Red tape is one of the most often-mentioned nuisances of citizens about government. However, there is a dearth in red tape research focusing on citizens. Therefore, our first goal was to study the effects of red tape on citizen satisfaction. Next to this, we studied which other individual factors may change this relationship. To reach these two goals, we designed an experiment in which 179 subjects participated. Experiments are still relatively rare in public administration, but are increasingly seen as a rigorous and useful method for theory testing and development. Our main conclusions are:

1) Red tape has a strong negative effect on citizen satisfaction

2) This effect is weaker when citizens have high knowledge of political processes.

The article has been published in the International Public Management Journal, and is entitled: “The impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction: An experimental study“. Co-authored with Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen and Ulrike Weske from Utrecht University, Utrecht School of Governance, and Robin Bouwman from Radboud UniversityDepartment of Public Administration.


Tummers, L.G., Weske, U., Bouwman, R. & Grimmelikhuijsen, S.G. 2015. The impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction: An experimental study. International Public Management Journal

The author version on SSRN can be found here.


Graphical summary


1. Negative impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction

The figure below compares the control and treatment group on their degree of citizen satisfaction. Figure 2 shows that the degree of citizen satisfaction is lower when citizens are confronted with high red tape (citizen satisfaction 4.87 vs. 6.08). This is statistically significant (F=26.989, p<.01), thereby providing support for our first hypothesis: red tape negatively affects citizen satisfaction.

The negative effect of red tape on citizen satisfaction

Red tape has a negative impact on citizen satisfaction


2. Negative impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction is lower for people with high knowledge of political processes

We furthermore expected that the impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction is weaker for people with high-perceived knowledge of political processes. The results indicate that the interaction effect is indeed present (β=.137, p<.05). This is shown below. It can be seen that in the low red tape situation, both people who have a high knowledge of politics and those with low knowledge are quite satisfied. In the high red tape situation, both are less satisfied. However, people having low knowledge become increasingly dissatisfied when confronted with red tape: their line drops far quicker than for people with low knowledge of politics.

We expected this because people who already (think) they know a lot about politics will relate their experience with red tape to this knowledge. As a result, they will not easily be surprised. They will have more stable thoughts towards government. On the other hand, if people have little knowledge they are more likely to be more easily influenced.Interaction effect of red tape and knowledge of politics

Negative impact of red tape is lower for people who have high knowledge of political processes

Further reading

Book on red tape by Barry Bozeman and Mary Feeney, both from Arizona State University. Bozeman, B. and M. K. Feeney. 2011. Rules and Red Tape: A Prism for Public Administration Theory and Research. London: M.E. Sharpe.

Article about ‘good’ rules, in other words: Green instead of red tape. By Leisha DeHart-Davis from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. DeHart-Davis, L. 2009. “Green Tape: A Theory of Effective Organizational Rules.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 19(2): 361-384.

Report by Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States. From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less. National Performance Review.



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