Thursday, November 14, 2019 - 11:45am to 1:00pm
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Wex-434b Conference Room, HKS, 79 JFK St., Cambridge

Deliberation Improves Collective Decision Making: Experimental Evidence from Kenya

Abstract: Citizen participation in decision-making has been widely lauded as a method for improving outcomes in international development and environmental management, among other areas. Advocates of participatory decision-making claim that participation leads to both better decisions and more pro-social behavior. Yet despite widespread support for participation in both rhetoric and donor funding, empirical evidence for the positive effects of participation remains mixed. Existing work provides little guidance to policy-makers, for whom the most pressing question is: how should participatory institutions be designed to maximize social benefits? Complex variation in program design that complicates our ability to isolate the effects of particular aspects of participation in observational data. Experimental work can be an important complement in this regard. I illustrate this with a discussion of a behavioral lab experiment in Nairobi, Kenya, in which participants were randomly assigned to different forms of collective decision making. I find that deliberative argumentation – but not majority voting – improves collective outcomes, mostly through better decision making. Evidence for behavior change is weaker, but there may be a positive effect mediated by preference change. Future work will expand the forms of participation understudy and seek to replicate the research in a field setting. This is the first step in a long-term research agenda that moves beyond the question of whether participation in decision making is desirable, toward a more nuanced understanding of which forms of participation improve which outcomes under what conditions.

Tara Grillos is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Purdue University and a member of the university's Building Sustainable Communities cluster. She received a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado's Institute of Behavioral Science. Her research focuses on human decision-making and behavior in the context of sustainable development. 

Contact Name: 

Leah Knowles

Harvard University
Center for the Environment

Address: 26 Oxford Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge
Phone: (617) 495-0368

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