Informal Institutions Under An Expanding State: A field experiment on community policing in Papua New Guinea

Research Method

Blocked and clustered field experiment with 1,383 respondents in 39 villages.


Bougainville, Papua New Guinea




Bougainville Police Service, New Zealand Police, J-PAL (funders)

Research Question

Does the expansion of the state policing undermine or reinforce incumbent informal institutions, and how does this process affect the provision of order?


This study takes advantage of a unique opportunity to examine how the expansion of the state's policing apparatus into areas primarily policed by chiefs and vigilantes affects the provision of order. In late 2015, remote villages in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, were assigned at random to have or not have a nominated community member become a uniformed officer of the state's community police force, permanently present in the village. In a household-level survey carried out in late 2016, 8 months after the community police have been working in the selected communities, I find no evidence to support the notion that the expansion of state services crowds out informal institutions, or that local elites 'capture' decentralized agents of the state. Rather than substituting, community police appear to complement informal policing institutions by catering to women, who are typically disadvantaged by informal justice providers. There is some evidence that this complementarity improves order: respondents are less likely to report incidents of theft, alcoholism or domestic violence in their community. These findings, however, are not corroborated by individual victimization measures.