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

Listed author(s):
  • Ryan W. Buell


    (Harvard Business School, Technology and Operations Management Unit)

  • Ethan Porter


    (University of Chicago)

  • Michael I. Norton


    (Harvard Business School, Marketing Unit)

Registered author(s):

    As Americans' trust in government nears historic lows, frustration with government performance approaches record highs. We propose that Americans' views of government can be reshaped by increasing government's operational transparency - that is, the extent to which citizens can see the often-hidden work that government performs. Across two studies using laboratory and field data, increasing operational transparency improved citizens' views of and increased engagement with government. In Study 1 (N=554), viewing a five-minute computer simulation highlighting the work performed by the government of an archetypal American town - from building roads to ensuring food safety - increased trust in government and support for government services. Study 2 (N=21,786) leveraged field data from a mobile phone application through which Boston residents submit service requests to their city government. Users who viewed photos of city workers responding to their service requests were more likely to continue using the app over the ensuing 13 months, demonstrating that operational transparency led to sustained engagement with government.

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

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    Length: 13 pages
    Date of creation: Nov 2013
    Date of revision: Sep 2016
    Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:14-034
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    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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