Abstract — Politicians often enjoy information advantages over voters, allowing them to undermine accountability. New information technologies, including mobile text-messaging, offer advantages to civil society and citizens in gaining access to information that elected politicians can counter only at significant cost. Demonstrating the implications for electoral accountability, we report results from a large (n=16,083) randomized control trial conducted during the 2016 Ugandan district elections. We compiled information on irregularities in district budgets and shared it with citizens privately via mobile text-messages prior to the elections. Messages reporting greater budget discrepancies than expected decreased support for incumbent district councillors and disclosures of fewer budget discrepancies than expected increased support for incumbent councillors. The messages had no discernable effects on support for district chairs, perhaps due to a more saturated information environment. Our results suggest that open budget data, disseminated privately, can enhance local electoral accountability in competitive authoritarian systems.
Escaping the Valley of Disengagement: Two Field Experiments on Motivating Citizens to Monitor Public Goods (With Jacob Skaggs and Daniel Nielson). [PDF]
Abstract — Governments face problems serving the public interest when they do not have good information about how well the demands of citizens are met. Citizens experience deficient or absent public services, but they do not have incentives to provide monitoring when they do not expect governments to be responsive to their concerns. Over time, this reinforcing cycle creates what we term the valley of disengagement. We investigate how to activate and sustain collaborative governance given the challenges posed by this vicious cycle. In two field experiments implemented in Kampala, Uganda, we recruited citizens to report on solid waste services to a municipal government. We find that community nominations of reporters and community announcements about reporters’ activity do not increase citizen monitoring. However, responsiveness to reporters by government significantly boosts engagement over several months, highlighting the critical role of timely and targeted responsiveness by governments for sustaining collaborative governance.
Transparency and Local Accountability: A National-Scale Field Experiment in China on the Disclosure of Information about Pollution (With Sarah Anderson, Mengdi Liu, and Bing Zhang) [request]
Abstract — Central governments face compliance problems when they rely on local governments to implement policy. In authoritarian political systems, these challenges are pronounced because local governments do not face direct accountability from citizens at the polls. We designed and implemented a national-scale field experiment in China to test whether the public dissemination of performance ratings of municipal governments by non-state actors caused municipal governments to release more information about the management of pollution to the public as mandated. We find significant and positive treatment effects on the release of information to the public about the management of pollution after only one year. These results reveal important roles that non-state actors can play in enhancing accountability of local governments in authoritarian political systems.