The Psychology of Administrative Burden (POAB)

All across the world, people experience burdens in their daily interactions with the public administration. Citizens applying for welfare benefits have to fill in complicated forms to prove eligibility, they often have to show up at public offices to apply and re-apply or to prove continued eligibility, and they often face long waiting times. They may also face requirements that seem unnecessary and indicative of mistrust, such as when they are told to provide excessive information beyond what is needed to prove eligibility for benefits programs or when unemployed people are asked to update their CVs on a weekly basis to maintain eligibility for unemployment benefits.

The POAB project offers insights into the psychological processes by which individuals experience burdens when dealing state actions tied to welfare benefit programs. In order to effectively mitigate administrative burden and inequalities in citizens’ experiences of these burdens, we need a deep understanding of the psychological processes by which individuals experience burdens when dealing with state actions. We will identify and explain how, why, and for whom state actions are experienced as burdensome.

The POAB project aims to:

  1. Identify and theorize key psychological characteristics (including, but not limited to, resource scarcity, public service efficacy, and deservingness perceptions) that are expected to lead to differential experiences of administrative burden among recipients of welfare benefits.
  2. Use these insights to test the differential impact of state actions on experiences of administrative burden in a series of laboratory, survey, field and quasi-experiments using physiological, register-, and survey-based measures of administrative burden.
  3. Explore key mechanisms by means of qualitative interviews with benefit recipients.
  4. Use a most different systems logic to investigate the generalizability of these effects in countries with different welfare state models and on different aspects of rules concerning welfare benefit programs.
  5. Open up the black box of take-up and feedback studies by testing how administrative rules associated with welfare participation affect administrative burden and in turn political participation.
  6. Add new perspectives to literatures on resource scarcity, deservingness perceptions, and self-efficacy by demonstrating how differences in these characteristics translate into individual experiences of burdens.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 802244)

Martin Bækgaard is the principal investigator.


Lene Aarøe


Aske Halling

Assistant Professor

Donald Moynihan Professor
Georgetown University