Disentangling the perceived performance effects of publicness and bureaucratic structure: A survey-experiment

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Petra van den Bekerom
Joris Van der Voet https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3945-5972


Publicness, Organizational structure, Performance perceptions, Survey-experiment


Recent studies have examined whether, all else equal, there is a general tendency among citizens to perceive public service providers as lower performing than their private counterparts. As public organizations are commonly stereotyped as “bureaucracies”, it is unknown whether the negative image of public organizations is caused by their publicness or by their structural bureaucratic characteristics. This article makes a novel contribution to this literature by disentangling these two variables, and examines to what extent the proclaimed negative effect of publicness on citizens’ performance perceptions is dependent on citizens’ perceptions regarding the bureaucratic structure of public organizations. This is investigated through a survey-experiment conducted among 422 Dutch undergraduate students in public administration. The main findings of the study are that we find no evidence for direct negative effects of publicness, and that the bureaucratic structure of the organization positively affects the degree in which citizens perceive public organizations to be equitable and responsive. These findings suggest that the relationship between publicness and perceived performance is more situational than is assumed in prior studies.