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How Does Development Assistance Affect Collective Action Capacity? Results from a Field Experiment in Post-Conflict Liberia


Social cooperation is critical to a wide variety of political and economic outcomes. For this reason, international donors have embraced interventions designed to strengthen the ability of communities to solve collective-action problems, especially in post-conflict settings. We exploit the random assignment of a development program in Liberia to assess the effects of such interventions. Using a matching funds experiment we find evidence that these interventions can alter cooperation capacity. However, we observe effects only in communities in which, by design, both men and women faced the collective action challenge. Focusing on mechanisms, we find evidence that program effects worked through improvements in mobilization capacity that may have enhanced communities’ ability to coordinate to solve mixed gender problems. These gains did not operate in areas where only women took part in the matching funds experiment, possibly because they could rely on traditional institutions unaffected by the external intervention. The combined evidence suggests that the impact of donor interventions designed to enhance cooperation can depend critically on the kinds of social dilemmas that communities face, and the flexibility they have in determining who should solve them.

Corresponding author
James D. Fearon is Professor at Stanford University and CIFAR.
Macartan Humphreys is Professor at Columbia University and WZB Berlin Social Science Center (
Jeremy M. Weinstein is Professor at Stanford University.
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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