Administrative (De)centralization, Performance Equity, and Outcome Achievement in Rural Contexts

2018, Governance, with Dallas Elgin

Full title: “Administrative (De)centralization, Performance Equity, and Outcome Achievement in Rural Contexts: An Empirical Study of U.S. Child Welfare Systems”

Link to article

Whether public services are better delivered through centralized or decentralized administrative systems is one of the most enduring debates in public administration. This article contributes to the debate with a study of program outcome achievement in U.S. child welfare services. We examine whether centralized state‐administered or decentralized county‐administered systems are more successful at realizing desired outcomes, which exhibit greater performance equity, and which are more successful at securing program outcomes in rural settings. Using a coarsened exact matching approach to quasi‐experimental research, we find that centralized child welfare systems exhibit greater success at achieving desired outcomes—in both rural contexts and overall. No discernible difference is found in centralized and decentralized systems' performance equity; outcome disparities exist under both structures. The study thus lends credence to centralization arguments, but at the same time cautions that centralized administration is not a structural panacea.