Crowding theory has highlighted the unintended consequences that well-meant financial incentives can have on behaviour. Using field research, this study applies crowding theory to self-organising citizens’ initiatives in the Netherlands. Citizens’ initiatives create different kinds of goods and services and are sometimes supported by governmental ‘citizens’ initiatives stimulation funds’. We found that (1) the crowding effect is multifaceted; (2) the psychological processes and mechanisms of crowding in and out are subtle and can happen simultaneously; (3) in some instances, stimulation funds seem to have affected the preferences of the initiatives, such as expectations about the funds’ presence and procedures; and, (4) stimulation funds are well-suited to instrumentally support the initiatives in realising their plans and ambitions, but less suited in fostering civic behaviour or spontaneous self-organisation. Our research raises important considerations about the possibilities and constraints for stimulating civic behaviour through stimulating citizens’ initiatives.
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Ultimately, our study has shown a more multifaceted working of crowding theory: it is possible to financially support citizens’ initiatives without crowding out high and self-determined forms of motivation. This gives hope for funding schemes to facilitate self-organisation. Highly motivated initiators can be instrumentally supported. The funds do, however, not trigger civic preferences nor behaviour.
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