The Economist has an article which suggests that "shame might be as important a tool as choice in improving public services".
The new British government is also considering this strategy to improve the quality of public services. As a first step, they are placing all information relating to performance outcomes in education, health care etc, on the department websites. It is hoped that this would expose the poor performing officials, generate peer-pressure, and shame them into improving their performance. Alternatively, it would also appeal to the public servants’ professional pride and motivate them. However, this approach has a few problems and should be used with caution.
1. The extent of its impact would vary based on individual national cultures. Therefore, for example, in communitarian countries like Japan, shaming and other forms of peer-pressure would be extremely effective. Its impact could be less powerful in more individual-centric countries.
2. The impact could also vary based on the prevailing performance levels. If the median performance-level is poor, then peer-effects are not likely to generate much impact. However, in societies where the performance-level is reasonably high, shaming has the potential to spur the poor-performers.
3. The presentation of the data assumes great significance. The message could get lost in the massive amounts of information made available in numerous rows and columns. Attractive and cognitively striking data representation techniques like visualizing graphics can be extremely powerful in conveying the message. For example, comparative graphics that highlight the performance of a subject-teacher in relation to those of his/her peer group (same subject teachers in neighbourhood schools) has a powerful motivational impact.
4. It is important that, atleast in the initial few months and years, this data should not be used for high-stakes decisions. Therefore, using such data representation techniques to shame teachers by directly comparing their performance with those of same subject teachers in the same tehsil/county may backfire. As stakes go up and the severity of public humiliation goes up, officials respond by gaming the data collection process. It is only a matter of time before the process gets discredited.