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One step at a time: Does gradualism build coordination?

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  • Sam Asher
  • Lorenzo Casaburi
  • Plamen Nikolov
  • Maoliang Ye

Abstract

We study how gradualism -- increasing required levels ("thresholds") of contributions slowly over time rather than requiring a high level of contribution immediately -- affects individuals' decisions to contribute to a public project. Using a laboratory binary choice minimum-effort coordination game, we randomly assign participants to three treatments: starting and continuing at a high threshold, starting at a low threshold but jumping to a high threshold after a few periods, and starting at a low threshold and gradually increasing the threshold over time (the "gradualism" treatment). We find that individuals coordinate most successfully at the high threshold in the gradualism treatment relative to the other two groups. We propose a theory based on belief updating to explain why gradualism works. We also discuss alternative explanations such as reinforcement learning, conditional cooperation, inertia, preference for consistency, and limited attention. Our findings point to a simple, voluntary mechanism to promote successful coordination when the capacity to impose sanctions is limited.

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  • Sam Asher & Lorenzo Casaburi & Plamen Nikolov & Maoliang Ye, 2010. "One step at a time: Does gradualism build coordination?," Framed Field Experiments 00188, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:framed:00188
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    Cited by:

    1. Peter H. Kriss & Roberto Weber, 2013. "Organizational formation and change: lessons from economic laboratory experiments," Chapters,in: Handbook of Economic Organization, chapter 14 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. Yoshio Kamijo & Hiroki Ozono & Kazumi Shimizu, 2015. "A mechanism overcoming coordination failure based on gradualism and endogeneity," Working Papers SDES-2015-11, Kochi University of Technology, School of Economics and Management, revised Jan 2015.
    3. Yoshio Kamijo & Hiroki Ozono & Kazumi Shimizu, 2016. "Overcoming coordination failure using a mechanism based on gradualism and endogeneity," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(1), pages 202-217, March.
    4. Yoshio Kamijo & Hiroki Ozono & Kazumi Shimizu, 2014. "A Mechanism That Overcomes Coordination Failure Based On Gradualism, Endogeneity, And Modification," Working Papers 1401, Waseda University, Faculty of Political Science and Economics.

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