Suggested Citation. MIT GOV/LAB Research Brief. 2018. “Examining the Impact of Civic Leadership Training in the Philippines.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Governance Lab.

Results have been internally replicated, but may undergo further revisions. MIT GOV/LAB reserves all rights over data, methods, and results for publication.


What impact does civic leadership training have on community leaders from poor, marginalized groups? On the one hand, training could ideally increase leaders’ participation in government and prompt government officials to be more responsive to people’s needs. On the other hand, trained community leaders might be co-opted by local politicians and leveraged for political gain.

To explore the effect of training leaders from poor communities, MIT GOV/LAB partnered with a coalition of local civil society organizations to conduct a field experiment in the Northern Luzon region of the Philippines. In the Philippines, over 4.4 million households considered “the poorest of the poor” participate in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. This large-scale government conditional cash transfer program (CCT) provides cash directly to beneficiaries who comply with social welfare programs focused on child health, nutrition, and education.

We evaluated a civic leadership training program that specifically targets CCT beneficiaries. The training program, known as Project i-Pantawid, is implemented by local partners and trains existing community leaders (known as “parent leaders”) to monitor CCT implementation, hold service providers accountable for its administration, and, more broadly, to act as representatives for their communities in local decision-making.

Eight of the 16 municipalities in the study were randomly assigned to receive the training, while the other half served as a comparison group. Within these 16 municipalities, we studied 441 villages and surveyed 4,998 respondents. Our research evaluated how the civic training affected the political participation of these parent leaders, the responsiveness of local government officials to the needs of the poor, and the potential unintended political consequences of leadership training, such as increased co-option and vote-buying. Given its small sample size (in terms of the number of municipalities to which treatment status was randomly assigned), this study should be considered more akin to a plausibility probe than a definitive impact evaluation, though even suggestive evidence of effects on the different outcomes measured is potentially important for policy-makers.

Key Takeaways

  • Participation: Political engagement appeared to be greater among parent leaders who received the training. They attended local town hall meetings at higher rates and spoke up at these meetings more often compared to those who did not receive training. The effects on some forms of political engagement were statistically significant, despite the small sample size, and merit further consideration from policymakers and practitioners.
  • Government responsiveness: In communities with trained parent leaders, government officials were slightly more likely to comply with government transparency regulations. Interestingly, perceptions of government responsiveness among parent leaders were, if anything, lower (i.e., less positive) compared to the control group. Neither of these results were statistically significant; however, they provide some suggestive evidence that the intervention could have influenced the behavior of officials as well as citizens.
  • Co-optation: There was no evidence that newly-trained parent leaders were co-opted or used by local government officials for political gain (e.g. through vote-buying schemes). In fact, the municipalities with trained parent leaders had lower reported rates of co-optation than their comparison group. However, the postponement of local elections (originally scheduled to take place during the study period, but ultimately postponed until May 2018) made this hypothesis difficult to assess. MIT GOV/LAB is collecting additional data to assess the effects of the intervention in closer proximity to an election period.

Featured research projects:

Lily L. Tsai, Nina McMurry and Swetha Rajeswaran (2018). The effect of civic leadership training on citizen engagement and government responsiveness: experimental evidence from the Philippines. Making All Voices Count Research Report, Brighton: IDS. Available online.

Nina McMurry and Lily L. Tsai (2018). “The effect of co-training citizen and government officials at the village level: experimental evidence from the Philippines.” Work in progress.

Partners: This research was undertaken with a network of civil society organizations in the Philippines, led by Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG), Responsible Citizens, Empowered Communities and Solidarity towards Social Change (RECITE, Inc.), and Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF). Local civil society organizations including Diocese of Urdaneta, Project 101, Caritas Nueva Segovia, Molte Aires, Northern Luzon Baptist Pastors and Preachers Fellowship, Inc, and Kataguwan Center.