Lipsky Street-Level Bureaucracy Summary

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In Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services, Lipsky defines street-level bureaucrats as the “teachers, police officers and other law enforcement personnel, social workers, judges, public lawyers and other court officers, health workers, and many other public employees who grant access to government programs and provide services within them” (1980, 3). The book provides us with an insight into the everyday life of a street-level bureaucrat and shows their unmistakable role in delivering social services. Lipsky believes policy is best understood when looking at the people at the forefront of the implementation process; those that have to deal with both the government and the public. Overall, I found this book extremely …show more content…

Lipsky states that street-level bureaucrats play a crucial role in policy making. This seems like a common sense statement to us, but at the time it was published, this was a ground-breaking theory in the area of social sciences. Street-level bureaucrats are at the centre of controversy because they deal with the public as well as the government. If policy is to be changed, they are the people who have to be dealt with. These bureaucrats create policy through discretion and autonomy, a concept so far away from the ideas that surround bureaucracy: that there is a detachment between worker and …show more content…

He analyses a bottom-up approach to policy making in this book but fails to state if it is adequate. Up until this book was published, the majority of people looked at policy making from a top-down perspective. Since the 1980’s there has been increased debate over which approach is more effective (Gabel, 2012). Top-down implementation occurs when the government set policies and instructions on how to implement these policies. This makes it clear-cut because it is clear and based solely around agency objectives. Workers have to follow strict commands set by the government to make sure that the policy is implemented to practice the way it was set out to. The problem with this is that it leaves no place for flexibility. Discretion is one of the concepts that are crucial for a street-level bureaucrat to work effectively. As seen in this book, a bottom-up model is when the government set out policy which gives workers the freedom to implement it, allowing them to be flexible with the local needs. In terms of street-level bureaucrats, they are the experts in their fields and therefore have the most knowledge and can identify the best way to implement the policy. Those who oppose this approach tend to highlight the potential for workers to take advantage and use the loose guidelines to fulfil personal objectives that conflict with agency objectives (Gabel, 2012).

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