It Takes a Village: Peer Effects and Externalities in Technology Adoption

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Authors Romain Ferrali, Guy Grossman, Melina R. Platas, Jonathan A. Rodden
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Paper Abstract Do social networks matter for the adoption of new forms of political participation? We develop a formal model showing that the quality of communication that takes place in social networks is central to understanding whether a community will adopt forms of political participation where benefits are uncertain and where there are positive externalities associated with participation. Early adopters may exaggerate benefits, leading others to discount information about the technology’s value. Thus, peer effects are likely to emerge only when informal institutions support truthful communication. We collect social network data for 16 Ugandan villages where an innovative mobile-based reporting platform was introduced. Consistent with our model, we find variation across villages in the extent of peer effects on technology adoption, as well as evidence supporting additional observable implications. Impediments to social diffusion may help explain the varied uptake of new and increasingly common political communication technologies around the world. Verification Materials: The data and materials required to verify the computational reproducibility of the results, procedures and analyses in this article are available on the American Journal of Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at: Political participation is costly, and benefits of participating are often uncertain. If I participate in a protest, will it lead to a policy change? If I vote, will it lead to a change of government? If I report a problem about a public school, will the problem be solved? All of these types of political activities are characterized by an additional core feature: positive externalities. My political action may be welfare-improving not only for me, but also for others, and returns from participation depend on the actions of other agents. The decision about whether or not to take a costly political action under uncertainty thus hinges not only on what I expect others to do (coRomain Ferrali is Postdoctoral Associate, New York University Abu Dhabi, Division of Social Science, Building A5-1135, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates ( Guy Grossman is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, 133 S. 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215 and EGAP member ( Melina R. Platas is Assistant Professor, New York University Abu Dhabi, Division of Social Science, Building A5-145, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and EGAP member ( Jonathan Rodden is Professor, Stanford University, Department of Political Science, Encina Hall Central, 616 Serra Street, Stanford, CA 94305 ( We are thankful to The United States Agency for International Development, Social Impact and Stanford GSB for financial support. We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of members of the Arua district government, as well as RTI, GAPP, UNICEF Uganda, USAID/Uganda, and the USAID Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance, without whom this study would not have been possible. We thank Innovations for Poverty Action Uganda for excellent data collection, and Jon Helfers, Maximillian Seunik, Areum Han, and Zachary Tausanovich for providing valuable research assistance at various stages of the project. We received helpful feedback from Daeyoung Jeong and Korhan Kocak, as well as seminar participants at Brigham Young University, the University of Pennsylvania, NYU Abu Dhabi, Princeton, Stanford, Emory, Essex, the University of Virginia, the London School of Economics, King’s College London, and the Stockholm School of Economics. ordination), but also on the information I gather about the expected benefits (communication). Acquiring information about potential benefits is particularly important for new forms of political participation—voting for the first time in a newly democratic state, contacting political leaders on social media, or sending text messages to report potholes or broken streetlights. In this article, we develop and empirically test a model that brings together insights from hitherto distinct literatures on political participation and technology adoption to explain communityand individual-level variation in new forms of political engagement. The key insight that American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 00, No. 00, xxxx 2019, Pp. 1–18 C ©2019, Midwest Political Science Association DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12471
Date of publication 2019
Code Programming Language R

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