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

13 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2013 Last revised: 30 Sep 2016

Ryan W. Buell

Harvard Business School

Ethan Porter

George Washington University

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Date Written: September 1, 2016

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.

Keywords: operational transparency, trust, engagement, government services

Suggested Citation

Buell, Ryan W. and Porter, Ethan and Norton, Michael I., Surfacing the Submerged State: Operational Transparency Increases Trust in and Engagement with Government (September 1, 2016). Harvard Business School Marketing Unit Working Paper No. 14-034; Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 14-034. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2349801 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2349801

Ryan W. Buell

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan Hall 429
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-496-6918 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.hbs.edu/rbuell

Ethan Porter

George Washington University ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Michael I. Norton (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Paper statistics

Downloads
156
Rank
151,888
Abstract Views
1,467