Increased Transparency in Procurement: The Role of Peer-Effects

Increased Transparency in Procurement: The Role of Peer-Effects

By Ruth Beer, Ignacio Rios, Daniela Saban
August 2018Working Paper No. 3706

Motivated by recent initiatives to increase transparency in procurement, we study the effects of disclosing information about previous purchases in a setting where an organization delegates its purchasing decisions to its employees. When employees can use their own discretion —which may be influenced by personal preferences— to select a supplier, the incentives of the employees and the organization may be misaligned. Disclosing information about previous purchasing decisions made by other employees can reduce or exacerbate this misalignment, as peer effects may come into play. To understand the effects of transparency, we introduce a theoretical model that compares employees’ actions in a setting where they cannot observe each other’s choices, to a setting where they can observe the decision previously made by a peer before making their own. Two behavioral considerations are central to our model: that employees are heterogeneous in their reciprocity towards their employer, and that they experience peer effects in the form of income inequality aversion towards their peer. As a result, our model predicts the existence of negative spillovers as a reciprocal employee is more likely to choose the expensive supplier (which gives him a personal reward) when he observes that a peer did so. A laboratory experiment confirms the existence of negative spillovers and the main behavioral mechanisms described in our model. A surprising result not predicted by our theory, is that
employees whose decisions are observed by their peers are less likely to choose the expensive supplier than the employees in the no transparency case. We show that observed employees’ preferences for compliance with the social norm of “appropriate purchasing behavior” explain our data well.