Surfacing the Submerged State with Operational Transparency in Government Services

by Ryan W. Buell, Ethan Porter, and Michael I. Norton
 
 

Executive Summary — 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.

Author Abstract

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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