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 25: Using vignettes in street-level bureaucracy research

Gitte Sommer Harrits


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.

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