Subjective evaluation and bureaucratic performance: Experimental evidence from China

Uncertainty in the identity of an evaluator discourages evaluator-specific influence activities and significantly improves state employees’ performance. Evaluating the work performance of public employees is important to incentivise effort. Since measuring individual achievements is difficult and tasks are typically multiple and vaguely defined, evaluation is often subjective and delegated to supervisors (Finan et al. 2015). This, however, opens the door to evaluator-specific influence activities, whereby employees try to improve the evaluator’s assessment of their performances at the cost of reducing productive work that is beneficial to the organisation (Milgrom 1988). Influence can be exerted both through productive activities, such as putting extra effort into tasks that are more visible or more important to the evaluator, and non-productive activities, such as making personal favours to the evaluator and flattering their ego. In our study (de Janvry, He, Sadoulet, Wang, and Zhang 2021), we investigate whether there are specific designs for the evaluation procedure that could reduce influence activities. If these designs are effective, it would allow us to provide evidence for the existence of influence activities and to measure their consequences on the organisation, something which has not been done rigorously before.

de Janvry A., He G., Sadoulet E., Wang S. and Zhang Q. (2023) Subjective evaluation and bureaucratic performance: Experimental evidence from China, American Economic Review 113(3): 1-35 VoxDev