By Stephanie Walsh

In the context of governmental services, administrative burdens refer to the costs and barriers experienced by individuals. When burdens are high, the costs associated with benefit of public goods or services hinder accessibility. Past research has identified administrative burdens throughout the public sector – in public benefits, the justice system, healthcare, and a range of other important components of our society. They are especially prevalent and concerning for vulnerable populations who are more likely to rely on public services and less likely to be able to navigate the administrative burdens that guard them. To explore the connection between technology and learning costs, Stephanie Walsh, Dr. Gregory Porumbescu, Dr. Andrea Hetling, and Vishal Trehan conducted a survey experiment testing various communication tools.

Their work was presented at this year’s Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) Fall Conference as part of a panel titled “Unburdening the Public: Alleviating Administrative Burdens for Those Most Affected – Public Benefits, Online Tools, and Administrative Burdens.” Their paper presented preliminary findings from a survey experiment to test the effects of the use of technology to alleviate administrative burden. The study tests multiple interventions related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to identify the differences in experience with standard information delivery versus those streamlined through technology. Early findings support the need to test different types of information delivery for different target audiences, depending on their needs and the information being presented.

The panel included presentations of two related papers: Dr. Donald Moynihan presented co-authored work on the physical responses to facing administrative burden titled “Face-to-Face with Administrative Burdens: Physiological Measures and Behavioral Consequences of Psychological Costs.” This study used a laboratory experiment which included facial coding of emotional responses to administrative processes. Dr. Carolyn Barnes presented her work on how burdens affect public workers titled “Administrative Exclusion and Material Hardship during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” This study explored the psychological costs caseworkers experience when their clients have to comply with administrative burdens.

Together, these studies explored the important but still novel topic of administrative burdens, including how people experience them, how they impact the public and workers, and how we might reduce the costs associated with burdens. Panelists agreed that further work is needed to better measure the costs associated with administrative burdens, and to continue to test interventions that reduce onerous administrative processes. As a multidisciplinary research conference focused on emerging public policy and management issues, the venue was a great match for a substantive interactive discussion on the topic. The authors were in good Rutgers company at the conference as well with presentations by students, researchers, and professors from all three Rutgers campuses over the three-day conference. Congratulations to Katharine Nelson, Bloustein PhD 2022, who won the 2022 award for Best Dissertation in Public Policy and Management!