Well Building Project
Wells run deep: solving cooperative dilemmas in the real world
I study the evolution of cooperation and how people cooperate to solve public goods dilemmas (e.g taxation systems, building and maintenance of public works, managing climate change). In January 2015 I began a project which attempts to experimentally study a real life public goods dilemma. We offered 10 remote villages in India money to cooperatively build wells for drinking water. We provided the building resources (brick, cement, stone etc) but villagers had to invest their unpaid labour to construct the wells. Building wells is a public goods dilemma as everyone benefits from the water whether they help to build or not. 6 villages decided to build and 4 declined.
We made quantitative behavioural observations of the well building process across these 6 villages over 4 months. We recorded who participated in well building, how frequently and how much. We are also collecting detailed longitudinal demographic, socio-economic, social network and GIS data on all village adults, households and villages. These data are being used to examine how demographic factors (population size, migration), kin relatedness, social networks and socio-economics affect individual behaviour and whether any observed patterns of behaviour are stable across populations and over time.
9 wells have been completed so far. The findings of this project are relevant to policy makers across the world as they will illuminate how demographic change affects social behaviour and systems, a currently pressing issue for governments.
I am collaborating with a filmmaker, Dr David Jobanputra, who has filmed the whole experiment and project. We hope to take our film to academic and non-academic audiences and policy-makers in the UK and in India to communicate both the running of the project and its findings.
I have been live tweeting the progress of the study with photographs and these can be viewed here.
Update: March 10th 2017
The 6 villages that decided to build wells planned to build a total of 24 wells across them; 15 of 24 wells are now complete and we have collected video and non-video observational data on the building process. We now have a unique dataset across villages varying in their ability to organise and create a public good. We have collected over 1000 hours of video data that need to be meticulously coded using specialised software to quantify behaviour; who participated in the well building, how often and how much. We expect that coding these data will take us at least a year of work.
In the meantime we are now conducting surveys for the next two years to record use of the newly built wells. This will allow us to (i) collect data on who is using the wells and compare it to who helped build them and (ii) evaluate how the new wells have changed water use patterns across the 6 villages; these data will also be important to policy makers interested in ‘participatory development’, where stakeholders influence and share control of development initiatives as the villagers did in our study.
In addition to the behavioural data on well building, we have also collected a large-scale dataset across our 10 study villages over the last 3 years; this includes data from economic games, behavioural surveys, demographic, individual, genealogical and social data for most adults. We are now very nearly finished processing these data and will soon start to analyse them. This will allow us to see whether demographic factors (population size, structure and migration)and social networks affect the degree to which people help each other and contribute to public works.