UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Abbie Turiansky, University of California, Davis

Collective action in games as in life: Experimental evidence from canal cleaning in Haiti

Date and Location

Monday, January 11, 2016, 4:10 PM - 5:30 PM
ARE Library, 4101 Social Sciences and Humanities


When the provision of public goods depends on voluntary contributions, informal
institutions and norms can play an important role in increasing contributions. While the literature
provides examples of decentralized management of common-pool resources such as irrigation
infrastructure, we know little about how successful institutions emerge and evolve. In this paper
I ask whether exposure to the strategic considerations of a collective action dilemma in an experimental
setting can change behavior in real-world scenarios in which those individuals face similar
strategic trade-off s. Among 800 rice farmers who are part of an agricultural technology adoption
study in rural Haiti, I randomly selected 300 to participate in public goods games framed to mimic
the real trade-off they face between private work and participation in the management of shared
canals. Over the subsequent planting season, the local irrigation association organized voluntary
canal-cleaning work days to manage the shared canal systems that irrigate farmers' fi elds. Treated
farmers were 66% more likely than the control group to volunteer. The mechanism through which
the experiments seem to operate is by shifting participants' expectations of others' contributions
to the public good, suggesting that experiments provide a setting in which to learn about one's
neighbors and develop common norms of behavior.

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