In this brief, we have outlined findings from new research assessing the use of information across the public sector. Recent evidence has highlighted ways in which the economics of information might differ in hierarchical institutions in the public sector, how information can improve service delivery, and what role external players might have in increasing the state’s use of evidence.
A key area of innovation has resulted from the reduced costs of information associated with technological interventions. However, the most important factor enabling these innovations to have impacts on service delivery are the incentive structures in place for public officials to acquire, absorb, and use that information and analysis for decision-making.
This brief therefore makes a series of policy recommendations stemming from our discussion:
- Investing in ICT innovations can effectively improve flows of information in bureaucracies: Reducing the marginal cost of acquisition makes information easier to access for motivated bureaucrats.
- However, information absorption in the public sector is as much about fixing institutional processes and incentives: Information interventions must be accompanied by appropriate incentives for bureaucrats to acquire information and use it for innovative outcomes.
- For example, monitoring interventions must be accompanied by effective accountability mechanisms: Interventions improving flows of information up the bureaucratic hierarchy must be complemented by measures to ensure information is acted upon.
- Effective use of information is not all about top-down monitoring. Delegating some decision-making authority to individual bureaucrats can often improve performance: Combined with a culture of using data for decision-making, granting greater discretion can be more efficient than current levels of autonomy given to many public official. Delegating authority can increase officials’ incentives to hold information and identify innovative processes. Managers should be rewarded for their staff’s innovation.
- External actors can help nudge public services towards empiricism: Working with public administrations to build first generation data systems on the capabilities of their institutions will generate the incentives for them to become more evidence-based in their decision-making, in a self-reinforcing cycle.