New evidence about contracting out


From Spiller and coauthors in JELS:

We apply algorithmic data reading and textual analysis to compare the features of contracts in regulated industries subject to public scrutiny (which we call “public contracts”) with contracts between nongovernmental entities. We show that public contracts are lengthier and have more rule-based rigid clauses; in addition, their renegotiation is formalized in amendments. We also find that contract length and the frequency of rigidity clauses increases in political contestability and closer to upcoming elections. We maintain that the higher rigidity of public contracts is a political risk adaptation strategy carried out by public agents to lower the likelihood of success of politically-motivated challenges from opportunistic third parties.

New PAR symposium on publicness and universities

Derrick Anderson of Arizona State University and I have written the introduction to a new PAR symposium on publicness and universities. It’s now out on Early View. Here’s our abstract:

This introduction to the symposium on the institutional design frontiers of publicness and university performance summarizes the range of diverse intellectual and practical perspectives converging on the idea that issues of design and publicness are important for thinking about the future of higher education. Collectively, the articles featured in this symposium demonstrate that the challenges facing higher education exhibit assorted social, economic, and political complexities. Public administration perspectives can play a key role in understanding and reshaping our higher education system into a more responsive social enterprise.

3 from the latest ASQ

60th Anniversary Essay: How Journals Could Improve Research Practices in Social Science” by William H. Starbuck, Administrative Science Quarterly 2016; 61:165-183.

Task Segregation as a Mechanism for Within-job Inequality: Women and Men of the Transportation Security Administration” by Curtis K. Chan and Michel Anteby, Administrative Science Quarterly 2016; 61:184-216.

Status-Aspirational Pricing: The ‘Chivas Regal’ Strategy in U.S. Higher Education, 2006-2012” by Noah Askin and Matthew S. Bothner, Administrative Science Quarterly 2016; 61:217-253.

When organizations fail

From a book review by Karl Weick in a recent ASQ:

But what’s missing are cases that show how learning is sustained during crises and how lessons learned after a crisis actually make a difference later. The problem with enumerating breakdowns is that it’s not obvious what drives them (e.g., stress, sensemaking, habit, perception, overload, decision making), nor is it obvious that breakdowns in learning trump everything else. Resilience is tested in novel environments, as the author says. And learning before and during novel events can promote adaptation in the face of novelty. The solutions by which people can build organizational learning seem to boil down to the creation of independent “Red Teams” that scrutinize previous breakdowns, try to cut through denials, and expose finer details of what really happened and how to prevent a recurrence. Such efforts can promote learning, but variations of this approach, in the form of after-action reviews, have been used for some time, and the associated learning can be situation-specific.

We ignore learning in organizations to our peril – especially because so many public organizations are “knowledge organizations” (full of expert professionals), and also because they frequently fail.

We tend to over-analyze the successes (which are rare) and under-analyze failures.

Competition works, sometimes

In a new paper in Economica, Leonardo Felli and Kevin Roberts show:

In an environment in which heterogeneous buyers and sellers undertake ex ante investments, the presence of market competition for matches provides incentives for investment but may leave inefficiencies, namely hold‐up and coordination problems. This paper shows, using an explicitly non‐cooperative model, that when matching is assortative and investments precede market competition, buyers’ investments are constrained efficient while sellers marginally underinvest with respect to what would be constrained efficient. However, the overall extent of this inefficiency may be large. Multiple equilibria may arise; one equilibrium is characterized by efficient matches, but there can be additional equilibria with coordination failures.

This is why the debate about “contracting out” will never go away. We are destined to see multiple equilibria – sometimes competition works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Performance indicators are not just indicators of performance

From Katja Freisteina, in a recent paper in the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis,

Diffusing their knowledge and enhancing the potency of their ideas, international organisations like the World Bank employ indicators and other instruments that seem objective and easily accessible in any given context. Beyond producing certain kinds of knowledge and governance effects in the global sphere, the creation of new indicators can be understood as a social practice by international organisations that ensures their competence and mandate to act, for instance against poverty. Drawing on indicator research, Focauldian governmentality studies and neo-institutionalism, the article studies and compares several key examples of poverty indicators used by the World Bank to identify the effects of employing indicators on international organisations.