Using Digital Trails to Improve Management and Accountability for Public Service Delivery
Delays in receiving wage payments reduce poor rural households’ ability to manage economic uncertainty and meet their subsistence needs. This is a particularly dire concern for the 50 million impoverished rural households who rely on the payments from India’s federal workfare program, based on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). Despite recognition of this critical challenge at the highest levels of government and in the press, the delivery of wages into workers’ bank accounts is frequently delayed beyond the legally mandated 15 days; in fact workers waited an average of 23 days to receive wages in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand in 2016-2017.
- Reforms that digitize government service delivery (“e-governance”) may be able to improve information flows relevant to service delivery, but who should receive this information to ensure incentives are aligned to improve outcomes? How should reforms that improve information about the service delivery process be strategically deployed to ensure those who face improved monitoring will not seek to undo any information systems improvements?
- Can service delivery be improved by making monitoring information available to elected local politicians?
The available rigorous experimental evidence suggests that e-governance reforms to improve bureaucratic efficiency for improved public service delivery can break down if information does not flow, or if incentives are misaligned between different agents across the bureaucratic hierarchy. This multi-state at-scale RCT evaluates a reform that digitizes a workfare wage payment system using a real-time mobile app, which aims to improve the flow of information and accountability across the organizational hierarchy and the bureaucratic-political divide in India. Specifically, the study investigates how wage payment delays to workers are affected by decreasing the costs of acquiring management-relevant information by lower-level bureaucrats and reducing the costs of monitoring by higher-level bureaucrats. In addition, introducing a cross-randomization will reveal whether providing information directly to local elected officials, who have strong electoral incentives for the MGNREGA program to function well locally can further reduce wage payment delays.
- Rohini Pande
- Charity Troyer-Moore
- Yusuf Neggers
- Eric Dodge
- India’s Ministry of Rural Development
- Rural Development Departments of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand