This chapter contains insights and lessons based on short descriptions of the arguments developed in the preceding chapters of the Handbook. The knowledge and insights gained are explored while focusing on the arguments unfolded in the respective chapters as directly as possible. The structure of the successive chapter sections parallels the structure of the Handbook, starting with three ‘axiomatic insights’ gained about the state of the field overall as addressed in the first part of the book. Next, 25 lessons have been formulated, drawn from the other parts of the book, including in particular theoretical and methodological issues.
This chapter provides reflections on some pertinent issues and an agenda for future research. First, the empirical object of the study of street-level bureaucracy is restated. What can be said now about the question ‘who are these street-level bureaucrats’ and what does this mean for further research? Next, the issues of scope and generalization are revisited. In what directions can appropriate links be made to knowledge and insights from beyond the field of street-level bureaucracy research? And how can generalization capture ‘the bigger picture’? After reflections on these issues and their implications for a research strategy, the substance of a future research agenda is addressed. The relations between the state of the art and the (meta) developments identified point to the need for more empirical and comparative approaches to both accountability and professionalism.
The Ground Floor of Government in Context
Edited by Peter Hupe
This chapter offers an exploration of the ways in which street-level bureaucracy has been approached theoretically so far, especially in its relationship with factors identified as exercising influence. How can what happens at the street level of government bureaucracy be conceptualized as positioned in its environment? The chapter places approaches to street-level bureaucracy research within the trinity of governing, a comprehensive analytical framework. Some forms of reductionism are identified as apparent in the existing literature. It is underlined that researchers cannot escape from some form of reduction. This being so, when understanding and explaining social reality via empirical research, functional rather than a priori reductionism is preferable. This implies that variables are chosen as expressing expected relationships with an eye on what needs explanation. The implications of the various forms of reductionist explanations are elaborated further in Chapter 17.
How can the expected relationships between what happens at the street level of government bureaucracy and its environment be grounded theoretically? The argument unfolded in this chapter maximizes the heuristic functions of the trinity of governing framework as set out in Chapter 3. In that chapter, a range of ‘multi-level’ approaches were identified. Following up on that exposition, three major types of approaches are highlighted. From each a central hypothesis is derived by making their implicit explanatory claims explicit. The hypotheses focus around, respectively, the impact of similar work circumstances, the difference individual actors make and the reach of hierarchy. Structuring the variety of relevant variables in this way draws attention to questions about the relative weight of factors deemed relevant when trying to position the street level within ‘the bigger picture’.
In this introductory chapter the historical and societal context of the phenomenon street-level bureaucracy receives attention. What kinds of developments in and around the modern state can be observed and how have they shaped the evolution of government bureaucracy at the street level? The rise of the welfare state has led to a variety of public officials working in contact with citizens. Teachers, police officers and other street-level bureaucrats, located on the site where state and society almost literally meet, directly undergo influences from society at large. Macro developments such as the accumulation of public policies, permanent technological innovation and the dynamics of cultural individualism on the ground floor of government have effectively led to an ongoing strain. Over the years, the demands experienced there seem to have multiplied rather than diminished. This makes it relevant to explore the impact of such influences.
When people use the word ‘implementation’ they may refer to a task for others. On the other hand, people from whom such subsequent action is expected may see their task as anything but the ‘implementation’ of the plans of others. In policy processes both contrasting views, implementation as following instructions and implementation as continuous practice, can be observed. Despite development in terms of methodological rigour and the availability of comprehensive explanatory approaches, in implementation research the two views have not merged into a broadly accepted, ‘synthesized’ approach. The view of implementation as practice may explain more, certainly when the ‘policy politics’ concerned is taken into account. At the same time the alternative view remains attractive in terms of democratic accountability. Because each has an appeal in its own right, the two views of implementation can be expected to continue their co-existence side by side.
Peter Hupe and Lael R. Keiser
In this chapter the ways that first-line supervision gets attention in street-level bureaucracy research are addressed. The objective is to make connections between existing theoretical-empirical knowledge on public management and street-level bureaucracy. While a robust literature exists on public management generally, it does not look at the ways in which supervisors’ behaviours shape the policies that citizens actually experience. Instead, that literature addresses the links between management and performance, while mostly focusing on managers in higher positions. At the same time, in street-level bureaucracy research explicit attention to first-line supervision has remained limited as well. The chapter shows that first-line managers are major players in policymaking at the street level of government bureaucracy. While managing upward, downward and outward. they fulfil various roles in the policy process.