At the individual level and at the community level in Albania, is willingness to cooperate with others for the common good associated with willingness to participate in local school board and national elections?
While governments can provide institutions that allow citizens to hold public servants accountable, people must participate in those institutions in order for them to be effective. Citizens are then faced with the dilemma that participation in these institutions involves costs (e.g., time and effort), while free-riding (that is, not participating) can allow them to benefit from the efforts of those who do participate. This is known as a collective action problem.
There are two paths to hold government accountable: connecting citizens to policymakers through voting in national elections (the “long route”) and connecting citizens directly to the providers of goods and services (the “short route”). The authors explore citizen participation in these paths in Albania, the last European country to participate in the “third wave of democracy,” which was the wave of democratic transitions that began in 1974 and ended in the early 1990s. Three parliamentary elections occurred since the transition and turnout in each averaged around 50%.
After Albania transitioned, there was a sharp decline in the coverage and quality of social services, including a drop in school enrollment. The central body responsible for managing the education system is the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES). To promote community engagement, MoES utilized school boards as well as parent committees comprised of elected parent class representatives to foster parental involvement in education and accountability. Albanian parents have the opportunity to elect parent class representatives who, in turn, elect parent representatives to the school board. These are referred to as school accountability institutions.
This study investigates whether, both at the individual level and at the district level, willingness to cooperate with others for the common good is associated with parents’ willingness to participate in school accountability institutions (a “short route” to accountability) and to vote in the most recent parliamentary elections (a “long route” to accountability). In 2009, the authors conducted “the Albania School Stakeholder Survey” as part of the World Bank’s Accountability for Better Governance Program, surveying 1800 parents randomly selected from a nationally representative sample of 180 primary schools. With MoES and by offering financial incentives, the authors achieved a 100% participation rate. The authors collected data on parents’ demographics (see Table 1; full version of table on page 256) as well as their involvement in the school accountability system and whether they participated in the latest elections of parent class representatives just prior to the data collection. They complemented their survey data with official records on district-level voter turnout in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Table 1: Individual Characteristics
School Stakeholder Survey
2008 Living Standards Measurement Survey
District-Level Coefficient Correlation
Average years of education
Measures of Social Engagement
Belongs to organization
Participated in community activity in past year
Thinks village members would coordinate in case of water shortage
% of relatives or friends among other parents
Involvement with Pupil’s Education
Help with homework at least once a week
Number of meetings with teacher in previous semester
Information about Participatory Accountability Institutions
Knows about existence of parent class representatives
Knows about existence of school board
Knows about existence of participatory accountability institutions in schools
Participation in last parent class representative election
To obtain a direct measure of individuals’ propensities to coordinate and cooperate with others, they conducted a lab experiment in the field. Each surveyed parent and teacher participated in an experimental workshop conducted in their school. Ten parents and five teachers attended each workshop. Each participant was given a voucher and had to decide whether to invest it in a group account or a private account. If a parent or teacher invested the voucher in the group account it yielded a real money payoff of 100 LEK to each and every parent and teacher in the workshop. If a parent or teacher invested in a private account, it yielded a real money payoff of 500 LEK, but only to them. So, investing in the group account is a cooperative act, while investing in the private account is free-riding.
In the public goods lab experiment 75% of the parents chose to invest in the group account, indicating cooperativeness. There were significant differences in cooperation rates across districts, with less cooperation (that is, more investment in the private account) in more diverse regions.
Cooperative parents were 8% more likely to participate in the election of parent class representatives and about 4% more likely to report that they voted in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Turning their attention to the district level, the authors find that in districts where parents were more inclined to invest their vouchers in the group account, both parental participation in the school accountability system and official voter turnout in the 2009 parliamentary elections is higher.
Essential to a well-functioning democracy is the ability of citizens to hold their leaders accountable. However, a number of forces can converge to limit citizens’ willingness to participate. Understanding the forces driving political participation is imperative for policymakers seeking to mobilize a citizenry who might otherwise face collective action problems – that is, a temptation to benefit simply from others’ participation. The findings of the study can help states and community organizations – including but extending beyond education institutions — to:
Identify ways to increase local participation and civic engagement in Albania and other new democracies.
Identify the types of individuals who are more or less likely to participate politically and in doing so; hold their leaders accountable, particularly in contexts in which there is skepticism as to the free and fair nature of national elections.
Consider ways to raise visibility about other citizens’ willingness to participate in political institutions at the local and national levels, which should in turn affect the likelihood that citizens will themselves participate rather than free-ride. This derives from citizens’ greater propensity to engage in political institutions (cooperate) when they believe that others will do so as well.