Monitoring Public Employees in Paraguay: Can Technology Adoption by the Government Improve Agricultural Extension Services for Poor Farmers?

Project Active from to State and Political Economy

Because pay-for-performance is often impractical in state organizations, a potential way to increase state effectiveness with a given workforce is to rely on better monitoring technology to induce higher employee effort.

The general objective of our project is to provide evidence on that idea in the context of a program of technology adoption in agricultural extension services in Paraguay. Improving the management of these services is seen by the government of Paraguay as a crucial step towards improving farmer productivity and reducing poverty.

The Paraguayan government currently employs over 800 agricultural extension agents to assist 80,000 farmers. These extension agents play a critical role in the provision of information about farming practices, new technologies, and up-to-date commodity prices. This type of outreach poses a difficult monitoring problem. Extension agents are responsible for numerous farmers and must travel hundreds of kilometers per week to visit farms. Although agents are supervised, the supervisors themselves are tasked with multiple agents, and so monitoring is often incomplete. To address this issue, the federal government has decided to introduce cell phones with GPS tracking technology. This technology will allow supervisors to track the frequency with which agents visit farmers.

The evaluation of this program has two specific aims.

First, we will estimate the effects of the introduction of the cell phone-based monitoring technology on the job performance of agricultural extension agents in rural Paraguay.

Second, by varying whether technology is allocated centrally or by supervisors, we will assess whether supervisors have superior information about which agents would benefit most from these cell phones. This is relevant because a key policy question is how much discretion to give to local-level managers, both in general, and in particular when it comes to technology adoption. These managers may have valuable information, but they may also have private objectives. The deployment of a costly technology may be optimized by restricting it to those extension agents whose effort levels need improvement, and supervisors may be best able to identify who those agents are. However, supervisors may assign scarce cell phones with other criteria in mind (e.g., favoritism). The results will have concrete implications for the organizational structure of the Ministry of Agriculture and generate generalizable knowledge on the value of decentralization in government organizations.

The technology adoption project is spearheaded by a partnership between the Paraguayan Ministries of Planning and Agriculture. The Ministry of Planning identified the technology and proposed its adoption to the Ministry of Agriculture. Depending on the results of this intervention, the Ministry of Planning may supply a similar technology to the Ministry of Health to monitor rural doctors and nurses, as well as the Ministry of Education to monitor rural teachers.