An Experimental Test of the Satisfaction Mirror between Frontline Public Servants and Citizens

Project: Research

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The project will use a randomized controlled trial to test for the effect of job satisfactionon citizen satisfaction during face-to-face encounters between public service employeesand citizens, addressing the question: Is high job satisfaction mirrored by high citizensatisfaction? Satisfaction with public services is important for the legitimacy of thepublic sector. This project will provide strong evidence on a practical way to maintainlegitimacy. Building on the research team’s published observational study of this topic,the experiment adds strong internal validity. The project rests on a strong foundation in research and practice. Many successfulprivate sector companies operate on the premise that happy employees make happycustomers. These companies prioritize job satisfaction of their employees, who in turnwork hard to satisfy customers. Observational studies on the private sector support this‘satisfaction mirror’ hypothesis, corroborated by the research team’s existing systematicreview of this literature. Also, research on citizen satisfaction with public services hasadvanced greatly over the past decade and a half. One area where we still need to learnmore, highlighted in the PI’s meta-analysis of this literature, is the importance of directinteractions between frontline officials providing public services and the citizens usingthese services. The ‘satisfaction mirror’ hypothesis is useful for understanding thislinkage. The proposed project will provide a valuable test with high internal validity. The proposed project uses a 3*2 between-subjects experiment. In this experiment,subjects will be exposed to six different versions of a video showing an interactionbetween a public service employee and a citizen. The video, produced with existing funds,involves trained research assistants playing out a script. The setting resembles a lostproperty office of a local public transit agency. The citizen in question inquires about aniPad they lost. The video incorporates two experimental treatments, leading to differentversions of the film that will be shown to randomly assigned sets of experimentalsubjects. The first treatment condition has the employee act in one of three ways: (i)high job satisfaction, (ii) low job satisfaction, and (iii) neutral acting as the controlcondition. The second treatment involves objectively poor performance (the officialmakes a recognizable mistake), with correct performance (no mistake) being the controlcondition. After watching the encounter, the outcome – subjects’ satisfaction will bemeasured. The project funding allows for hiring a research assistant to help conductexperimental sessions, present the findings, and develop training materials. 


Project number9043635
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/08/23 → …