Niels Bjørn Grund Petersen

Performance Information on the Front Line: A Behavioral Approach

Public organizations produce vast amounts of performance information. However, we know little about how this information is interpreted on the frontline of public services. This is unfortunate, as performance information must be interpreted before it can be used to make better decisions. This dissertation advances our understanding of how street-level bureaucrats evaluate and respond to performance information in public organizations and how contextual factors change their perceptions of data. Building on public administration theory and psychological insights, the dissertation develops and tests a number of theoretical propositions concerning street-level bureaucrats’ evaluation of performance information in different contexts. Through two large-scale survey-experiments on high school teachers and caseworkers, the dissertation delivers evidence that the content of performance information affects street-level bureaucrats’ acceptance of performance indicators, responsibility attribution, and support for managerial policy initiatives. The dissertation also shows that public street-level bureaucrats tend to favor public organizations over private ones when they evaluate the performance of public and private organizations within their field of work. Furthermore, although the dissertation finds no effect of employee participation in the goal setting process on street-level bureaucrats’ perceptions of performance goals, it shows that the source of data influences the street-level bureaucrats’ perceptions of the performance information. Finally, the dissertation discusses the implications and limitations of the findings and sets directions for future research.

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