Compton, Mallory E., Matthew Young, Justin Bullock, and Robert Greer. Forthcoming. "Administrative Errors and Race: Can technology mitigate inequitable administrative outcomes?" Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory

Scholars have long recognized the role of race and ethnicity in shaping the development and design of policy institutions in the United States, including social welfare policy. Beyond influencing the design of policy institutions, administrative discretion can disadvantage marginalized clientele in policy implementation. Building on previous work on street-level bureaucracy, administrative discretion, and administrative burden, we offer a theory of racialized administrative errors and we examine whether automation mitigates the adverse administrative outcomes experienced by clientele of color. We build on recent work examining the role of technological and administrative complexity in shaping the incidence of administrative errors, and test our theory of racialized administrative errors with claim-level administrative data from 53 US unemployment insurance programs, from 2002-2018. Using logistic regression, we find evidence of systematic differences by claimant race and ethnicity in the odds of a state workforce agency making an error when processing Unemployment Insurance claims. Our analysis suggests that non-white claimants are more likely to be affected by agency errors that result in underpayment of benefits than white claimants. We also find that automated state-client interactions reduce the likelihood of administrative errors for all groups compared to face-to-face interactions, including Black and Hispanic clientele, but some disparities persist.

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Compton, Mallory E., Scott Douglas, Lauren Fahy, Joannah Luetjens, Paul 't Hart, and Judith van Erp. 2022. “Walk on the bright side: What might we learn about public governance by studying its achievements?" Public Money & Management 42(1):49-51.

Governments today often perform demonstrably well on many fronts, much of the time. Yet, their accomplishments can be taken for granted or overshadowed by their shortcomings. The public, the media, and even the public service itself are collectively predisposed to notice government failures over successes. A focus on failure, breakdown and crisis helps us to hold power to account, and to learn how to avoid malperformance. However, turning that focus around can help us to identify and interpret practices that are worth learning positive lessons from. To move beyond best practices requires the development of new assessment tools. The authors propose conceptual frameworks and methodological strategies that aim to assess and interpret governance success in situ and with an appreciation for complexity.


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Compton, Mallory E. 2021. “Serving the Unemployed:  Do more generous social insurance programs provide better quality service?" Korean Journal of Policy Studies, 36(3):1-11

The role and capacity of public administration in contributing to economic security is an increasingly important question. More generous social welfare programs may have greater capacity to insure households against risk, but those programs can effectively provide economic security only to the extent that public organizations deliver benefits promptly and properly to families in need. Administrative performance matters. Given that governments with more generous social programs have demonstrated social welfare to be a priority, are those governments also more likely to put effort towards better administration of welfare programs? This question is addressed here using administrative performance data from U.S. state-level unemployment insurance programs, from 2002-2015. Evidence points to a positive association between generosity and administrative quality: more generous states make fewer administrative errors and that relationship is driven by their making fewer underpayments. If unemployment insurance replacement rates reflect an institutionalized commitment to more generously protecting individuals from economic insecurity, that commitment is also evident in the types of administrative errors agents make. 

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Nesbit, Rebecca, Paarlberg, Laurie & Compton, Mallory E. Forthcoming. "Who is My Neighbor? The Effect of Racial In-Group Representation and Residential Isolation on Volunteering." Politics, Groups, and Identities 8(5):918-936

Do individuals residing in racially diverse communities volunteer less than individuals living in homogenous communities? While a growing body of literature explores the relationship between diversity and trust, we know less about how racial diversity affects volunteering. Drawing on the Current Population Survey’s (CPS) volunteering supplement combined with county-level Census data, this article explores how racial diversity moderates the relationship between individual race and volunteering behavior. We find that context moderates the effect of individual race/ethnicity on volunteering. However, these moderating effects differ across racial/ethnic groups. Greater in-group exposure is associated with a decline in volunteering propensity among Blacks, but it does not have a statistically significant impact on whites and Latinos. At the lowest levels of residential exposure/segregation, the likelihood of volunteering for Blacks is statistically indistinguishable from that of whites, but the likelihood of volunteering for Blacks increases as residential in-group exposure increases until it is statistically indistinguishable from the likelihood of volunteering for Latinos. Racial in-group representation does not have a statistically significant impact on the likelihood of volunteering for whites and Blacks, but greater in-group representation decreases the likelihood of volunteering for Latinos.

