Key messages:

  1. The structure of the public sector hinders the access and sharing of information by bureaucrats.
    Governments are typically organised into sectoral monoliths across which there is little incentive to share information. This is partly because much government work is team-based so that civil servants can ‘free ride’ on colleague’s efforts to acquire information. These tendencies are reinforced by cultural norms.
  2. Reducing the cost of acquiring information increases access and use of data.
    Opportunities made accessible by information and communication technologies (ICT) and other data-sharing innovations reduce the costs of acquiring and absorbing information. This reduces monopolistic power, the incentive to free ride, and the importance of cultural norms.
  3. The right public service incentives are required for information to be used by policymakers.
    The existence of information alone does not necessarily lead to better decision-making. Public service management practices and incentives are crucial determinants of whether public servants acquire, share, and act on good information.
  4. Diagnostic data can nudge public administration towards greater use of evidence.
    Reforming the public sector’s institutional environment depends on the pre-existing incentives to acquire and act on information. This creates a potential ‘reform trap’ in which public officials do not have the incentive to empirically identify needed reforms.