Framing Effects under Different Uses of Performance Information: An Experimental Study on Public Managers

AuthorMariafrancesca Sicilia,Paolo Belardinelli,Nicola Bellé,Ileana Steccolini
Published date01 November 2018
Date01 November 2018
Framing Effects under Different Uses of Performance Information: An Experimental Study on Public Managers 841
Abstract: Combining insights from public administration, accounting, and psychology, this article explores the
microprocesses by which public managers use performance information, investigating whether the type of performance
information use and the request to justify decisions affect the way in which information is processed. The study draws
on data from a series of artifactual survey experiments with Italian municipal executives. Findings show that managers
process information differently under ex post rather than ex ante performance information uses. More specifically,
managers are more likely to be subject to framing bias under ex post than under ex ante uses of performance
information. This interaction seems to be robust when subjects are asked to provide justification for their decisions.
Evidence for Practice
Managers will process performance information differently depending on its use.
Managers are less prone to framing bias under ex ante uses of performance information (e.g., allocation of
resources) than under ex post uses (e.g., performance evaluation).
Asking managers to provide justification for their decisions may not be sufficient to reduce framing effects.
Increased attention should be given to avoid framing effects, especially in ex post uses of performance
information, as this could affect the fairness of evaluation processes, performance-related sanctions, and
Performance measurement has been heralded by
New Public Management reformers as a core
element in the modernization of public sector
organizations, translating into practice principles
of managerialism, economic rationality, and results
orientation (Hood 1991; Osborne and Gaebler 1992;
Pollitt and Bouckaert 2011). As these principles
became globally diffused and recognized as the new
mantra for the public sector, both performance
measurement practices and related empirical research
gained momentum (Kroll 2014; Moynihan et al.
2011). Research looking at the implementation
and effects of performance measurement systems
increasingly pointed to the limited use of performance
information and started to explore the conditions
under which it is used (Kroll 2015). If a rich literature
now exists on the factors that enable the use of such
information (for reviews, see Kroll 2014, 2015)—that
is, on when performance information is used and
by whom—less consideration has been devoted to
understanding why and how performance information
is used. Therefore, performance information use still
remains a “black box” that needs unpacking.
The use of performance information has often
been seen as a monodimensional concept, with
most research only investigating whether or not use
occurs (see, e.g., Moynihan and Pandey 2010). This
suggests that there is a need to further explore the
implications of differences in the conditions under
which information is used (e.g., Moynihan 2009;
Speklé and Verbeeten 2014). Moreover, most authors
so far have focused on understanding the drivers
of use, rather than the ways in which performance
information is processed by users. This indicates that
more investigation may be needed to understand how
users deal with performance information.
Interestingly, the few studies focusing on how
information is processed in the public realm refer
to either citizens or politicians and show that the
use of performance information, far from being a
purely rational and reflective process, is affected
by, among other things, primes, frames, and prior
beliefs (Andersen and Hjortskov 2015; Baekgaard
and Serritzlew 2016; George et al. 2018; Nielsen
and Baekgaard 2013; Nielsen and Moynihan 2017;
Olsen 2015). Surprisingly, little is known about how
public managers process performance information
and engage with it when taking decisions related
to their responsibilities and whether they process
information differently in different situations of
Paolo Belardinelli
Bocconi University, Italy
Nicola Bellé
Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Italy
Mariafrancesca Sicilia
University of Bergamo, Italy
Ileana Steccolini
Newcastle University London, United Kingdom
Framing Effects under Different Uses of Performance
Information: An Experimental Study on Public Managers
Research Article
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 6, pp. 841–851. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12969.
Mariafrancesca Sicilia is associate
professor at the University of Bergamo, Italy,
and visiting fellow in the Department of
Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at
the Open University, United Kingdom. Her
research covers public sector accounting
and accountability and models of public
service delivery.
Nicola Bellé is assistant professor in the
Institute of Management of the Sant’Anna
School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
His research focuses on behavioral public
administration and management.
Paolo Belardinelli is a PhD candidate in
public policy and administration at Bocconi
University, Milan, Italy. His research focuses
on behavioral public administration and
Ileana Steccolini is professor of
accounting and finance and director of
research at Newcastle University London.
Her research is situated at the interface of
public administration, management, and
accounting and focuses on public sector
accounting and accountability, performance
management, and governmental financial
The authors are listed alphabetically.

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