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Policy Talks: "Employee Trust and Performance Constraints in Public Sector Organizations"

Picture of Philip Keefer. Pictured smiling, with glasses and a black suit jacket and stripped shirt.
Tuesday, May 9, 2023, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

The Department of Public Policy brings you the Policy Talks Series as a way to engage critically with today's global and local issues. Our speakers range from policy practitioners and researchers to diplomats and agency leaders to NGO and social responsibility leaders. The events feature a talk, followed by a Q&A session, and a reception.
Drinks and snacks will be offered.


Theory suggests that employee trust is key to productivity in organizations, but em-
empirical evidence documenting links between trust and performance constraints is scarce.
This paper analyzes self-collected observational and experimental data on public sector
employees from eighteen Latin American countries and finds that individual-level trust
is relevant to three types of performance factors. First, high-trust employees are more
willing to collaborate and share information with coworkers and are more supportive
of technological innovation. Second, high-trust employees have different perceptions
of organizational constraints: they are less concerned with low staff quality or lack
of discretion to innovate, and more concerned with staff shortages. Third, trust in
coworkers is associated with stronger mission motivation. These findings are robust to
instrumental variable strategies based on the transmission of trust through social or
professional channels. A survey experiment on preferences for social distancing policies
shows how trust enhances mission motivation: employee policy preferences align better
with the implied government policy when their trust in the public sector is higher.

About the speaker

Philip Keefer is Principal Advisor of the Institutions for Development Department of the Inter-American Development Bank. He was formerly a Lead Research Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. His research, in countries ranging from Benin and Indonesia to Perú and Burkina Faso, focuses on the determinants of political incentives to pursue economic development and of public officials to work in the public interest. He has examined the impact of insecure property rights on growth; the effects of political credibility on policy; the sources of political credibility in democracies and autocracies; the influence of political parties on conflict, political budget cycles, and public sector reform; and the effects of compensation on the effort and intrinsic motivation of public officials.  His work has appeared in journals ranging from the Quarterly Journal of Economics to the American Political Science Review.