Research / Weiss Fund Supported ResearchJan 11, 2017

Broken Cities: The Effect of Government Responsiveness on Citizens’ Participation

Laura Trucco

What is the impact of government responsiveness on citizens’ participation in local public goods provision? I explore whether government receptiveness to requests for maintenance work (e.g., sidewalk repairs, tree pruning) affects the likelihood that citizens will demand new government projects. I ran a field experiment in collaboration with the Government of the City of Buenos Aires that generated an exogenous increase in repairs of broken sidewalks reported by citizens. I find that when the government repairs sidewalks after citizens file complaints, other citizens are more likely to issue additional requests for public maintenance work. Most subsequent demands come from citizens who had not filed a complaint before, which indicates that government performance may have an “enfranchising” effect. The evidence suggests that the repairs change citizens’ underlying beliefs about government responsiveness rather than merely reminding them of other maintenance problems. I also find suggestive evidence that citizens’ complaints lead to government repairs. These findings are consistent with the existence of strategic complementarities between government responsiveness and citizen participation, which could help explain the substantial variation in public goods provision both across and within countries.