Sunday, August 13, 2023

Pandey: Elevating individual experience in public policy and public administration

In preparing for Friday's talk, I read this very interesting paper by Sanjay Pandey at George Washington University. The paper was a lecture delivered as part of the Herbert Simon Award of the Midwest Political Science Association. 

One particularly useful aspect of the paper is his reflection on the development of the red tape, administrative burden, and sludge literatures. A lot of readers here will already have been familiar with the sludge literature as it is a direct product of the behavioural science work of the last 40 years. Similarly, there has been a lot of crossover between areas such as behavioural economics and the administrative burden literature. One clear example of this is the recent United Nations behavioural science document that makes several references to administrative burden. There are fewer explicit links between recent behavioural science work and the red-tape literature which is foundational in public administration. Pandey's article seeks to provide an intellectually coherent way to outline the different contributions of the three streams. It is one clear take-away for me that people working in behavioral policy literatures should read the red tape literature and understand how it sits alongside this work in order to facilitate consilience and lack of unintended duplication across areas. Some papers are linked below and Pandey provides a discussion in the article of the development of the red tape literature.

Another key aspect of the article that cuts across many of these areas is his emphasis on subjective experience. The administrative burden literature has recently developed a number of attempts to quantify subjective experience in administrative contexts. Pandey's article examines the three areas of red-tape, administrative burden, and sludge on the extent to which they integrate human subjective experience broadly defined into public policy. It is clearly the case that the administrative burden literature with an explicit dimension of psychological costs has been looking explicitly at emotions and well-being in the context of interactions with state agencies (see the publications and working papers from the excellent Psychology of Administrative Burdens project at Aarhus University). Panday outlines how subjective experience has played differing degrees of prominence in the red-tape literature. He argues that the recent work on Sludge has a mechanistic orientation that has not to date focused much on subjective experience other than through primary concepts from behavioural science such as loss aversion. It is worth reading the paper itself of course as his argument unfolds over several sections and I am not doing it full justice there. But his overall idea that greater consilience between the areas will increase the likelihood of finding strong ways to integrate human experience is compelling to me. 

We (Lucie Martin, Orla Doyle, and I) recently published a paper in PAR on well-being in the context of administrative settings. Our work was partly motivated by the emphasis on measures of subjective experience in public policy that has been prominent in economics in the last few decades. In particular, our research group has been making very wide use of day reconstruction and related methods to understand well-being and behaviour in different contexts (review paper here). In the PAR paper, we examine subjective experience of administrative burdens, drawing explicitly from the administrative burden literature, but examine administrative burdens across both public and private settings, the latter coming quite naturally from a range of behavioural literatures. More generally, the literature on economics and well-being is moving at least somewhat in the type of directions suggested by Panday in his article but I think one area of tension will be the philosophical and methodological underpinnings, with many people in that area being explicitly interested in generating quantitative utility metrics for more human-centred cost-benefit analysis than experience itself. The later thoughts in the Panday article about how wider measures of subjective experience, including direct lived experience, can be integrated more directly into public policy are instructive in that regard. 


Bozeman, Barry. 1993. “A Theory of Government “Red Tape”.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 3(3): 273–304.

Herd, P., & Moynihan, D. P. (2018). Administrative Burden: Policymaking by Other Means. Russell Sage Foundation. 

Lades, L., Martin, L., & Delaney, L. (2022). Informing behavioural policies with data from everyday life. Behavioural Public Policy, 6(2), 172-190. 

Martin, Lucie, Liam Delaney, and Orla Doyle. "Everyday Administrative Burdens and Inequality." Public Administration Review. (2023): Public Administration Review. , 2023.

Campbell, Jesse W., Sanjay K. Pandey, and Lars Arnesen. 2023. “The Ontology, Origin, and Impact of Divisive Public Sector Rules: A Meta-Narrative Review of the Red Tape and Administrative Burden Literatures.” Public Administration Review 83(2): 296–315.

Madsen, Jonas K., Kim S. Mikkelsen, and Donald P. Moynihan. 2022. “Burdens, Sludge, Ordeals, Red Tape, Oh my!: A User's Guide to the Study of Frictions.” Public Administration 100(2): 375–93.

Sunstein, Cass R. 2022. “Sludge Audits.” Behavioural Public Policy 6(4): 654–73.

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