How can policymakers and researchers make real progress in strengthening the performance of our governments?
Every day, thousands of frontline government officials carry out the law. These officials often have extensive discretion, and the quality and consistency of their decisions can vary dramatically. The problem of inconsistency is endemic, spanning across all areas of law, levels of government, and types of institutional structures. The ordinary citizen-state interaction is between citizens and thousands of frontline officials, from health inspectors to a TSA agent and patent agents to disability benefits examiners. And getting such interactions wrong may go a long way toward explaining why trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. While promising ideas have spurred active debates in law and public policy to improve the quality of government, very few have ever been subjected to rigorous scrutiny.
Quality-improvement initiatives are at the heart of getting government right. Our research designs, pilots, and rigorously tests the effect of quality improvement initiatives in government. With Public Health in Seattle and King County, RegLab pioneered the first peer review program, demonstrating its potential to improve the accuracy and consistency in health inspections in a randomized controlled trial. We developed a first-of-a-kind field experiment that provided patent examiners with scientific information from expert academics in pending patent applications. We have also conducted a program evaluation of the quality improvement of the Board of Veterans Affairs and evaluated the efficacy of checklist interventions in government.
At RegLab, we do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, strong partnerships, prototyping, and rapid experimentation are needed to continue expanding the toolbox of programmatic and policy options available to government decision makers.