Parsing public/private differences in work motivation and performance: An experimental study

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79 Scopus citations


This article echoes recent calls for public management research to focus on core questions and utilize multiple methods to advance the state of knowledge in the field. In this article, we call for more experimental research on the public/private distinction, which is a core public management research topic. We then conduct a pilot experimental study that provides new insights - and what seem to be major implications - about this important topic. Specifically, we study individuals' vigilance when performing work in a government funded research project compared with a business funded research project. Our results show that individuals are significantly faster, more accurate, and more vigilant when their work is funded by a government agency rather than a private business firm. Two major implications are (1) government provision of goods and services that require faster, more accurate, and more vigilant workers (e.g., airport security or emergency responders) may be superior to private provision, ceteris paribus; and (2) our participants in this study, who are college students, seem to perform better when working for government rather than for the private sector. This is heartening because, with the "quiet crisis" looming over government, many seasoned public servants will soon be replaced by these younger workers. The strengths and limitations of the study are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)i347-i362
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
StatePublished - Jul 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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