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Street Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services Paperback – May 1, 1983

ISBN-13: 978-0871545268 ISBN-10: 0871545268

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation (May 1, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871545268
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871545268
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Tansu Demir on January 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
In this book, Lipsky examines the critical role of street-level bureaucrats in the policy-making and/or policy implementation process. The traditional model of public policy theory assumes that policy choices are made by the elected political executives and the implementation of those choices are left to the jurisdiction of bureaucrats. Lipsky challenges this line of argument/belief on the basis that since street level bureaucrats have a wide area of "discretion" when they perform their jobs they must be seen as the persons who actually make the policy choices rather than only implement those choices.
Public service workers who interact directly with citizens in the course of their jobs, and who have substantial discretion in the execution of their work are called street-level bureaucrats (p. 3). And, public service agencies that employ a significant number of street-level bureaucrats in proportion to their work force are called street-level bureaucracies (p. 3). Teachers, police officers, intake workers in social security offices are some examples of street-level bureaucrats.
Based on the acceptance that those officials, so-called street-level bureaucrats, have a great autonomy from organizational control and the resources to resist any kind of top-down control/pressure (with the help of civil service laws that make it very difficult, if not impossible, to fire any worker) the author focuses his attention on how these human service workers behave under the conditions of their work context. The conditions of the work in which street-level bureaucrats find themselves surrounded are characterized with as follows:
1. Resources are chronically inadequate relative to the tasks workers are asked to perform.
2. The demand for services tends to increase to meet the supply.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
The book "Street-Level Bureaucracy" describes the process whereby lower ranking employees of human service agencies utilize some level of discretion to determine actual public policy. Lipsky calls such workers "street level bureaucrats" and defines them as "those who directly interact with the public and have substantial discretion in the execution of their work" (Lipsky, pp. 3). They would include teachers, police officers, social workers, judges, public interest lawyers, unemployment counselors, and some health workers. Lipsky argues that these relatively low-level employees ought to be viewed as policy makers, rather than implementers of policy. As Lipsky puts it, the "decisions of street level bureaucrats, the routines they establish, and the devices they invent to cope with pressure, effectively become the public policy they carry out" (ibid., pp. xii). The quality of street-level bureaucracy-as operationalized below-is thus dependent upon the somewhat complicated interplay of eleven general factors. The (simplified) causal chain consequently looks something like this: (not available here) 1. Level of employee Discretion 2. Resources for Resistance 3. Budgetary Resources 4. Agency Goals 5. Personal (employee) Goals 6. Measurement Criterion 7. Relationship to Clients 8. Current Political Climate 9. Client Demand for Services 10. Political Power of Clients 11.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hannah Page on January 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
Lipsky's "Street-Level Bureaucracy" offers an authoritative description of the gap between those that make policy and those that implement policy on the ground every day, the street-level bureaucrats. Further, he describes the gap between "capabilities and objectives" of the two groups and described the often neglected disparities that exist between the two. He argues that policymakers often forget that street level bureaucrats are out of necessity subjective and must use discretion because of their diverse human clientele and thus cannot act robotically in their actions.

He offers helpful examples to help readers understand this phenomenon, such as bureaucrats who have to make split second decisions with little time for thoughtful consideration of the full situation and the rules given to them by policymakers. Police officers do not have time for such deliberation in the face of an unexpected violent confrontation. Similarly, teachers cannot implement training verbatim from workshops when spontaneous events happen in a classroom.

As applied to teaching, Lipsky's ideas help readers understand the processes that might lead a teacher to burn out or become jaded in their practice, which (in my experience) seems increasingly common and correlated with more of a top-down policy approach to education. As individual autonomy of a classroom teacher decreases, the teacher's motivation correspondingly decreases. More generally, when expectations exceed the workers capabilities, they often withdraw from the work as a means of coping and become jaded and much less effective. Interestingly, he uses this reasoning to explain why idealists are not equipped to remain in these situations.
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