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Title: Experiments on bureaucrat behaviour and public participation
Author: Wittels, Annabelle Sophie
ISNI:       0000 0004 9352 7652
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2020
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Public participation mechanisms, government-initiated forms of interaction that take place outside the formal electoral process, have been heralded as a potential solution to a lack of popular trust in, engagement and satisfaction with democracy. They have proliferated in their form and use over the last two decades; a development supported by a belief that they help to increase policy effectiveness and promote democratic values. Bureaucrats largely manage public participation processes and thus have ample room to influence their outcomes. It however remains unclear to what extent bureaucrats are responsive to citizen input provided through such mechanisms and what that means for the promises entailed in public participation processes. In a series of experiments, this thesis set out to test what drives bureaucratic responsiveness to citizen input, and what types of government communications can help to increase the number and diversify the composition of citizen groups who take part in public participation processes. In Chapter 2, I use a field experiment with 7,000 bureaucrats to establish to what extent bureaucrats are responsive, and whether interventions targeted at increasing their motivation to engage with citizen input can alter such responsiveness. In Chapter 3, a survey experiment tests how bureaucrats respond when the quality of citizen input varies. More specifically, it evaluates how bureaucrats respond when politicians are opposed to heeding citizen demands, and how this compares to when politicians support policy change demanded through public participation mechanisms. Finally, Chapter 4 addresses the question of input quality from the supply-side. In a field experiment targeting over twenty-nine thousand households, I test whether government communications can increase and diversify turnout for public participation processes. The evidence deriving from this research project shows (i) that motivational rather than time and task related factors drive bureaucrat responsiveness to citizen input; illustrates (ii) how conflict of citizen and political principals causes changes in the willingness of bureaucrats to implement policy and (iii) that behavioural nudges demonstrated to be effective in the Get-Out-The-Vote literature backfired in the context of non-electoral participation. The findings challenge the normative claims of public participation literature and contribute to the theory of the political control of the bureaucracy by providing causal evidence for the importance of motivational and contextual factors in determining bureaucrat behaviour.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available