Behavioral Determinants of Citizen Involvement: Evidence from Natural Resource Decentralization Policy



This article examines the robustness of citizen involvement in decentralized governance. It develops two behavioral theories of citizen involvement and examines their relative explanatory power with survey data collected from subsistence households in forest-dependent communities in Bolivia, Kenya, Mexico, and Uganda. Counterintuitively, the analysis finds that households that have been engaged with collective action the longest are the most likely to disengage from decentralized institutions once they confront crises. This result is interpreted in light of psychological self-licensing theory: people justify noninvolvement with decentralization precisely because of their past effort. This result implies that policies that rely on local involvement may be unsustainable insofar as they fail to address the underlying vulnerability of local users. In order to ensure that citizen involvement with decentralized governance is consistent and effective, policies need to address the structural factors that make users vulnerable to crises.