Self-Efficacy and Citizen Engagement in Development: Experimental Evidence from Tanzania

Author(s): Evan Lieberman, Yang-Yang Zhou 

Status/Format: Published

Date: 2021

Publication Type: Journal Article

Publisher: Journal of Experimental Political Science

Volume and Issue: First View

Page Numbers: 1 - 18


Recent studies of efforts to increase citizen engagement in local governance through information campaigns report mixed results. We consider whether low levels of self-efficacy beliefs limit engagement, especially among poor citizens in poor countries. Citizens may be caught in an “efficacy trap” which limits their realization of better public goods provision. We describe results from a series of experimental studies conducted with over 2,200 citizens in rural Tanzania, in which we compare the effects of standard information campaigns with Validated Participation (VP), an intervention designed to socially validate citizens’ participation. We implement a staged approach to experimental research, seeking to balance ethical and cost concerns about field experimentation. In our main analyses, we find that VP did not lead to increased levels of self-efficacy or more active citizen behaviors relative to standard informational treatments. Nonetheless, we find some promising evidence for VP in a follow-up qualitative study with teachers. We conclude by discussing lessons from this research and directions for future investigation of the possible role of self-efficacy traps in development.