Street-level bureaucracy

posted Apr 5, 2015, 5:14 AM by Eva Thomann   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 8:11 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? The bulk of my research on street-level bureaucracy, however, 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.

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

Related publications

Thomann, E., Hupe, P. and F. Sager. 2017. Serving Many Masters: Public Accountability in Private Policy Implementation. Governance, DOI: 10.1111/gove.12297.

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.
Comments