How Not to Increase Participation in Local Government

The Advantages of Experiments When Testing Policy Interventions

Local governments benefit in many countries from nonelected committees that provide citizen input on important issues. Although these committees offer a valuable tool for policy makers, they suffer from low participation and tend to underrepresent economically disadvantaged citizens.

This article reports the results of a randomized survey experiment that evaluated the relative effectiveness of offering social recognition or skills training. The findings show that entreaties to participate premised on gaining social recognition (thanking volunteers on the town website) had no effect on willingness to participate. Furthermore, offers to provide training actually decreased citizens’ willingness to participate, especially among economically disadvantaged citizens.

Even though these approaches may hold promise, this particular policy intervention did not live up to that promise. The article concludes with a discussion of the importance of testing policy interventions before wide-scale implementation and the utility of randomized experiments in this process.

The full journal article is available at:

Arceneaux, K. and Butler, D. M. (2016), How Not to Increase Participation in Local Government: The Advantages of Experiments When Testing Policy Interventions. Public Administration Review, 76: 131–139. doi: 10.1111/puar.12387