning at La Follette.

Volunteering Makes You Happier, but Why You Volunteer Also Matters: Other-Oriented Motivations and Cumulative Life-Satisfaction

Prior research suggests that volunteering benefits not only the recipient of help, but also the volunteer, who enjoys psychological and health benefits. This study investigates how volunteering and motivation for volunteering is associated with cumulative life-satisfaction among older adults. The results show that volunteering, even volunteering that occurred three decades earlier in one’s life, is associated with cumulative life-satisfaction at retirement age. The results suggest that why people volunteer matters in assessing life-satisfaction. Volunteers who are motivated by a desire to help others enjoy higher life-satisfaction. By contrast, volunteering for self-oriented reasons is either not associated or has a negative association with life-satisfaction.

Installation Price, Degradation, and Value in Residential Photovoltaic Systems

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are becoming price competitive with conventional electricity sources. Their adoption is predicated on both private (electricity cost savings) and public (climate and air quality) benefits, which are obscured by wide variation in PV system price. System quality may be an important source of that variation, but it remains poorly understood. Here, I used degradation as a proxy for system quality, and studied degradation of small (15<kW) California Solar Initiative (CSI) systems to explore the hypothesis that high price reflects high quality. I analyzed data for 386 mature systems generated by the Expected Performance Based Buydown (EPBB) portion of the May 2016 CSI Working Dataset, the National Solar Radiation Database (NSRDB), and the Tracking the Sun (TTS) dataset. These systems showed a median annual degradation rate of 1.0% based on year-on-year (YOY) differencing. Using multiple linear regression, I found no support for the hypothesis that high-cost residential solar PV systems avoid annual degradation differently than low-cost systems. In general, the model explains little variation in the data, likely due to either data quality issues in the components of the degradation rate calculation and/or to significant but unexplored variables. Additionally, by estimating the value of a PV system with median annual degradation relative to one with no degradation, I demonstrated that the value of degradation represents a non-trivial cost to system owners. Despite a large range (+32% to 0%), median degradation adds 11% to the $/kWh cost of residential solar. These results demonstrate that policy interventions targeting degradation are an important area for transparency and financial risk reduction in residential PV markets.

The Design and Practice of Integrating Evidence: Connecting Performance Management with Program Evaluation

In recent decades, governments have invested in the creation of two different forms of knowledge production about government performance: program evaluations and performance management. Prior research has noted both tensions between these two approaches and potential for complementarities when they are aligned. We offer empirical evidence on how program evaluations connect with performance management in the United States federal government in 2000 and 2013. We show that in the later time period there is an interactive effect between the two approaches, which we argue reflects deliberate efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations to build closer connections between program evaluation and performance management. Drawing on the 2013 data, we also offer evidence that how evaluations are implemented matters, and that evaluations facilitate performance information use by reducing the causal uncertainty that managers face as they try to make sense of what performance data mean.

Making Sense of Performance Regimes: Rebalancing External Accountability and Internal Learning

How to account for the ubiquitous presence of public sector performance regimes given evidence that such regimes have failed to achieve their promises? We argue that this paradox perseveres partly because the dominant doctrinal approach – justifying what we label as the external accountability regime – responds to a real need for political account giving, but also partly because alternative frameworks that can satisfy that need have been slow to emerge. We describe a fundamental mismatch between external accountability regimes and the basic characteristics of the public sector. As a result, performance regimes are often experienced as externally imposed standards that encourage passivity, gaming, and evasion, and will therefore never be able to achieve performance gains that depend on purposeful professional engagement. Rather than simply criticizing external accountability regimes, we offer an alternative framework better informed by the empirical study of performance regimes. The proposed alternative internal learning regime makes the case for extensive professional involvement in the development and interpretation of goals. This type of regime offers not just a framework to inform the design of performance regimes, but also a prospective research agenda to address how performance regimes affect motivation, behavior, and public sector outcomes.

Joshua Williams (MIPA ’13)

La Follette courses provided me with an extremely solid foundation in applied research methods, which has allowed me to more quickly pursue my current research than might otherwise have been possible.