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Administration and implementation of public policies

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We will address the power of implementation, i.e. the power of the field agents who are responsible for implementing public policies, and according to us we will do so through the street-level bureaucracy. Lipsky even went so far as to say that those who would make public policy were the SLBs.

Street-Level Bureaucracy Theory (SLB)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The pioneering author of this theory is Lipsky who published Street-level Bureaucracy; Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services in 1980 and reprinted in 2010.

What is street-level bureaucracy? Lipsky defines it as "Public service agencies that employ a significant number of street-level bureaucrats in proportion to their work force."

What are street-level bureaucrats These are the "Public service workers who interact directly with citizens in the course of their jobs, and who have substantial discretion in the execution of their work". These are all those involved in the provision of public services. Lipsky distinguishes three elements that are common characteristics common to all SLBs:

  • direct and regular interaction with citizens: all professions will give access to a certain number of actions and services facing citizens in order to provide this service;
  • Discretionary power in the context of this relationship: there is always discretionary power at work exercised through the judgment of the person concerned;
  • relative autonomy from their organization: there is relative autonomy, but there is always a form of autonomy from the organization to which they belong.

SLBs' fundamental role in public policy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Window officials are those who embody the state in the eyes of citizens, they have a direct relationship with citizens and represent the state in the eyes of citizens. It is a delicate situation where they have to satisfy citizens and implement public policies. They are called upon to make important decisions:

  • redistribution/allocation of resources and services: two roles can be distinguished: a role as a provider of services and services (people supporting)[1] and a role in determining who is entitled to benefits or not (gatekeeper)[2]. Allocating resources also means verifying whether people are eligible to receive benefits or access services.
  • social control function: the SLB is there to check that people respond to the injunctions of the public administration as to whether the person has complied with social standards. If changes do not have the right behaviour, the SLB's mission is to socialize people in order to put them back on the right path of social norms. Those who do not play the game may be sanctioned.

Through their decisions, the SLBs are in direct contact with the lives of people who have a direct influence on people's lives and experiences. The decision of the SLB must take into account the people's experiences, the decision must be adapted and adjusted to individual or local circumstances. This work is far removed from the impersonal and general bureaucratic rules that would be the same for everyone. It's hard work to standardize and taylorize.

« In delivering policy, street-level bureaucrats make decisions about people that affect their life chances. (...) In short, the reality of the work of SLB could hardly be farther from the bureaucratic ideal of impersonal detachment in decision-making. »

Working conditions of SLBs[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We will focus on five particular crucial dimensions:

  • chronic inadequacy of resources, because the demand for services tends to exceed the supply (in coping strategies): the SLBs do not have enough resources to cover all the needs they should meet. They cannot cover all the needs. Lipsky talks about demand elasticity. The demand for public action is based on that of citizens. Lipsky convincingly shows that there is always a shortage of supply in relation to demand. For example, a new supply of housing will create an adequate supply on the demand side of citizens. The demand for public action always exceeds the supply of services or services. The SLBs are in a position where they must systematically ration an offer. In the area of social policy, this is intended to reverse the problem. The question is not what is the right measure for the beneficiary, but what is the right beneficiary for the measure. Coping strategies are strategies that make it possible to "deal with".
  • ambiguity/conflictuality of political and organizational goals: SLBs face objectives that may be ambiguous, not very specific or in other cases, which may be contradictory. Some objectives may insist on the public service mission, others will insist on cost reduction. It is a structural element in the work of the SLBs.
  • impossibility/difficulty in measuring their performance: not everything is quantifiable. Some things can be measured much more easily than others. You can measure outputs, i. e. administrative output, but you cannot measure the outcome that is the result for society. Very often, SLBs would like to highlight elements that are difficult to measure.
  • paradoxical nature of the "clients" (they cannot address themselves elsewhere + active cooperation required): this is a paradoxical nature. SLB customers cannot go to alternative administrations. We talk about "clients", but they are not voluntary clients and in most cases, they have no choice but to go elsewhere. If you want to change people ("people changing") there must be a cooperation of the person, if what is expected is that the person is involved, the result of the action becomes more unpredictable because it also depends on the person's good will.
  • The nature of the role of the SLB: the role of people-processing is a role that must adapt to the role of helping and supporting people. On the other hand, the SLB has a boundary actor who is in a position of intermediaries, which is, by the same token, necessarily delicate.

Central thesis:"street-level bureaucrats as policy makers"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Lipsky's central thesis is very strong. The decisions of the SLBs are not self-evident, they are not mechanical applications, sometimes it is necessary to find strategies to get out of it and therefore the SLBs will establish routines and strategies that are proper to manage working conditions. These decisions, routines, strategies and tricks implemented by the SLBs become "public policy". For Lipsky, in order to understand public policy, it is necessary to look at practices on the ground and see what kind of service is actually delivered to citizens. It's a thesis about policy-makers.

