Associate Professor of Political Science Ana De La O Torres has an article in Science Direct entitled “Voluntary audits: Experimental evidence on a new approach to monitoring front-line bureaucrats.”
Can opportunities for undergoing voluntary oversight improve bureaucratic motivation and effort? Drawing on insights from the social sciences, we argue that voluntary oversight increases front-line bureaucrats’ sense of autonomy and competence, and may therefore increase their motivation and effort. Partnering with a provincial auditing body in Argentina, we implement an encouragement design in which school principals are invited to receive a voluntary audit of a publicly funded school meal program. We employ a two-level randomization, in which regions are first randomly assigned to a higher or lower rate of invitations, and then schools within regions are randomly assigned to treatment or control. We find divergent effects of treatment based on the density of treatment; in the group of regions assigned to the lower rate of invitations, school principals assigned to treatment report increased motivation and a decrease in school closings. In contrast, in the group of regions assigned to the higher rate of invitations, we observe the opposite effect. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork, we speculate that a higher rate of invitations may generate pressure to accept the invitation and thereby undermine any positive effects of volunteering. Our results suggest the promise of voluntary audits as well as the need for further research on the conditions under which voluntary oversight may have differing consequences for bureaucratic effort and motivation.