Panel Paper: Can Participation in Group Decision-Making Increase Investment in Public Goods?

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Johnson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tara Grillos, Purdue University

The use of direct democracy to promote stakeholder participation in decision-making has been widely lauded as a method for improving outcomes in environmental management, international development, democratic governance, and sustainability science, among other areas. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe even recognized “the right to participate in environmental decision-making” in its 1998 Arhus Convention, and public participation in decision-making is formally encouraged in several national constitutions. While there are normative reasons to encourage more inclusive decision-making processes, costly and time-intensive group decision- making processes are often justified on the grounds that they may also improve outcomes.

Yet despite myriad claims about the beneficial effects of group decision-making, empirical evidence remains weak, largely due to a lack of specificity regarding the causal mechanisms through which particular types of participation should affect outcomes. One hypothesized effect of deliberative decision-making is that participants are more likely to value outcomes of the decision-making, and thereby more likely to invest in, maintain or comply with those outcomes. If the outcomes in question relate to a public good, then these effects have the potential to mitigate the free rider problem and encourage individuals to contribute time, effort, and/or money to that public good.

This research involves controlled laboratory experiments conducted in a developing country context, and it proposes to examine the hypothesis that when individuals are engaged in group decision-making regarding the creation of a public good, they will be more willing to invest in that good over the long-run. Participants are asked to engage in a group effort task which will earn compensation toward a group fund (to be multiplied in accordance with the traditional voluntary contribution mechanism public good game). Treatments vary according to whether the task to be completed is selected through (1) external assignment, (2) a group vote, or (3) a deliberative group discussion through which the group must arrive at a consensus. Controlling for the task itself and for initial preferences over the tasks, this experimental design allows us to isolate the effects of different decision-making processes on an individual’s willingness to invest effort, time and money into related decision outcomes.