Sustainability and Responsiveness - How sustainable are universities and to what extent are they willing to disclose information to the public?

Last registered on September 20, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Sustainability and Responsiveness - How sustainable are universities and to what extent are they willing to disclose information to the public?
Initial registration date
August 25, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
September 04, 2023, 6:10 AM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
September 20, 2023, 7:38 AM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.


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Primary Investigator

University Siegen

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University Siegen

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Universities pursue the intrinsic goal of generating knowledge. As such, they have a significant responsibility for progress and are committed to a scientific approach. As major institutions of public administration, they also play a crucial role in the sustainable transformation of the society. Not only the areas of research and teaching are relevant, but also other levels of impact such as transfer, operations and governance. Because of its multiple levels of impact, a university has great influence. This includes impact on its home region as an employer and cooperation partner, on its student body as a teacher, or in the "scientific community" as a researcher. But are universities using their potential and driving the development of a sustainable future? How sustainable are Germany's universities? And do they provide information about their efforts in this regard?
Since January 2006, when the Freedom of Information Act came into force, all public institutions, including universities, have been legally required to disclose information about their operations to the public. Although universities are legally bound to respond to information requests and are expected to participate in the knowledge-generation process, a preliminary survey has revealed that many universities fail to fulfill this duty and ignore demands for disclosing information. Specifically, inquiries relating to crucial matters like sustainable initiatives and gender parity remained unanswered. However, do these indicative observations represent the broader reality?
Köhler et al. (2023) discover that the level of responsiveness of municipalities towards citizens' inquiries is low, and that the response depends on the characteristics of the inquirer. Another variation is observed both before and after the election periods: Municipalities are more responsive before the election period than they are after. According to Köhler et al. (2023), responsiveness relies on a political motivation. Öhberg and Naurin (2016) and Butler and Broockman (2011) present similar results. The responsiveness of U.S. local politicians is tested and it is found out that it depends on the name of the inquirer (race) and the nature/motives of their writing.
Does the level of responsiveness of universities depend on the inquirer? This research study attempts to answer the question. Considering the findings of Köhler et al. (2023), universities may also follow political motivations. The primary objective of a university is to produce graduates. Do universities prioritize answering inquiries from interested applicants over scientists? To be more specific, are inquiries from scientists consistently ignored? Is it possible to conclude that scientific inquiries receive a different level of responsiveness as compared to inquiries made by prospective students? Is it justifiable to attribute the low responsiveness observed in the pre-survey to the essential matters related to sustainability efforts and gender equity in higher education?
This proposed study aims to investigate whether higher education institutions are less responsive to academic inquiries than to inquiries from interested students. Additionally, the study aims to explore whether the responsiveness of colleges correlates with their existing sustainability efforts. Do higher education institutions exhibit less likelihood of responding to scientific inquiries when they have implemented few sustainability projects up to now? Do they tend to be more reactive to inquiries from prospective students when the two inquiries are indistinguishable except for the sender?
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Kopp, Thomas and Inga Stademann. 2023. "Sustainability and Responsiveness - How sustainable are universities and to what extent are they willing to disclose information to the public?." AEA RCT Registry. September 20.
Experimental Details


Different identities of the senders of the email
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The main outcome of the experiment is an understanding on a) whether universities are more responsive to potential future students than to researchers and b) whether universities' actual efforts to achieve sustainability affect their communication regarding its sustainability efforts.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
We send emails to the universities and compare the responsiveness of the emails to measure the universities' communication.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
The second outcome of the experiment will be the measurement of the current sustainability progress of the universities.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
To investigate the research questions, two email requests will be formulated (see below). One request is written from the perspective of a researcher and the other from the perspective of a prospective student. The allocation of the requests will be randomized. All emails will be forwarded to the press office, the rectorate/presidium, and, if available, the sustainability officer(s) of the respective university. The university sustainability efforts will be assessed through a website research.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
200 universities
Sample size: planned number of observations
400 university members (press office, the rectorate/presidium, and, if available, the sustainability officer(s) of the respective university)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
100 universities with requests from student, 100 universities with requests from researcher
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Rat für Ethik in der Forschung, Universität Siegen
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number