Acey, On Why Don’t the Poor Have Water in Africa? Exit, Voice & Loyalty

First things first. Even though I have had my very own blog for a full year, with literally several hits a day, I am slowly, surely grasping that it may not all be about me. What if I am an insignificant excess of affected punctuation in the big top of all things scholarly? I wish I knew. Yet,

I don’t know: perhaps it’s a dream, all a dream. (That would surprise me.) I’ll wake, in the silence, and never sleep again. (It will be I?) Or dream (dream again), dream of a silence, a dream silence, full of murmurs (I don’t know, that’s all words), never wake (all words, there’s nothing else)…. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. 


Indeed. Awake or not, I’ll go on blowing my own horn.

Well, ok, I can afford to share the limelight a bit; sprinkle the magic around, as it were, starting with my students. I currently chair the thesis committees of 4 brilliant UCLA PhD students: Charisma Acey, T.H. Culhane, Priyam Das, and Jan Mazurek. Priyam is preparing her thesis proposal as you read this, if you are reading in February, on water governance/gender in India. T.H. is in the slums of Old Cairo gearing up for the field work for his study of the demand for hot water (and water technology) there. Jan, who turned her UCLA MA thesis into an MIT Press book, is about to take her field exams on business strategies toward the environment. Charisma is defending her proposal this coming week on water access/management issues in Lagos and Benin City. So, as an adviser anyway, I am enjoying something of a water/environment period.

(My most recent 3 PhD graduates were Dan Chatman, Lisa Schweitzer — respectively, the UC-wide transportation students of the year in 2005 and 2003 — and Hyun-Gun Sung, each of whom wrote transportation theses.) The other student I work with actively at the thesis stage is Kimiko Shiki on her U.S. housing/urban poverty project, “Why do the poor live in cities?” I serve on a few other PhD committees besides [note to self: insert more material here later on my self-importance in the grand scheme of things advisory].

I guess I do have to go on. Otherwise, there will be tears and missed deadlines all around.

The plan today is to excerpt (with permission) parts of Charisma’s dissertation proposal, hot off the presses, which is quite bold and promising, and could use both better attention and feedback. She is investigating participatory issues in water access in Nigeria, a situation that benefits from the lens of Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty framework. (It sometime seems as though most every planning problem would.) She works fast, so expect this to be wrapped up soon.


by Charisma Acey, UCLA
February 2007

As a region, Africa continues to urbanize faster than anywhere else on Earth, and a growing number who migrate to cities live in poor housing conditions with minimal infrastructure provision. Although pervasive poverty is cited as a principal determinant affecting access to basic services, surprisingly little research has been carried out on how social hierarchies play out in urban areas, particularly with respect to how different households respond to the well-documented existence of parallel private markets for services such as water, sanitation, health and transportation in less developed countries.

This study contributes to the interdisciplinary literature on urban service delivery reform by exploring a different aspect of demand. The idea is advanced that the public sector in African cities will be able to provide adequate basic services to residents, especially the urban poor, when the mechanisms that allow for the efficient interaction between citizen voice, exit and loyalty are in place that could recuperate the performance of institutions providing local public goods. In addition to the sparse literature on social stratification in developing countries (much of this due to the lack of adequate data to carry out systematic quantitative analyses), most studies also do not address neighborhood effects.

This dissertation will combine the analysis of neighborhood effects and poverty with a conceptual framework based upon the interrelationships among exit, voice and loyalty as responses to decline in the provision of public sector services in developing countries.

The research to be carried out brings together key strands from several bodies of literature: the evolving literature on governance and service delivery; debates on cost recovery, poverty and infrastructure in the cities of developing countries; and the substantial literature on exit, voice and loyalty that has followed Albert Hirschman’s original work, particularly the work pertaining to local public goods, which forms the basis of the conceptual framework of this study.

Governance and Service Delivery
There is a distinct lack of coherence in terms of conceptualization and measurement in the theoretical and empirical literatures on public sector governance reform. Cost recovery in urban water provision became the dominant approach and focus of the literature in the late 1990s.

However, although studies show there is demand for improved sanitation and water supply services, Menase et al note that often there “are no institutional means through which this demand can be expressed” (2001 pg. 3) given income, the perceived benefits to improved water or sanitation, lack of trust in local authorities, and land tenure. Additionally, case studies have identified several factors that have made cost recovery unsuccessful: social and institutional context, technical infrastructure, and billing and payment practices (Alence 2002).

Exit, Voice and Loyalty and Local Public Goods
Consideration of quality is the other side of the coin in understanding the demand for public services.

