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Can information outreach increase participation in community-driven development? A field experiment near Bwindi National Park, Uganda


Decentralization and community-driven development intend to bring public decisions closer to the people, yet elites often capture local institutions. One way that local elites capture community-driven development is to limit information about opportunities for citizens to shape group decisions. We investigate whether sending citizens targeted and timely information about when and how they can participate in the planning of community-driven development projects increases knowledge, participation, and satisfaction with local institutions. We implemented a pre-registered randomized field experiment in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority that involved sending residents in randomly selected villages near Bwindi National Park approximately 60 messages by mobile phone over eight months about how a park-sponsored revenue sharing program worked and how and when residents could participate. We do not find evidence that the information increased perceived knowledge, participation, perceived efficacy, or satisfaction with local institutions. Exploratory findings suggest that among women, who are often disenfranchised in Ugandan society, the information treatment backfired related to perceived opportunities to participate. More positively, we find that reaching more people in a community with information led to promising results related to participation and satisfaction with the park. We conclude that informational treatments are unlikely to empower participation on average, unless they are deployed broadly and in ways that promote collective action.

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