Street-level bureaucracy

posted Apr 5, 2015, 5:14 AM by Eva Thomann   [ updated Oct 28, 2020, 9:13 AM ]
Policies undergo considerable changes during their implementation.
I am particularly interested in street-level bureaucrats as policy makers - the actors who implement policies at the frontline in interaction with citizens, such as police officers, nurses and food safety inspectors. How do street-level bureaucrats deal with pressures for efficiency emerging from high caseloads and often insufficient resources? What is the role of discretion for motivating street-level bureaucrats to implement a policy? My research with Nadine van Engen and Lars Tummers suggests that behavioral perspective is useful to clarify long-standing differences between the assumptions of top-down and bottom-up implementation theories.  Specifically, street-level bureaucrats need to feel they have discrétion to influence a policy, in order to be willing to implement that policy.  Moreover, Carolin Rapp and I have studied how stereotypes and implicit biases affect the delivery of public services to target groups.

Much of my earlier research on street-level buraucrats focuses on the under-researched  situations when actors from the private sector implement public policies for Profit. The term "private governance" expresses that in today's complex and interconnected world, private actors are increasingly involved in public policy. Public goods, measures and services are nowadays often delivered by private actors for profit. The implications of this, however, are still poorly understood. The theoretical assumption is typically that market actors are more efficient and effective than public actors. Contrary to this, my research illuminates how the multiple roles created in such hybrid implementation settings might conflict and thus negatively affect the delivery of intended policy measures. The introduction of market elements requires an expansion of our current understanding of street-level accountability: for-profit street-level bureaucrats are not only held accountable by the state, their professional peers and their clients, but also by their shareholders and customers.  This can create irreconcilable dilemmas for policy implementers. From an institutional logics perspective, the market implies a capitalist logic which, if in conflict with the logic of the state, is demonstrably prioritized by for-profit policy implementers. The different accountability mechanisms imposed on for-profit policy implementers to ensure that they deliver public policies in a comprehensive and equitable manner thus require special attention. Together with Peter Hupe and Fritz Sager, we propose an extended accountability regimes framework which helps capture and analyze such dynamics.

The Permanent Study Group XIII on Public Policy of the European Group for Public Administration (EGPA), which I co-chair together with Anat Gofen and Fritz Sager, is a platform for a vibrant network of leading implementation scholars from Europe and beyond.

Current projects
Maxia, J., Thomann, E., Ege, J. and J. Reifler. Street-level Dilemmas and the Prevent Duty as it affects Higher Education in the United Kingdom. In progress.

Related publications
Lieberherr, E. and E. Thomann. 2020. Linking throughput and output legitimacy in Swiss forest policy implementation. Policy SciencesDOI: 10.1007/s11077-020-09374-3.
Sager, F., Thomann, E, and P. Hupe. 2019. Accountability of public servants at the street level, In van der Heijden, J, (ed) Palgrave Handbook of the Public Servant. Palgrave.
Lieberherr, E. and E. Thomann. 2019. Street-level bureaucracy research and accountability beyond hierarchy. In: Research Handbook on Street-Level Bureaucracy: The Ground Floor of Government in Context. Edward Elgar, Public Policy Series (Editor Peter Hupe), pp. 223-239.
Thomann, E., Hupe, P. and F. Sager. 2018. Serving Many Masters: Public Accountability in Private Policy Implementation. Governance 31(2): 299–319.
Thomann, E. van Engen, N. and L. Tummers. 2018. The necessity of discretion: a behavioral evaluation of bottom-up implementation theory.  Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 28(4): 583–601. 
Thomann, E. and C. Rapp. 2017. Who Deserves Solidarity? Unequal Treatment of Immigrants in Swiss Welfare Policy Delivery. Policy Studies Journal, DOI: 10.1111/psj.12225.
Thomann, E. and F. Sager. 2017. Hybridity in action: Accountability dilemmas of public and for-profit food safety inspectors in Switzerland. In: Paul Verbruggen and Tetty Havinga (Eds). Hybridization of food governance: Trends, types and results. Cheltenham and Massachusetts: Edward Elgar, 100-120.
Thomann, E., Lieberherr, E. and K. Ingold (2016). Torn between state and market: Private policy implementation and conflicting institutional logics. Policy & Society 35(1): 57-69.
Thomann, E. (2015). Is output performance all about the resources? A fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis of street-level bureaucrats in Switzerland. Public Administration 93(1): 177-194.
Sager, F., Thomann, E. Zollinger, C., van der Heiden, N. and C. Mavrot (2014). Street-level bureaucrats and New Modes of Governance – How Conflicting Roles Affect the Implementation of the Swiss Ordinance on Veterinary Medicinal Products. Public Management Review 16(4): 481-502.