Transparency by Conformity: A Field Experiment Evaluating Openness in Local Governments

Public Administration Review, Forthcoming

32 Pages Posted: 2 May 2016  

Jim ben-Aaron

University of Massachusetts

Matthew Denny

Pennsylvania State University

Bruce A. Desmarais

Pennsylvania State University

Hanna Wallach

Microsoft Research New York City

Date Written: April 30, 2016

Abstract

Sunshine laws establishing government transparency are ubiquitous in the United States; however, the intended degree of openness is often unclear or unrealized. Although researchers have identified characteristics of government organizations or officials that affect the fulfillment of public records requests, they have not considered the influence that government organizations have on each other. This picture of independently acting organizations does not accord with the literature on diffusion in public policy and administration. In this article, we present a field experiment to test whether a county government's fulfillment of a public records request is influenced by the knowledge that its peers have already complied. We argue that knowledge of peer compliance should (1) induce competitive pressures to comply and (2) resolve legal ambiguity in favor of compliance. We find evidence of peer conformity effects both in the time to initial response and in the rate of complete request fulfillment.

Keywords: Transparency, Public Records, Local Government, Field Experiment, Peer Effects

JEL Classification: D73, C93

Suggested Citation

ben-Aaron, Jim and Denny, Matthew and Desmarais, Bruce A. and Wallach, Hanna, Transparency by Conformity: A Field Experiment Evaluating Openness in Local Governments (April 30, 2016). Public Administration Review, Forthcoming . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2772975

Jim Ben-Aaron

University of Massachusetts ( email )

200 Hicks Way
Amherst, MA 01003
United States

Matthew Denny

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

Bruce A. Desmarais (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

University Park, State College, PA 16801
United States

HOME PAGE: http://sites.psu.edu/desmaraisgroup

Hanna Wallach

Microsoft Research New York City ( email )

641 Avenue of Americas
New York, NY 10011
United States

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