Skill versus Voice in Local Development

Skill versus Voice in Local Development

By Katherine Casey, Rachel Glennerster, Edward Miguel, Maarten Voors
May 29,2019Working Paper No. 3713

Where the state is weak, traditional authorities often control the local provision of land, justice, and public goods. These authorities are criticized for ruling in an undemocratic and unaccountable fashion, and are typically quite old and poorly educated relative to younger cohorts who have benefited from recent schooling expansions. We experimentally evaluate two solutions to these problems in rural Sierra Leone: an intensive long-term intervention to make local institutions more inclusive; and a low-cost test to rapidly identify skilled technocrats and delegate project management to them. In a real-world competition for local infrastructure grants, we find that in the status quo and institutional reform arms, traditional authorities do not delegate to skilled individuals despite the clear benefits of doing so. A public nudge successfully encourages delegation, leading to an average gain of one standard deviation unit in competition outcomes. These results uncover a broader failure of traditional autocratic institutions to fully exploit the human capital present in their communities. In supporting contributions, we estimate long run impacts of the institutional reform program on a broader set of local development measures; and compare estimates from both experiments to the prior beliefs of experts in policy and academia.