Public Administration has seen a shift in its core conceptions and operational paradigm. The conventional (Weberian) bureaucracy model, based on the control philosophy, has been substituted by modern approaches, such as the New Public Management. These led to important changes in key aspects, like the way the citizenship is conceived: citizens are no longer seen as "users" of public services, but rather as "costumers", putting delivery as a key element to rate performance within the public sector.
In this sense, administrative procedures (AP) have become an important area for reforms, since a large part of public services is related to the emission of legal documents, certificates, permissions, records, among others. Therefore, efforts have been put in some countries to rationalize these procedures, looking for efficiency gains through the simplification and automation of the processes that lead to the generation of these documents.
The Colombian Department of Public Administration (DPA) is the public institution responsible for undertaking the AP simplification policy in this country. Two main objectives arise from this policy: to promote a more transparent relationship between the government and the citizenship; and to increase public management control and effectiveness. It is intended that both goals would lead to quality gains in public service regarding APs and to the decrease of acts of corruption.
As the first stage of the policy, an online web system, the "Sistema Único de Información de Trámites" (SUIT) was created to store all APs offered by public institutions. Afterwards, following stages include using this information to standardize and automate AP processes, and to eliminate those that either are no longer demanded or have no legal support.
Nevertheless, to proceed to further stages, all APs must be uploaded in SUIT, which means that more than 7000 public institutions must use correctly the system. This has been an ongoing problem, since only few institutions (16%) have actually achieved the desired goal of registering all their APs. That implies that, at this rate, it would take about 20 years to fulfill this task.
Since DPA's enforcement capacity is limited and its budgetary restrictions are tight, this institution has been looking for alternative and cost-effective solutions to encourage AP registration within public institutions. In this case, behavioral economics proposes interesting intervention options, being communications an especially fertile application field. According to this branch, it is possible to affect human behavior by designing messages that follow some simple and practical principles.
Departing from this, the present intervention aims on promoting AP registration using specially designed email messages sent to a sample of public institutions that have not totally uploaded their APs in SUIT. Specifically, two messages were designed, with different approaches: a deterrent message, focusing on the legal and economic costs of not registering their APs in SUIT; and a comparative message that appeals to the "herd effect", highlighting the number of public entities that have already registered most of their APs. In addition, both messages inform about the institutional and public benefits of this registration, and include a didactic video guide explaining how to register an AP in SUIT.
The total sample size consists of 2359 public institutions, divided in the following way: 787 receiving the deterrent message, 786 receiving the comparative message, and 786 not receiving any message (being, thus, the control group). Each group was randomly assigned under a blocking strategy based on the registration rate of each institution. This led to the definition of the following four strata: i) no advance (registration rate equal to 0%) represented by 856 institutions; ii) small advance (registration rate between 0.1 and 10%) conformed by 333 institutions; iii) medium advance (registration rate between 10.1 and 50%) including 559 institutions; iv) large advance (registration rate between 50.1 and 99.9%) listing 611 institutions.
The main impact variable is, naturally, the institution's AP registration rate in the SUIT, i.e. the percentage of AP from an institution that have been uploaded in the system. In addition, changes in other variables will be observed: advance rates throughout the different stages of the registration process, length of the registration process, number of interactions between the public entities and the DPA during the registration process, among others.
Concerning the implementation, a first emailing was done to all institutions included in the treatment group, using a massive email sending service. Thereafter, subsequent sending will take place with a periodicity depending on the observed evolution of the registration rates.
Information systems are indeed an important part of the modernization strategies that seek efficiency gains in the public sector. Nonetheless, past experiences have demonstrated that the technological progress is not enough to assure a better performance, since these tools have no impact if public institutions are not motivated or do not know how to use them properly. Therefore, policies that aim on this matter have to go beyond the acquisition of devices and systems, and include strategies to promote their use. In this context, the results of this evaluation will contribute to generate evidence on this issue, shedding light on the effectiveness of sending emails as a mechanism for this purpose.