Many states across the developing world guarantee their citizens a range of entitlements, i.e., basic rights and services intended to raise living standards and promote broad-based growth. But, often, those most in need of entitlements live in places where state capacity to deliver is weak. Can community-driven accountability programs improve provision of entitlements? If so, how? This project addresses these questions through a mixed-methods study of a land rights program in Bihar, India. Findings will inform efforts by practitioners to leverage citizen engagement toward improving entitlement provision for poor and marginalized households.
The Bihar state government guarantees rural citizens a potentially critical entitlement—the right to hold title over homestead land, a small plot on which a household's dwelling is built. Yet many poor households remain untitled, exposing them to the risk of dispossession and difficulty in accessing social welfare provisions, among other potential consequences. The civic organization Deshkal Society has initiated a program to address widespread lack of title through the formation and training of village-level community-based organizations (CBOs) made up of residents. These CBOs assist eligible households in applying for title, mediate between villagers and local government officials, and mobilize community pressure toward the fair and efficient review of applications.
The project's topic, study area, and methods equip it to inform practitioners across broad swathes of the developing world. While every context is unique, few study sites are better positioned than Bihar to facilitate cross-geographic learning on the issues with which this study is concerned. Bihar shares historical and institutional legacies with Pakistan, and especially with nearby Bangladesh. Furthermore, many of Bihar's development and governance indicators are closer to those of Sub-Saharan African countries than to some parts of South Asia, making Bihar an ideal bridge for connecting research across these regions. The study's blend of methods aims to identify contextual factors shaping program outcomes, which can in turn help to build empirically-grounded hypotheses about the circumstances under which similar programs are likely to work.
In engaging these broader debates, the study asks three main empirical questions:
- What is the impact of the program on applications for and attainment of title, land security, knowledge and use of government services, and livelihood?
- What are the mechanisms by which the program exerts impact or fails to do so?
- What contextual factors shape variation in program effects across different villages?
We confront these questions with an integrated blend of techniques from development economics, comparative politics, and qualitative sociology. For the study's quantitative component, we selected 144 villages and randomly divided them into a treatment and control group, surveying a dozen households within each village. For the study's qualitative component, we conducted interviews, field observation, and a document review to develop a rich picture of the study setting and the ground-level processes that arose with the onset of the program. We expect our analyses to reveal actionable insights into questions of whether, how, and when to employ community-driven accountability in pursuit of growth-enhancing entitlements.