Human Interest or Hard Numbers? Experiments on Citizens' Selection, Exposure, and Recall of Performance Information

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The abundance of quantitative performance information has motivated multiple studies about how citizens make sense of “hard” performance data. However, research in psychology emphasizes that episodic information (e.g., case stories) often leaves a greater mark on citizens. This contradiction is tested using multiple experiments embedded in a large, nationally representative sample of Danish citizens. The results stress three differences between statistical and episodic data. Citizens have strong preferences for statistical data when asked to evaluate an organization. However, episodic information has in some instances a stronger impact on citizens’ evaluations of an organization and often is more emotionally engaging than statistics. Finally, when asked to immediately recall recent performance information about public services, citizens report more elaborate information about personalized stories and experiences than about statistics. Overall, the results raise questions about the ability of hard performance data to dominate and crowd out episodic performance information.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPublic Administration Review
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)408-420
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017

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