Voluntary Audits: Experimental Evidence on a New Approach to Monitoring Front-Line Bureaucrats

Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro (Brown University)

November 20, 2020, 15:00–16:00


Room Zoom Meeting


Can bureaucratic effort and motivation be improved by voluntary, rather than mandatory, forms of oversight? Drawing on insights from psychology and public administration, we argue that voluntary forms of oversight increase bureaucrats’ sense of autonomy, and therefore their motivation and effort. Empirically, we work with a provincial auditing body in Argentina to implement an encouragement design in which school principals are invited to participate in a voluntary audit of their administration of a free school meal program. We employ a two-level randomization, in which areas are first assigned to a high or low density of invitations, and then schools are randomly assigned to treatment or control. Contrary to conventional expectations that bureaucrats resist oversight, we find that approximately one-third of school principals accept the invitation to participate in a voluntary audit. Qualitative interviews suggest that volunteering for oversight may appeal to front-line service providers because it presents them with an opportunity to be recognized for their efforts and to share their perspectives and policy feedback. We find divergent effects of treatment based on the density of treatment; in low density areas, we find the anticipated increase in motivation and a small decrease in school closings. In contrast, in high density areas, we observe the opposite effect. Drawing on qualitative interview data, we speculate that a high density of invitations may generate pressure to accept the invitation and therefore undermine the positive effects of volunteering.


Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro (Brown University), Voluntary Audits: Experimental Evidence on a New Approach to Monitoring Front-Line Bureaucrats, IAST General Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, November 20, 2020, 15:00–16:00, room Zoom Meeting.