The concepts of “exit”, “voice” and “loyalty” were first used by Albert Hirschman to describe the various ways that citizens and consumers respond to deteriorating performance by firms, organizations and the state (1970). Exit is related to use of the market mechanism (the decision to no longer purchase a product or service). It can also be thought of in other ways—quitting a job or resigning from an organization. Hirschman linked voice to non-market forces such as complaint, protest, media influence, and political participation. In the realm of local government services, exit would entail individuals or households moving to a new jurisdiction (as in the Tiebout model) or switching to private provision, rather than exercise voice (attempt to change a given state of affairs through individual or collective action) (Young 1976).

The goal of his work was to identify the conditions under which exit or voice would prevail, the relative efficiency of each option, and when both mechanisms are combined to influence performance (Hirschman 1970, p. 5). While in traditional economic terms, exit is thought of as the most efficient expression of consumer preference (hence the plethora of literature on introducing competition into public services delivery), Hirschman argued that no studies demonstrated the ability of competition to “lead firms back to ‘normal’ efficiency…after they have lapsed from them” (p. 22). In cases of imperfect competition, voice would send a more specific signal than exit (Sawyer 1993).

The exit and voice options are reactions to…deterioration and, under certain conditions, will arrest and reverse it.

Loyalty is introduced by Hirschman as a concept that allows for the co-existence of exit and voice. It holds off exit and exists either because an individual feels he holds influence, is conscious of the fact that his exit may cause harm to the organization or institution, or the past use of voice or influence-wielding inspires loyalty. “Thus loyalty, far from being irrational, can serve the socially useful purpose of preventing deterioration from becoming cumulative, as it so often does when there is no barrier to exit” (p. 79).

Exit, Voice and Loyalty after Hirschman
Much of the exit, voice and loyalty (EVL) work that followed from Hirschman built upon the social psychology work of Rusbult, Zembrodt and Gunn (1982) on EVL behavior in close relationships, leading to the adding of a fourth variable, neglect, defined as passive and destructive behavior. Later research asked what types of people are likely to choose which responses. The validity of using exit, voice and loyalty as variables has been tested in the EVLN framework, which posits exit and voice as active responses and exit and neglect as destructive (Roberts 2004).

Returning to the question of construct validity (Shadish, Cook and Campbell 2002), numerous studies using EVLN in the workplace have found reliability for the four categories as theorized above. However, voice and loyalty had the lowest reliability. Voice can be strengthened if it is further divided into their respective components–Voice has constructive and destructive (aggressive) components. Loyalty remains problematic, however. As Saunders (1992) notes in a review of the EVL literature, especially labor theory, loyalty has been especially hard to conceptualize and measure, having been treated variously as an attitude moderating exit and voice or as another behavior, just as exit and voice are behaviors.

Others have used the variables more along the lines of Hirschman’s original thesis, which posits exit and voice as a continuum, or a tradeoff, where the decision to use exit reduces the possibilities of voice and vice versa. Much of this is still within the labor economics literature (Changhee 1988). The propensity to exit from or voice dissatisfaction has also been operationalized as predictors of the intent to stay within management literature, especially nursing studies (Jamerson 1998, Graham and Keeley 1992).

Research Questions and Hypotheses
One of the main research questions to be addressed by this study came out of pre-dissertation fieldwork in Nigeria in 2005. Working and middle class households who had exited or exhibited neglect behavior (either disconnecting or/and not paying the bill) cited dissatisfaction with reliability. It is entirely possible that one dimension of dissatisfaction could mediate behavior. This idea is supported with findings from the literature, that responses to dissatisfaction are related to different aspects of prior satisfaction (Saunders 1992). The present study seeks to capture both the behavior dimension and the circumstance dimension.

The goal of this research project is to disentangle the contextual and compositional factors affecting the relationships between exit and voice in the demand for water and sanitation services in two Nigerian cities. Lagos and Benin City are both large, fast growing cities, with populations that differ by ethnicity and political party. Both cities are similar in that peripheral areas with few services are springing up faster than authorities can cater for, water and sanitation services have not kept pace with population growth, and dynamic private markets for water and sanitation provision exist.

My primary questions are:

  1. Do efforts to improve service delivery to the urban poor that omit mechanisms of voice for those who exit first when quality declines perpetuate the “low-level performance equilibrium ” (Nickson and Franceys 2003)?
  2. If socio-spatial concentrations of households in various parts of each city reflect historical patterns of urban development and the structure of social mobility, does location have a significant affect vis-à-vis household composition on the strategies of urban residents to exercise their voice and exit options in securing basic services?
  3. How do political and economic processes at different scales affect the cost structure of basic services in different parts of the city? Are there sub-monopolies in the water and sanitation sectors of Lagos and Benin City that affect the timing of exit and voice in response to changes in the quality of service delivery?

And go on she will ….

Sunday, February 18th, 2007
randall Crane
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