Building trust in state institutions: Evidence from Pakistan


Published 09.02.22

Providing information about reforms in local courts increases trust in state institutions and decreases use of non-state dispute resolution mechanisms

Read “Trust in state and non-state actors: Evidence from Dispute Resolution in Pakistan” by Daron Acemoglu, Ali Cheema, Asim I Khwaja, and James A Robinson here.

The lack of state capacity, particularly at the local levels of government, is one of the key impediments to development in many low- and middle-income countries. When state institutions are perceived to be untrustworthy or ineffective, citizens look to non-state actors to provide basic services such as dispute resolution mechanisms. In this VoxDevTalk, Daron Acemoğlu discusses his recent work with co-authors in which they implement a set of lab-in-the-field experiments in Pakistan to test whether trust towards local state-run courts can be improved, and if so, the effects that has on utilisation of non-state actors in local dispute resolution cases. 

They find that offering positive information about reforms in the local court systems increases citizens’ perceptions of these state institutions and their willingness to engage with them. Interestingly, the authors find that this increase in state trust coincides with decreased engagement with non-state actors for dispute resolution services. Their results highlight that providing information can improve trust in local state institutions. While this is encouraging, more research is needed to observe citizens’ interactions with state institutions over time to better understand through real decisions how individuals decide to engage with state and non-state institutions.