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Compton, Mallory E., Johannah Luetjens, Paul 't Hart. 2019. "Designing for Policy Success." International Review of Public Policy. 1(2): 119-146.

Amidst the general mood of skepticism about the problem-solving capacity of governments in the face of e.g. ‘wicked problems’, it is easy to overlook that at times governments do manage to design and implement public policies and programs quite successfully. In this paper, we build on an emerging are of ‘positive evaluation’ research into public policy successes (Bovens et al 2001; McConnell 2010; Nielson et al 2015). Using the conceptual tools emanating from that research and drawing on a corpus of 33 such cases (Compton and ‘t Hart 2019; Luetjens, et al, 2019), we draw inferences about the contexts, strategies, and practices that are conducive to policy success. We find compelling evidence that process inclusivity is a pivotal, but certainly not the only, factor in the path to policy success. Variation in the degree of innovation and the pace of change also emerge as interdependent and important factors.

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Meier, Kenneth J., Mallory E. Compton, John Polga-Hecimovich, Miyeon Song, and Cameron Wimpy. 2019. "Bureaucracy and the Failure of Politics: Challenges to Democratic Governance." Administration & Society. 51(10): 1576-1605.

Bureaucratic reforms worldwide seek to improve the quality of governance. In this article, we argue that the major governance failures are political, not bureaucratic, and the first step to better governance is to recognize the underlying political causes. Using illustrations from throughout the world, we contend that political institutions fail to provide clear policy goals, rarely allocate adequate resources to deal with the scope of the problems, and do not allow the bureaucracy sufficient autonomy in implementation. Rational bureaucratic responses to these problems, in turn, create additional governance problems that could have been avoided if political institutions perform their primary functions.

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Compton, Mallory E. and Paul ‘t Hart.  (eds.)  2019. Great Policy Successes. Oxford (UK):Oxford University Press.

With so much media and political criticism of their shortcomings and failures, it is easy to overlook the fact that many governments work pretty well much of the time. Great Policy Successes turns the spotlight on instances of public policy that are remarkably successful. It develops a framework for identifying and assessing policy successes, paying attention not just to their programmatic outcomes but also to the quality of the processes by which policies are designed and delivered, the level of support and legitimacy they attain, and the extent to which successful performance endures over time. The bulk of the book is then devoted to 15 detailed case studies of striking policy successes from around the world, including Singapore's public health system, Copenhagen and Melbourne's rise from stilted backwaters to the highly liveable and dynamic urban centres they are today, Brazil's Bolsa Familia poverty relief scheme, the US's GI Bill, and Germany's breakthrough labour market reforms of the 2000s. Each case is set in context, its main actors are introduced, key events and decisions are described, the assessment framework is applied to gauge the nature and level of its success, key contributing factors to success are identified, and potential lessons and future challenges are identified. Purposefully avoiding the kind of heavy theorizing that characterizes many accounts of public policy processes, each case is written in an accessible and narrative style ideally suited for classroom use in conjunction with mainstream textbooks on public policy design, implementation, and evaluation.


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Compton, Mallory E. and Christine S. Lipsmeyer. 2019. “Everybody Hurts Sometimes: Pocketbook and Sociotropic Policy Preferences in Context" in The Journal of Politics. 81(2): 539-551.

Understanding when individuals support government action is central to government responsiveness and democratic policymaking. Research has shown that political behavior can be sensitive to collective circumstances and that pocketbook interests heavily sway individuals’ support for public policies. We bridge these two previously distinct literatures to articulate a theory of public policy preferences. We argue that the collective economic environment can influence how individuals translate their own insecurities into support for social insurance. However, how expansively social insurance policies buffer individuals from the labor market can condition the effects of both personal and collective insecurities, because they change the stakes, altering the relationships between economic insecurity and individuals’ policy preferences. Using a cross-national sample of developed democracies from 1996 and 2006, we conclude that while pocketbook uncertainty trumps other concerns, it is the more secure individuals who are most susceptible to the influence of the broader collective environment.

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Replication data.

Supplemental appendix.


Compton, Mallory E. and Paul 't Hart. 2019. "Looping to Success (and Failure): Second-order Mechanisms and Policy Outcomes” in Making Policies Work: First and Second Order Mechanisms in Policy Design. G. Capano, M. Howlett, and M. Ramesh, eds. Edward Elgar Publishing.


