Dissertation Abstracts

The Role of 'Street Level Bureaucracy' in the Implementation of Policies to Contrast Poverty and Social Exclusion

Author: Saruis, Tatiana , tatiana.saruis@gmail.com
Department: Department of Economics, Society and Politics - DESP
University: University of Urbino Carlo Bo, Italy
Supervisor: Yuri Kazepov
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: Italian

Keywords: social welfare , implementation , comparative research , street-level bureaucracy
Areas of Research: Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Policy , Professional Groups , Comparative Sociology


Social problems have changed rapidly and relevantly in the last thirty years, mainly due to the diversification of biographical experiences and the fragmentation of work careers. Social needs become increasingly specific and complex and even diffuse. These changes have brought about welfare systems that personalize interventions and fashion them according to individual difficulties and resources. At the same time, welfare policies have acquired new aims: activation in labour market and cost reduction through rationalization of resources, externalization and reorganization of services. Although these processes go in similar directions (also influenced by the European policies), they have varied effects on the European welfare systems, because they interact with previous configuration and specific characteristics.
Both the demand and supply of intervention are changing, but they are not always synchronised and reciprocally syntonic. Policies and services are oriented to complex aims, such as efficiency, effectiveness and retrenchment. The process of identification and formal acknowledgment of new social needs and problems takes time and the traditional welfare beneficiaries resist the reduction of resources and also, perhaps, to their redistribution.
Street-level social workers operate at the crossing point between demand and supply of social intervention, where the complex chain of decisions shaping implementation converges and all the described changes produce their concrete effects. At the street level, it is possible to observe - from a bottom-up perspective - both what happens at that significant crossing point as well as the consequences of all the complex upstream processes and changes.
Lipsky’s theory about street-level bureaucracies argues that the conditions they have to take into account in performing their tasks modify their (unavoidable) spaces of discretion and their use in resolving the dilemmas implicit in their daily job.
The increasing complexity of social problems and needs, the tendency to personalization of social intervention, the introduction of new policy aims and philosophies combined with traditional practices, the interaction with many different professionals and actors (e.g. public-private) all tend to increase social workers’ discretion and responsibilities. Many studies demonstrated that the attempts to decree the “death of discretion” appear as ineffective.
The solutions and strategies they elaborate to deal with new needs and reach new policy aims with new professional means and tools (e.g. laws, measures, resources), within transforming welfare systems, influence citizens’ access to benefits and opportunities.
Social workers’ choices and decisions have important effects on the impacts of policies. Obviously, the spaces of discretion and their use assume variable configurations in welfare contexts where social rights are more defined and consolidated and where social guaranties are less formalised and eligible.
In order to analyse the effects of changing demand and supply of welfare interventions on social professionals’ daily work, a comparative study was conducted based on two case studies of social services in the municipalities of Bologna (Italy) and Copenhagen (Denmark). The study was conducted mainly by applying the vignettes technique in qualitative interviews. By analyzing street-level social workers’ spaces and their use of discretion, it was possible to describe how macro-changes are influencing micro-contexts and dynamics and what concrete effects they have on social rights.