Bureaucratic Organization and Service Provision: Field Experimental Evidence from Colombia

Last registered on August 25, 2022


Trial Information

General Information

Bureaucratic Organization and Service Provision: Field Experimental Evidence from Colombia
Initial registration date
August 21, 2022

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
August 25, 2022, 3:03 PM EDT

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



Primary Investigator

New York University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
A substantial literature in political economy seeks to explain inequality in access to public goods and services. However, bureaucrats are typically absent or otherwise assumed to be non-strategic actors. Nevertheless, the typical rationale for bureaucrats as “producers of public goods” challenges these assumptions. As the producers and ultimate distributors of public goods and services, I argue that bureaucrats’ role in the distribution of public goods and services should be conceptualized along two dimensions: efficiency and bias. In consultation with three national government agencies in Colombia, I conduct a nationwide factorial audit experiment that measures both efficiency and bias in the administration of two large national social welfare programs.

This trial was preregistered at Evidence in Governance and Politics prior to the receipt of any data. It was retrospectively added to the AEA registry. The EGAP pre-registration and pre-analysis are available at https://osf.io/wg7pc,
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Slough, Tara. 2022. "Bureaucratic Organization and Service Provision: Field Experimental Evidence from Colombia." AEA RCT Registry. August 25. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.9963-1.0
Experimental Details


This is an audit experiment that studies bureaucratic service provision in Colombian local governments. Specifically, I measure how bureaucrats respond to informational requests from petitioners from different groups (varying class, regional accent, and status as an internal migrant). I vary the difficulty of the petition to see how identity-based biases in effort respond to more challenging requests. Finally, I randomly assign whether calls were conducted in the morning (when absenteeism is lower) or afternoon (when absenteeism is higher) to measure absenteeism and ensure adequate response rates.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
I measure multiple attributes of calls. First, I measure how the calls progress through the alcaldía (seeing if they reach the relevant program officer from a predefined list). Second, I measure the accuracy of information provided.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
This audit experiment consists of a 2x2x3x2x2 experimental design to measure biases in service provision for two social service programs. I vary five factors experimentally:
- The social class of the petitioner (lower or lower-middle)
- The regional accent of the petitioner (Bogotano, Paisa, or Costeño)
- The migrant status of a petitioner (municipal resident or internal migrant)
- The difficulty of the question (hard or easy): Note that these questions are unique to each program
- The timing of the call (morning or afternoon).

I sample 618 municipalities, including all municipalities over 35,000 residents (n = 220) and a sample of 398 municipalities sampled with sample weights increasing in population for the municipalities under 35,000 residents. I then conduct 6 calls over a period of a month in municipalities with a population over 100,000; 4 calls over a period of a month in municipalities with between 35,000 and 100,000 residents; and 2 calls over a period of a month in municipalities with a population lower than 35,000 residents. This permits within-municipality comparisons.

I use block random assignment to ensure that the randomized attributes exhibit variation along every dimension within every municipality.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
I conducted blocked random assignment using a computer.
Randomization Unit
The unit of randomization is the call.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
There are no clusters.
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
This study uses a 2x2x3x2x2 factorial design, so there are 48 cells. All of the treatments were assigned with equal probability except for one (the difficulty of request), which varied across population strata (see pre-analysis plan). As such, the expected number of observations per cell for the easy petition was 41.58 and the expected number of observations per cell for the difficult petition was 34.91.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Columbia University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB Name
Innovations for Poverty Action
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials