Back to All Events

Designing Public Sector Performance

  • American University 4400 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest Washington, DC, 20016 United States (map)

Location: Ward Circle Building, Room T5


  • Don Moynihan, University of Wisconsin Madison

The theme of this workshop is to examine the state of the research on public sector performance. In particular, the session will focus on design issues, that is, deliberate efforts to alter some aspect of the public setting to improve outcomes. These can include governmental reforms, policies about hiring, restructuring incentives, or training. Historically, such practices have been implemented, and then studied in an ex-post fashion using observational designs. But the availability of administrative data offers more opportunities for quasi-experimental designs, and researchers are addressing some of these issues with field experiments.

The workshop is an effort to pull together various trends in public management and public policy scholarship: an ongoing interest in performance, a shift toward evidence-based policy, and the embrace of experiments. Much of the research focus on performance has focused on cognitive process, but less on organizational design. The rise of evidence-based policy units in government has embraced field experiments, but has rarely applied them to management questions. Governments continue to introduce major reforms in a fashion that resists good causal design, but the existence of administrative data offers new possibilities to apply quasi-experimental designs. These varying trends suggest that this is an opportune time to discuss this topic, and perhaps to establish a research community.

Each presenter will be asked to briefly present a piece of research, but to also reflect upon their experience of the challenges of doing such research. We will feature research from the US, Europe, but also include a session that focuses on research in developing countries session. In addition, the DC location allows an exchange with policymakers engaged in public service improvement efforts.

The event is sponsored by the European Studies Alliance & La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison

9:00 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. Introduction
Donald Moynihan

 9:15 a.m. -  10:30 a.m. Session 1: Recruitment, Training and Incentives
Chair: Dan Chenok, IBM Business of Government

  • Nina Van Loon, Leiden University: Changing Incentive Structures in Performance Regimes
  • Elizabeth Linos, Harvard University & Behavioral Insights Team: Improving Recruitment
  • Lotte Bogh Andersen, Aarhus University: Can we Train Better Leaders?

Respondent: Dustin Brown, US Office of Management and Budget

(15 minutes per presenter, 10 minutes for respondent, 25 minutes for discussion)

Break 10:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.

10:45 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Session 2: Studying Performance Outcomes in Developing Countries
Chair: Obed Pasha, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

  • Martin Williams, Oxford University: Management of Bureaucrats and Public Service Delivery: A Scientific Replication in Nigeria and Ghana,
  • Rikhil Bhavani, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Research on Local Government Performance in India
  • Dan Honig, Johns Hopkins University: When Reporting Undermines Performance: The Costs of Politically Constrained Organizational Autonomy for Aid Agencies,

Respondent: Carolyn Heinrich, Vanderbilt University

(15 minutes per presenter, 10 minutes for respondent, 25 minutes for discussion)

Break 12:00 p.m. - 12:10 p.m.

12:10 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. Session 3: What are Next Steps to Facilitate Progress?
Chair: Donald Moynihan

  • Carolyn Hill, MDRC
  • Brian Humes, National Science Foundation
  • Christopher Mihm, Government Accountability Office
  • Dan Rogger, World Bank

(10 minutes or less per respondent, 10 minutes for discussion)