Interpreting expectations: Normative and predictive expectations from the citizens’ viewpoint

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Morten Hjortskov


Citizen expectations, Satisfaction, Experiment, Policy


Citizens’ expectations are a primary source of information for politicians and public managers when developing public policies in democracies. Moreover, expectations are thought to have extensive influence on how citizens evaluate the resulting policy. If politicians want citizens who are satisfied with public services, they need to address these expectations. Theories of expectation formation tell us that two general forms of expectations exist: predictive and normative. Predictive expectations are about how a future service will be, whereas normative expectations concern how it shouldbe. But do citizens make this distinction? If they perceive and express their expectations differently than the theory predicts, it might affect the knowledge that we have on citizen expectations and their effects. This study investigates whether citizens have different interpretations of expectations and whether making them aware of the distinctions between predictive and normative expectations causes them to change their expectations. Results show that citizens interpret expectations very differently and that experimentally posing different questions about expectations at the same time merely increases the effect. The implications for the assessment of citizen expectations are discussed.

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