« I argue that the decisions of street-level bureaucrats, the routines they establish, and the devices they invent to cope with uncertainties and work pressures, effectively become the public policies they carry out. I argue that public policy is not best understood as made in legislatures or top-floor suites of high-ranking administrators, because in important ways it is actually made in the crowded offices and daily encounters of street-level workers. »

Policy making role: two dimensions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

This thesis is divided into two main dimensions.

1) Discretionary power in decisions concerning citizens with broad definition of "discretion".

Discretion is the "freedom to act and judge for oneself". There is the possibility at the time of applying a rule to interpret that rule in a certain sense. The SLB always has a discretionary power that can sometimes be clearly recognized, sometimes not informally. The interpretive capacity of a rule is "the flexibility to decide something within a more general framework of rules". There is discretion in the application of public policy. Decisions can have a profound impact on citizens' lives.

For Adler and Asquith in Discretion and power (1993), the discretionary power applied to civil servants is "A public official has discretion whenever the effective limits of his power leave him free to make a choice among possible courses of action or inaction". The SLBs have discretionary powers in determining the nature, volume and quality of the services to be provided and the penalties to be imposed.

The SLB's discretionary power is not total freedom at all. It is a power that is part of a context in which many norms and rules exist that constrain and frame the discretionary power of the SLBs with a legislative framework, a regulatory framework, organizational rules, directives of the hierarchy, procedures, but also norms and values at the level of the organizational group and the professional group. This is not to say that there are no personal preferences, but that they can take place in a context. It is in the middle of these elements that the SLB is called upon to carry out its activity.

The question is what kind of democratic control can be exercised over the SLB. Control capacity is often weak for two main reasons:

  • information asymmetry: the political power does not have sufficient information on SLB field activity to be able to effectively control activities.
  • difficulty of making everything visible for the political power: political power can only make visible certain aspects of the SLBs' work, but it cannot make visible all the SLBs' work.

These two elements limit the possibility of the authorities' power to control the SLBs, according to Lipsky. Meyers and Vorsanger show in Chapter XIX, Street-Level Bureaucrats and the Implementation of Public Policy, of the Handbook of Public Administration published in 2003, that the SLBs act in a binding context. Regarding organisational rules, in all organisations there is an abundance of rules and procedures to try to control the work of the SLBs. Often, there is such an abundance of rules that it is impossible to obey all the rules, they have a power to select the rules they will use. In most organizations or services where there are GLAs, there is a lack of resources. In this case, a strategy must be found to circumvent the inadequacy of resources. Often, this is done to select beneficiaries who will achieve the best results. Another possibility is to adopt forms of routinization of their work. We are not going to individualise the provision of services to the individual and individual circumstances of all people, we are going to make routine use of a bureaucratic application of fieldwork. There is a difficulty in completely controlling the SLB, but at the same time the SLB cannot do whatever it wants, discretion is a relative power. For Lipsky,"discretion is formally circumscribed by rules and relatively close supervision".

2) Relative autonomy of the SLB from the authority of the organisation

For Lipsky, there is a divergence of interests and resources available between the SLBs and the heads of departments or managers. From the moment they do not have the same interests, there is a potential for resistance to resist the injunctions of heads of department or even the content of public policies.

Through resistance strategies and resources:

  • Refusal to perform certain tasks: stick to the specifications;
  • keep to the minimum required;
  • Voluntarily rigid performance of work: do not communicate information;
  • possession of key expertise/information: willingness to monopolize information;
  • position of low observability of behaviours: this means that what happens in face-to-face interaction is something that very often can remain in the pair, not be observed and not give information above.

« In street-level bureaucracies, the resources of lower-level workers are greater than those often possessed by subordinates in other work contexts » »

— Lipsky

There are two orders of differences between SLBs and managers:

  • professional priorities: managers will consider that the SLB's mission is to achieve results that correspond to the organisation's goals (management culture) while the SLBs would favour workload management in line with personal preferences or professional standards (personal ethics or professional culture). With unemployment insurance; the managerial norm is to reintegrate people as quickly as possible. The SLBs, who are in contact with the unemployed and beneficiaries, may decide to take more time for personal assessments. Discretionary power exists, but it is not always used against the power of managers or the expectations of line managers. A first line of tension/conflict/conflict is that case management mechanisms (CBMs) can work against the goals of the policy or organization (managers).
  • own interests: managers have an interest in controlling / reducing the discretionary power of SLBs through directives or even limiting the contact of SLBs with citizens, while SLB will do everything possible to maintain / extend their professional autonomy. There is a second line of tension/conflict between the defence of discretionary prerogatives and managerial control.

The power of SLB is presented by Lipsky as being very important, but it is a power that exists and can always be deployed in different directions:"SLB will use existing regulations and administration provisions to circumvent reforms which limit their discretion".

