Panel: Program Implementation: Exploring Boundaries of Representative Bureaucracy and Public Service Delivery
(Social Equity and Race)

Saturday, November 10, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
8216 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  James E. Wright II, American University
Discussants:  Stephen B. Holt, State University of New York, Albany and Sean C. Nicholson-Crotty, Indiana University

Humans or Machines: Implications for Representative Bureaucracy
Lael Keiser, University of Missouri and Susan Miller, University of South Carolina

The effects of a public policy or program often vary drastically depending on the implementation. This panel focuses on one characteristic of implementing agencies: their demographic characteristics. Specifically, the papers on this panel consider how the demographic characteristics of public service providers affect citizens’ experiences and perceptions. Each paper draws on the theory of representative bureaucracy from the public administration literature to expand our understanding of the circumstances under which representation of group interests manifests and produces reduced inequality and improved public service utilization. The papers span a variety of policy areas (education, public health, law enforcement, technology), demographic characteristics (race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender) and geographic settings (U.S., Tanzania). The authors push the boundaries of existing knowledge by introducing new conversations regarding class identity, citizen preferences for bureaucratic discretion, intersectionality, and cultural contexts. Collectively, this set of studies helps to clarify the policy implications of decisions about who will implement a program or policy.


The first paper examines representation of socioeconomic classes, a social identity that has not yet been empirically examined in the representative bureaucracy literature (which has focused largely on race and gender). The proposed paper examines whether socioeconomic representation affects bureaucrats’ relationships with and views of clients. More specifically, this project uses the education context to ask whether, compared to teachers from high-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, teachers from low-SES backgrounds have better relationships with their low-SES students.


The second paper applies the theory of representative bureaucracy to a question of citizen responses to a use of a technology that affects bureaucratic discretion. It argues that the use of technology to automate government decision-making has—among other implications—the potential to reduce biases (e.g., racial biases) in bureaucratic decision-making. Using a survey experiment, the authors test whether citizens express stronger support for the use of red-light cameras to help enforce traffic laws when the local police force is depicted as being racially unbalanced in terms of demographic makeup.


The third paper highlights the circumstances under which demographic characteristics become significant factors that shape outcomes of representation. It does so by arguing that the importance of a demographic characteristic (such as ethnicity) depends on the degree to which the demographic characteristic is associated with substantial differences among individuals served by the bureaucracy. This argument is tested using a measure of the degree to which ethnic/racial identities are associated with differences in terms of socioeconomic status and English language proficiency in California public schools.


Exploring outcomes of representative bureaucracy in geographic, socio-cultural and policy contexts previously neglected, the fourth paper applies the theory within the context of family planning services in Tanzania. The paper argues that outcomes of representative bureaucracy not only depend of individual and organizational level factors but also on the socio-cultural context within which bureaucrats and citizens interact. Using a nationally representative Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data, the study examines the effects of bureaucrat-citizen gender matching (representation) under different social conditions on bureaucratic behavior and family planning service utilization.

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