Panel Paper: When Does Red Tape Hurt Performance? Evidence From Different Policy Arenas

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 1:15 PM
Salon E (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Richard M. Walker, City University of Hong Kong

Red tape is a longstanding concern in the field of public administration and one of the native concepts of public management. However, it has only recently been subjected to systematic empirical evaluation. Empirical research has been hampered by conceptual uncertainties. One difficulty is that red tape has been defined too narrowly: 'rules, regulations, and procedures that remain in force and entail a compliance burden but do not advance the legitimate purposes the rules were intended to serve' (Bozeman 2000, 12). Such a definition has at least two problems: it does not take into account the 'tipping point' when good rules turn into bad ones, and it does not allow that red tape may vary between client groups and other organizational stakeholders (as well as across countries, organizations, levels within those organizations, and specific policy arenas etc.) However, researchers are increasingly discovering that red tape is a subject-dependent concept which is often referred to as 'stakeholder red tape'. The notion of stakeholder red tape is used to capture variations in the extent to which rules can damage organizational effectiveness from the vantage point of various stakeholder groups (Bozeman 2000). If red tape does vary by stakeholder group, and empirical evidence increasingly suggests that it does (Bozeman and Feeney 2010; Brewer and Walker2010a), then the point at which good rules turn bad is probably not uniform across actors and agencies.

The central research question we pose is at what point does red tape becomes harmful to organizational performance overall and in different policy or programme areas. The units of analysis are the service or programme areas of English local government, including benefits and revenues, corporate services, culture and leisure, education, housing, land-use planning, social services and waste management. The data for the study are taken from three different sources: perceptual data on red tape and performance from a survey of English local government officers, archival data on performance comes from central government departments, and external controls are taken from the Census.