Representation or Cooptation? Examining the Effects of Community Leadership Training in the Philippines

Does providing the poor with opportunities to learn new civic skills and interact with powerful local officials and politicians improve their ability to hold the government accountable for public service provision? Or does it lead to elite capture?

The creation and training of Parent Leaders is a policy innovation unique to the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program in the Philippines, which covers 21 percent of the total population and is one of the largest CCT programs in the world. Parent Leaders are chosen by fellow CCT beneficiaries to serve as representatives of beneficiaries to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Building on this existing infrastructure, two civil society organizations - the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG) and Responsible Citizens, Empowered Communities and Solidarity towards Social Change (RECITE) - have created a program of civic skills training to increase the capacity of Parent Leaders to represent the interests of the “poorest of the poor” in their communities.

Interventions that expand the role of Parent Leaders to include broader engagement and interest representation raise important questions about both positive and unintended, negative impacts of these programs. Building the capacity of leaders from marginalized groups to organize their communities around shared goals and navigate existing channels of power could lead to improved social accountability in local governance and increased representation of these groups’ interests. On the other hand, these same capabilities could also make these leaders more attractive to political elites as brokers who can deliver votes come election time. This “elite capture” could encourage community leaders to pursue their private interests over those of the groups they claim to represent and to utilize their newfound capacity and status for the ultimate benefit of political elites rather than for their communities.

The MIT GOV/LAB is partnering with a coalition of local civil society organizations led by CCAGG and RECITE funded to explore these different outcomes. Our project uses a randomized experimental design combined with rigorous qualitative fieldwork to investigate the contextual characteristics that lead to these outcomes – productive engagement on behalf of poor communities and elite capture – and examines whether the two outcomes can coexist or complement each other. By integrating qualitative and experimental quantitative methods, we combine statistical rigor with context-specific knowledge to better understand the effects of civic skills training on local political dynamics.

Opportunity to get involved. We are looking for field research support on this project. If you are interested, please contact Alisa Zomer (azomer(at)mit.edu) with your resume and a statement of interest.

Collaborators