Research Handbook on Street-Level Bureaucracy
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Research Handbook on Street-Level Bureaucracy

The Ground Floor of Government in Context

Edited by Peter Hupe

When the objectives of public policy programmes have been formulated and decided upon, implementation seems just a matter of following instructions. However, it is underway to the realization of those objectives that public policies get their final substance and form. Crucial is what happens in and around the encounter between public officials and individual citizens at the street level of government bureaucracy. This Research Handbook addresses the state of the art while providing a systematic exploration of the theoretical and methodological issues apparent in the study of street-level bureaucracy and how to deal with them.
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Chapter 4: Specifying the dependent variable in street-level bureaucracy research

Liesbeth Van Parys


A main concern of street-level bureaucracy research is to explain discretion-as-used. This chapter explores the multitude of theoretical concepts and measurement instruments that have been developed for this dependent variable. Five categories are distinguished related to specific why questions: street-level public servants’ degree of discretion, decisions, interaction styles, coping and compliance. The diversity shown must be embraced for it reflects the fact that many aspects of street-level behaviour are left to varying degrees to the discretion of public servants. Nevertheless, knowledge accumulation hinges on more consistency in theoretical concepts and measurement instruments of the varied aspects of discretion-as-used to foster the comparability of findings across street-level practices and settings. The chapter discusses the theoretical and methodological challenges that researchers encounter when developing well-grounded concepts and instruments. Suggestions are made on how these challenges can be dealt with and what is to be gained.

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