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Surfacing the Submerged State with Operational Transparency in Government Services

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  • Ryan W. Buell

    ()
    (Harvard Business School, Technology and Operations Management Unit)

  • Michael I. Norton

    ()
    (Harvard Business School, Marketing Unit)

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    Abstract

    As Americans' trust in government nears historic lows, frustration with government performance approaches record highs. One explanation for this trend is that citizens may be unaware of both the services provided by government and the impact of those services on their lives. In an experiment, Boston-area residents interacted with a website that visualizes both service requests submitted by the public (e.g., potholes and broken streetlamps) and efforts by the City of Boston to address them. Some participants observed a count of new, open, and recently closed service requests, while others viewed these requests visualized on an interactive map that included details and images of the work being performed. Residents who experienced this "operational transparency" in government services - seeing the work that government is doing - expressed more positive attitudes toward government and greater support for maintaining or expanding the scale of government programs. The effect of transparency on support for government programs was equivalent to a roughly 20% decline in conservatism on a political ideology scale. We further demonstrate that positive attitudes about government partially mediate the relationship between operational transparency and support for maintaining and expanding government programs. While transparency is customarily trained on elected officials as a means of ethical oversight, our research documents the benefits of increased transparency into the delivery of government services.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Harvard Business School in its series Harvard Business School Working Papers with number 14-034.

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    Length: 24 pages
    Date of creation: Nov 2013
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:14-034

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    1. Chinander, Karen R. & Schweitzer, Maurice E., 2003. "The input bias: The misuse of input information in judgments of outcomes," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 91(2), pages 243-253, July.
    2. Raymond Hicks & Dustin Tingley, 2011. "Causal mediation analysis," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 11(4), pages 605-619, December.
    3. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard, 1986. "Fairness as a Constraint on Profit Seeking: Entitlements in the Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 728-41, September.
    4. Mohr, Lois A. & Bitner, Mary Jo, 1995. "The role of employee effort in satisfaction with service transactions," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 239-252, March.
    5. Andrea C. Morales, 2005. "Giving Firms an "E" for Effort: Consumer Responses to High-Effort Firms," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(4), pages 806-812, 03.
    6. Ryan W. Buell & Michael I. Norton, 2011. "The Labor Illusion: How Operational Transparency Increases Perceived Value," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 57(9), pages 1564-1579, February.
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    Cited by:
    1. Ryan W. Buell & Tami Kim & Chia-Jung Tsay, 2014. "Creating Reciprocal Value Through Operational Transparency," Harvard Business School Working Papers 14-115, Harvard Business School.

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