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Can street-level bureaucrats be nudged to increase effectiveness in welfare policy?

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This article investigates whether street-level bureaucrats can be incentivised to process information in ways that lead to more effective implementation decisions. It draws on the literatures on behavioural public policy (BPP) and street-level bureaucracy to analyse how civil servants implement disability insurance policy in Switzerland. We conducted a field experiment to assess whether a thought-provoking nudge improves the decisional effectiveness of street-level bureaucrats (SLBs). SLBs were assigned to either a ‘business-as-usual’ control condition, or to an experimental condition, where they were called to pay attention to vulnerability processes along the beneficiaries’ life course when making decisions. While we did not find that the thought-provoking nudge directly improved effectiveness, we found that it increased beneficiaries’ humanisation. In particular, there was some evidence for indirect positive effects of the thought-provoking nudge on effectiveness via humanisation. These findings encourage BPP researchers to consider additional dimensions such as humanisation to nudge SLBs into processing information in better ways.
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Keywords: behavioural public policy; disability policy; effectiveness; field experiment; implementation; nudge; street-level bureaucrats; welfare policy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Ferrara, Italy 2: University of Geneva, Switzerland 3: University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Publication date: January 2021

This article was made available online on October 13, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "Can street-level bureaucrats be nudged to increase effectiveness in welfare policy?".

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