The use of vignettes, that is, short stories presenting scenarios, cases or characters, has become widespread in the social sciences. This chapter discusses the use of vignettes in street-level bureaucracy research, both in quantitative and qualitative studies. The author argues that vignettes can be particularly helpful when studying discretion-in-use, as vignettes give the researcher the opportunity to design a specific situation or case (for example, a client) and have street-level bureaucrats evaluate and make decisions with regard to the hypothetical situation or case. Further, vignettes can be used in comparative studies to systematically compare street-level bureaucrats in quite different contexts, as well as in experimental designs to systematically test the impact of a specific characteristic of a situation or a case. The author presents the vignette method and its use for different purposes, while also giving advice on how to design vignettes paying attention to different validity concerns.
Gitte Sommer Harrits
To fully understand the work of street-level bureaucrats we must pay attention not only to the political and bureaucratic context but also the cultural and social context of citizen encounters, as well as the context of professional groups and professionalism. Therefore, the chapter presents and discusses insights from the literature on professionalism that can be helpful for street-level bureaucracy research. Three traditions from the literature on professionalism are highlighted: (a) a tradition focusing on the normative function of professionalism; (b) a tradition focusing on professional knowledge; and (c) a tradition focusing on professionalism as the institutionalization of power. Also, some integrated perspectives on professionalism are presented. Examples from research using the notion of professionalism are discussed to shed light on what goes on at the street level.