Expectations of and satisfaction with public services

Jue Young Mok, Oliver James, Gregg G. Van Ryzin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


Introduction Citizen satisfaction with public services and organisations has been a consistent topic of investigation for several decades in public management research. This interest is in large part because satisfaction has become a key outcome that government agencies seek to measure as a valuable indicator of performance (Roch and Poister 2006; Stipak 1980). However, criticisms of subjective measures of government performance such as satisfaction are also long-standing, including how various background and attitudinal factors, distinct from actual government performance, can influence satisfaction judgments (Kelly and Swindell 2002; Stipak 1979). As a result, various public management studies have looked at the correspondence between objective government performance and subjective judgments by citizens (Charbonneau and Van Ryzin 2012; Favero and Meier 2013; Licari, McLean, and Rice 2005; Van Ryzin et al. 2008). Insight into the relationship between performance and satisfaction has been elaborated by expectancy disconfirmation (E-D) theory, which originated in the study of consumer behaviour, but has also developed as a way of better understanding citizens’ satisfaction with public services. E-D theory holds that citizens evaluate government services not simply in terms of the level of service performance they experience, but through a process of comparison with prior expectations. Figure 16.1 presents the general model (Oliver 2010; Van Ryzin 2004). According to this model, people not only experience the performance of a service (link B), but bring to this experience a set of prior expectations (link A). The resulting comparison is referred to as disconfirmation, which can be positive (with performance exceeding expectations) or negative (with performance falling short of expectations) (link C). But the model suggests that performance can have a direct effect on satisfaction (link E), and expectations also can have a direct effect as well (link F). More than a dozen studies using the E-D model to explore these various relationships have now been published in public management journals (e.g., James 2009; Morgeson 2013; Poister et al. 2011; Van Ryzin 2004, 2006). Most of the studies on expectations disconfirmation are non-experimental and rely on surveys in which expectations, perceived performance, and satisfaction are self-reported perceptions or attitudes. Although support for the E-D model has been demonstrated this way across a variety of settings (including local, state, and federal government services), such observational studies have difficulty in convincingly demonstrating that the key relationships are causal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationExperiments in Public Management Research
Subtitle of host publicationChallenges and Contributions
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781316676912
ISBN (Print)9781107162051
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


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