Working Paper

Escaping the Valley of Disengagement: Two Field Experiments on Motivating Citizens to Monitor Public Goods

Date Published

Jun 1, 2017


Mark T. Buntaine, Daniel L. Nielson, Jacob T. Skaggs



Buntaine et al. 2017. Escaping the Valley of Disengagement: Two Field Experiments on Motivating Citizens to Monitor Public Goods. AidData Working Paper #41. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.

Update: Revised versions of this paper have been published in the British Journal of Political Science and the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.


Governments cannot provide public goods effectively when they lack information about their delivery. Citizens, for their part, experience deficient or absent public services, but they lack 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 citizen engagement in governance given the challenges posed by this vicious cycle. In two field experiments in Kampala, Uganda, we recruited citizens to report on solid waste services to the municipal government. We find that neighbors' and leaders' nominations of reporters and public announcements about reporters' activity do not increase citizen monitoring. However, government responsiveness to reporters boosts participation over several months, highlighting the critical role of timely and targeted responsiveness by governments for sustaining citizen engagement.

Funding: This research was supported by AidData at the College of William & Mary and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Global Development Lab through cooperative agreement AID-OAA-A-12-00096 and by the Hellman Family Foundation through a fellowship to Mark Buntaine.

Featured Authors

Mark Buntaine

Mark Buntaine

Assistant Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara

Dan Nielson

Dan Nielson

Professor and Associate Chair of Political Science at Brigham Young University

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