Meyers and Vorsanger in Street-Level Bureaucrats and the Implementation of Public Policy distinguish between normative and evaluation issues and the discretionary power of the SLBs:

  • democratic governance: what democratic legitimacy of the SLB's discretionary power? This raises questions about the legitimacy of politics. This is a very important issue. Either they do not have any legitimacy, or as it is they who have a direct link with citizens and users, they are the ones who have professional expertise and can know what is the best service, quality of services or the best possible.
  • Equal treatment vs. individualisation of benefits in a context of limited resources and difficulties in controlling the quality of benefits: any public policy should aim to ensure that all citizens have access to resources. There may be two attitudes in relation to this tension, either going against equal treatment with privilege or favouritism, or it may be said that they are experts in their field and therefore in a context of inadequate resources. Some GLAs are able to get benefits to those who need them most.
  • Discretionary role of the SLB and political effectiveness: if one considers that political effectiveness is loyalty to politics, its purpose and effectiveness, then discretionary and catastrophic power. In this case, the SLB's job is to improve the law. A practice of direct contact with citizens' demands should be better adjusted to this demand. According to the definition of political effectiveness, if political effectiveness is to apply the law as faithfully as possible, discretion is a disaster. It is a question of political effectiveness.

Empirical Illustration: Social Policy Reforms in the United States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In this case study, the reform analysed is the "WORK PAYS" POLICY. The recipients of the reform are those who receive money from the AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children, AFDC). The aim is to influence their relationship with the world of work, which Meyers, Glaser and MacDonald in On the front lines of welfare delivery: are workings implementing policy reforms? published in 1998 summarizes as "promote work over welfare and self-sufficiency over welfare dependence". The content is a mix of work incentives and welfare disincentives. It is a programme of social policy change with a transition from WELFARE to WORKFARE ("It always pays to work!"). In order to be able to implement this reform, it is necessary to convince the beneficiaries, but also the SLBs, to relay the reform.

The research questions are: what does the "WORK PAYS" policy imply for the work of local SLBs and what activities are theoretically expected of them? On the other hand, another question is what transactions/interactions actually took place between the SLBs and clients (AFDC recipients) and whether they were in line with the main objectives of the reform.

The methodological approach is interesting. The first research question is the construction of a hypothetical model of SLB-client relationships. The second question is the content analysis of SLB-clients' face-to-face interactions and interviews in four representative counties, with observations of face-to-face interactions and semi-directive interviews with SLBs.

The main results of the first question are that the SLBs have to transmit specific information such as the existence of new rules, new opportunities for WORK-WELFARE combinations, new training/support programmes and complex relationships between programmes. LBS must use "positive" discretion in order to make the policy change understandable and to individualize the treatment of clients.

The main results of the empirical study are whether the SLBs have provided this information. The results are that this rarely happens, the slogan "it pays to work" is never mentioned and the domination of the old culture (eligibility test) is persistent. It would be a waste of time to tell every client about those work programs. They are not thinking about work when they come in here. They want their check ".

On the question of whether the SLBs exercised their positive discretion, we see that there is a very unusual use (25% of interactions only - see Table 2) and a perpetuation of "routineized" interactions. To explain these results, it must be understood that there is an inadequacy of available resources and incompatibility with the professional role.

The conclusions ask two questions. What about the implementation of the WORK PAYS policy? Yes at technical and legal level, but not at field level (low compliance of SLB/customer transactions with policy objectives). This study shows that it is not a bad will of the SLB. The explanation put forward is more interesting and calls for different working conditions. There are working conditions. The authors show that the agents did not have the time to carry out the new tasks in the same working time. There was also a money problem. In addition, there were no performance indicators for new missions, which meant that attachment to a new culture did not entail any risk for SLBs while they were being assessed on old tasks. There are various factors that can be put forward relating to working conditions, attachment to an old culture and a misunderstanding of the new vision of the social state.

Contributions and limitations of the approach[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The contributions of these approaches to the study of public administration are the analysis of the disaggregation of the concept of public administration (PA), it is a way of rehabilitating small civil servants, giving interest in the concrete and daily functioning of public administration, or giving a dynamic and relational perspective of public administration.

When we study the implementation of public policies, in terms of input, we see that there are opportunities for new research perspectives, particularly as regards the political role of the "low" administration. On the other hand, this gives rise to a detailed analysis of public policies with "State to the very concrete", as the works of Dubois and Weller explain.

Criticisms and limitations are first of all that there is a significant level of generality at risk of neglecting the weight of specific professional contexts, there is an absence of middle-level officials, it is more interesting to call on the whole chain of execution. There is often a "fuzzy zone" in SLB studies on the conditions of discretionary power of SLBs, as stated by Meyers and Vorsanger, with a variety of control sources and implementation contexts. On the other hand, there is a very strong methodological trade-off between traditional case studies and broad surveys.

For Meyers and Vorsanger in Street-Level Bureaucrats and the Implementation of Public Policy, « Front-line workers in public agencies play an important but often overlooked role in the shaping of policy delivery, output and impact. They have been overlooked by many policy officials, who are surprised by the nondelivery or distorted implementation of their policy directives. They have been overlooked by scholars of the policy process, whose interest often ends with the adoption of these directives. (...) Giving more prominent attention to the activities and influence of SLB will enrich our understanding of implementation successes and failures. But crediting those successes and failures to street-level bureaucrats alone, can easily distract us from an analysis of the political, policy design and organizational factors that shape their actions ».

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]