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HKS Authors

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Director, Center for International Development
Sumitomo-FASID Professor of International Finance and Development


The lack of "social capital" is frequently given as an explanation for why communities perform poorly. Yet to what extent can project design compensate for these community-specific constraints? I address this question by examining determinants of collective success in a costly problem for developing economies--the upkeep of local public goods. It is often difficult to obtain reliable outcome measures for comparable collective tasks across well-defined communities. In order to address this, I conducted detailed surveys of community-maintained infrastructure projects in Northern Pakistan. The findings show that while community-specific constraints do matter, their impact can be mitigated by better project design. Inequality, social fragmentation, and lack of leadership in the community do have adverse consequences but these can be overcome by changes in project complexity, community participation, and return distribution. Moreover, the evidence suggests that better design matters even more for communities with poorer attributes. The use of community fixed effects and instrumental variables offers a significant improvement in empirical identification over previous studies. These results provide evidence that appropriate design can enable projects to succeed even in "bad" communities.


Khwaja, Asim Ijaz. "Can Good Projects Succeed in Bad Communities?" Journal of Public Economics 93.7-8 (August 2009): 899-916.