What makes government work well? Strengthening government institutions has been a focus for aid donors in Papua New Guinea for more than a decade, but so far the results have been disappointing. Is Putnam's approach to social capital helpful in understanding the reasons for the poor performance of government institutions in Papua New Guinea? This study is a preliminary replication of Putnam's framework, but in a developing country characterised by strong social bonding along clan, tribal and linguistic lines. Early results suggest that the distinctive nature of social capital in Papua New Guinea-in particular the role of ethnicity-has had an impact on the effectiveness of provincial government.