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Surfacing the Submerged State: Operational Transparency Increases Trust in and Engagement with Government


  • Ryan W. Buell

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

  • Ethan Porter

    () (University of Chicago)

  • Michael I. Norton

    () (Harvard Business School, Marketing Unit)


Three studies, using both experimental and field data, show that revealing the "submerged state" - ensuring that citizens can see the often-hidden work that government performs - enhances both perceptions of and engagement with government. In Study 1, viewing a video highlighting the work performed by the government of an archetypal American town increased trust in government and support for government services. In Study 2, residents of Boston, Massachusetts who interacted with a website that visualized both service requests (e.g., potholes) and efforts by the city government to address them became more supportive of government. Study 3 leverages proprietary data from a mobile phone application through which residents can submit service requests to the city of Boston. Users who received photographic evidence that their service requests had been addressed were more likely to continue to engage with the city government than users who did not receive such evidence. Together, these results suggest that one underutilized means to improve citizens' attitudes toward their government is simply to surface the work that government does.

Suggested Citation

  • Ryan W. Buell & Ethan Porter & Michael I. Norton, 2013. "Surfacing the Submerged State: Operational Transparency Increases Trust in and Engagement with Government," Harvard Business School Working Papers 14-034, Harvard Business School, revised Mar 2018.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:14-034

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Raymond Hicks & Dustin Tingley, 2011. "Causal mediation analysis," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 11(4), pages 605-619, December.
    2. 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 728-741, September.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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, revised Sep 2015.

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