The premise of a dynamic policy model—e.g., that sequence matters or decision making is constrained by what has already happened—applies to many, if not most, social-political phenomena. Yet, when contextualized with defined scope conditions, the same mechanism might explain not just stability and change, but the success or otherwise of public policies. In this paper, we first discuss the value of a dynamic and mechanistic perspective to the study of policy success, we elaborate a three-dimensional concept of policy success (programmatic, process, and political performance), and we examine how both first- and second-order mechanisms can reinforce or work against these dynamics. Developing a typology of policy loops (driven by configurations of first- and second-order mechanisms) we explore how such a perspective can not only inform analytical explanations of policy success and failure, but also purposeful attempts by policy actors to work towards their preferred outcomes.

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Compton, Mallory E. 2018. “Less Bang for Your Buck: How Social Capital Constrains the Effectiveness of Social Welfare Spending,” in State Politics & Policy Quarterly 18(3): 215-245.

Rising economic insecurity in recent decades has focused attention on the importance of social welfare programs in managing household financial stability. Some governments are more effective than others in managing this outcome, and informal social institutions help explain why. Social capital is expected to shape economic security through multiple mechanisms, but whether the effect is to magnify or mitigate volatility is an open question. Part of the answer has to do with how social capital interacts with policy implementation, and whether it conditions the effectiveness of government spending. Evidence from the U.S. states from 1986 to 2010 fails to support a benevolent social capital thesis—not only is social capital associated with greater economic insecurity, there is no evidence that it improves social welfare effectiveness. However, greater spending on some social programs can mitigate the adverse impact of social capital on economic security.

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Replication data.

Supplemental appendix.

Compton, Mallory E., and Kenneth J. Meier. 2017 “Bureaucracy to Post-Bureaucracy: The Consequences of Political Failures,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Business and Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Pathologies inherent in democratic political systems have consequences for bureaucracy, and they need to be examined. Limited in time, resources, and expertise, elected officials turn to bureaucratic institutions to carry out policy goals but all too often give public agencies too little support or too few resources to implement them effectively. In response to the challenges imposed by politics, public agencies have sought organizational solutions. Bureaucracies facing shortages of material resources, clear goals, representation of minority interests, or public trust have in recent decades adopted less hierarchical structures, exploited networks and privatization, and taken a representative role. In other words, the evolution of postbureaucratic governance institutions is in part a consequence of political incentives. Efforts to diagnose and resolve many of the shortcomings attributed to bureaucracy therefore require an accounting of the political processes shaping the context in which public managers and bureaucrats operate.

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Compton, Mallory E., and Kenneth J. Meier. 2016. “Managing Social Capital and Diversity for Performance in Public Organizations.” Public Administration 94(3): 609–29.


Managers concerned with the performance of their organizations will exploit available social, administrative, and human capital resources. However, extant theory and mixed empirical evidence leave the effect of social capital on performance unclear. The gains from these norms of reciprocity, participation, networking, and trust may disproportionately benefit only some of their clients, leading to disparities in outcomes among diverse clienteles. We argue that in such contexts, management will put in place policies to counter these disparities. Indeed, our empirical evidence from the management of public education supports the expectation that an institutional commitment to diversity successfully mitigates the uneven effects of social capital on organizational performance. This finding carries important implications for public management and equity in public policy outcomes and may be of particular relevance to management of outcomes relying on co-production.

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Meier, Kenneth J., Nathan Favero, and Mallory Compton. 2016. “Social Context, Management, and Organizational Performance: When Human Capital and Social Capital Serve as Substitutes.” Public Management Review 18(2): 258–77.


Do internal (administrative human capital) and external (social capital) resources work to reinforce the effects of each other? Work from multiple disciplines has approached this question, and we advance this literature with a theory of social and administrative resources as potential substitutes for each other in the production of public education outcomes. We argue that social capital benefits some groups more than others and that it interacts with management to improve performance. We therefore expect the benefits associated with social capital to be non-uniform across community groups. Using education as our area of study, we find that social capital offers the most direct and unconditional benefits to white students but that management can use human capital resources to compensate disadvantaged students who may lack support and resources outside of the classroom. We do not find support for the expectation that social capital and human administrative capital reinforce the benefits of each other, but we find evidence that the two resource types are substitutable. This implies that management may substitute human capital resources when social capital is low to benefit public program performance.

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Compton, Mallory. 2011. “Industrial Energy Efficiency in Developing Countries: A Background Note,” Vienna: United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Economic Research Working Paper No. 03/2011.

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