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Updating the state: information acquisition costs and public benefit delivery

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In a field experiment spanning the entirety of two Indian states, we randomized bureaucrats’ access to a mobile phone based e-management platform for India’s flagship workfare program. We randomized which levels of the administrative hierarchy received access to the app, called PayDash. PayDash provided real-time updates on the status of pending payments, identified responsible officers, and enabled immediate follow-up via WhatsApp and phone calls. We have three main findings: first, processing times were reduced by 11% of the pre-intervention control mean in treatment areas, with gains concentrated in high payment delay areas. Second, we observe substitutability in providing PayDash at different levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy, suggesting reduced infor- mation frictions,
not simply improved monitoring, underlie performance gains. Finally, officer transfers – a costly form of incentivizing bureaucrats – declined by 23% in treatment areas.

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