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Project 4: Sustainability of Public Goods in a Changing Society

Challenge 4: Creating Caring Communities

Aim of the project                                                                                                      

Examining the conditions for the sustainability of public good provisions under changing group compositions, by specifying the role of social norm formation and social norm conflict.

Theoretical background

The sustainability of cooperation crucially depends on whether people are willing to invest in the provision of joint outcomes when the composition of the group changes over time, or when institutional arrangements shift. This is put to the test when newcomers enter the group, without being aware of what is expected of them. For instance, can sports clubs that rely on volunteer participation of parents (e.g. as referees and coaches, for transportation or bar duty) continue to offer sports facilities for children whose parents are not aware that they should contribute in this way? Maintaining cooperation under changing circumstances is particularly challenging when groups of people that initially might have different norms or incentives come together and have to produce public goods jointly. Is it possible to maintain community provisions, that no longer cater for the needs of all community members (e.g. putting up Christmas decorations in public spaces)? The aim of this project is to systematically examine the causal impact of key variables of interest on the continued provision of public goods.

Research design

This project will start with a theoretical analysis to develop a model that specifies how changing group memberships and the resulting heterogeneity of participants are likely to impact on public good production. The relations between model variables will be tested in experimental designs, which consist of variations on ‘public good games’. Experimental games will be modeled after real life issues (community provisions, sports clubs, ‘vreedzame school’), to incorporate different variables of interest including: a) clarity or explicitness of social norms for newcomers vs. existing community members, b) social vs. material punishments or rewards for (lack of) cooperation, c) relevance of different types of public goods for different community members, d) endorsement of different rationales for contributing to the public good, etc.. This approach also offers a way to develop and test the effectiveness of specific interventions targeting real communities struggling with these issues, such as neighborhoods, sports clubs etc.


Fischbacher, U., Schudy, S., & Teyssier, S. (2014). Heterogeneous reactions to heterogeneity in returns from public goods. Social Choice and Welfare43(1), 195-217.

Reuben, E., & Riedl, A. (2013). Enforcement of contribution norms in public good games with heterogeneous populations. Games and Economic Behavior77(1), 122-137.

Rink, F., Kane, A.A., Ellemers, N., & Van der Vegt, G. (2013). Team receptivity to newcomers: Five decades of evidence and future research themes. Academy of Management Annals, 7, 1-47.

van Gerwen, N., & Buskens, V. (in press). Partner-specific behavior in social networks: Coordination among actors with heterogeneous preferences. Social Networks, doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2017.05.006.   

Project initiators                                                                                                        

Vincent Buskens, Naomi Ellemers


Utrecht University, Department of Sociology


Sociology, preferrably with an interest in Psychology

How to Apply

For background information on this vacancy and further instructions, click here.

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