Skip navigation Jump to navigation

CEBPA – Research

"An effective and efficient government must reflect our best understanding of human behavior – how people engage with, participate in, and respond to policies and programs."

– Social and Behavioral Sciences Team at the White House

CEBPA conducts research on a broad variety of topics using experimental and behavioral approaches to public administration.  A selection of current research projects can be found below.

Discrimination and unequal treatment

In this stream of research we investigate patterns of discriminatory behavior among providers of public and nonprofit services, using field experimental techniques. Research is conducted among a variety of different public and nonprofit services, such as education and healthcare. This line of study aims to uncover the behavioral mechanisms of discrimination in public service delivery by using a unique combination of theoretical approaches from micro- and behavioral economics, psychology, and public administration.

The micro-level effects of competition within public service delivery

In this research line, we are interested in the unintended effects of public management reform. We apply experimental designs and analysis of large-scale datasets to study two aspects of the market-based provision of public services: 1) Whether (and under which conditions) market inspired reforms have created inequalities in service delivery between vulnerable citizens and their better-equiped counterparts; and 2) Whether (or not) market mechanisms have undermined notions of Republican citizenship by establishing a service delivery logic that replaces rights and duties with market values. We combine insights from the fields of public administration, political science and psychology to tease-out the microfoundational mechanisms at play using survey-based experiments.

Citizen satisfaction with public services

This work uses experimental methods to examine how citizens form satisfaction judgments about public services. In particular, this work has tested the expectancy-disconfirmation model of citizen satisfaction, which has been applied in the public administration literature to analyze survey data. Our experimental work has confirmed basic features of the model but also raised questions about the nature and importance of expectations in the formation of satisfaction judgments. The aim of this line of work is to better understand how citizens experience and evaluate government services and to improve the analysis of subjective measures of government performance.

Citizen co-production and participation in urban services

In this topic area, we conduct experimental research to idenitfy basic factors, such as extrinsic rewards or simple ecouragements, that foster (or harm) citizen involvement in the delivery and co-production of urban services. This line of study aims to provide public and nonprofit organizations with a basic toolset to increase public particpation in their efforts to enhance the quality of life in urban communities.

The symbolic effect of representative bureaucracy

Research in this areas uses experimental methods to examine how the social composition of government agencies, particularly gender and racial makeup, influence how citizens judge and respond to government. Our studies on gender representation have shown that a more representative agency, in terms of gender, influences perceptions of legitimacy and the willingness to cooperate with government. We are extending this line of research to race and other social categories. The aim is to understand the symbolic effects of representative bureaucracy on the legitimacy and effectiveness of government.

Public sector transparency

Research in this area attempts to shed light upon the ways different qualities of government information, ranging from content to presentation style, shape citizen attitutdes and behavior. Specifically, our research designs examine the processes responsible for linking transparency to desirable outcomes such as an improved understanding of government or greater trust in government. Here, we rely upon psychological theory to guide our analyses. The implications of this line of research intend to help governments to communicate more effectively with those they serve.

Interpretation and use of public performance information

This line of work examines how both citizens and public managers interpret and use performance information to judge public programs and services. We are especially interested in how the framing or presentation of performance information influences judgments, including the influence of various benchmarks and comparisons. We also are interested in how psychological processes, such as motivated reasoning, influence how citizens and managers make sense of performance metrics. The aim is to identify biases in the interpretation of such information and to design methods of reporting that help overcome these biases.