When a large-scale development project comes to a poor country, that project typically comes with a stakeholder engagement plan, which structures the relationship between those affected by the new project and the proponents of the project. The plan sorts those affected by the project into categories, distributes economic benefits differentially based on those categories, allocates other benefits which can increase or decrease the social power of those affected, defines the ways that people harmed by the project may seek redress for their injuries, and might even modify existing governance structures. In the past decade, through the efforts of large institutional lenders—such as the International Finance Corporation and an array of non-governmental organizations—stakeholder engagement plans have become more comprehensive and sensitive to the wide range of impacts that development projects can have on the communities in which those projects take place. Nonetheless, stakeholder engagement plans are problematic, in large part because they amount to a new legal system, plunked down in a community in which there already exists a formal legal system (in the form of national and municipal law), and the usual non-formal mechanisms of addressing legal or quasi-legal issues exist in every community.

In this Article I propose to draw on recent research from development economics, sociology, and other disciplines that use randomized control trials to assess how specific policies work at solving specific problems. Large-scale development projects bring together companies, governments, and local communities, each of which as different resources, bargaining power, and values. At the present time, most stakeholder engagement plans are shaped by legal requirements and conventional wisdom (and because they are negotiated, bargaining power plays a big role as well). I argue that this important area of development policy should not be left out of the revolution that is influencing many other areas of development policy and development scholarship.