Harnessing the Benefits of Transparency: Street-level Discretion, Targetability, and Local Public Service Delivery
Oct 5, 2019
Monika Bauhr, Ruth Carlitz
Bauhr, Monika and Carlitz, Ruth. 2019. Harnessing the Benefits of Transparency: Street-level Discretion, Targetability, and Local Public Service Delivery. AidData Working Paper #88. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.
Update: A revised version of this paper has been published in Public Administration.
Transparency has been widely promoted as a tool for improving public service delivery; however, empirical evidence is inconclusive. We suggest that the effects of transparency on service provision are contingent on the nature of the service. Specifically, transparency is more likely to improve the quality of service provision when street-level discretion is high, since discretion increases information asymmetries, and, in the absence of transparency, allows officials to target public services in suboptimal ways. Using finely grained data from the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index between 2011–2018, we show that communes that experience increases in transparency also experience improved quality of education and health (services characterized by greater discretion), while the quality of infrastructure provision (characterized by less discretion) bears no relation to increased transparency. The findings help us understand when transparency can improve service provision, as well the effects of transparency reforms in non-democratic settings.