Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
doi: 10.1111/padm.12130
This article renes Lipsky’s assertion that lacking resourcesnegatively affects output performance. It
uses fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis to analyse the nuanced interplay of contextual and
individual determinants of the output performance of veterinary inspectors as street-level bureau-
crats in Switzerland. Moving ‘beyond Lipsky’, the study builds on recent theoretical contributions
and a systematic comparison across organizational contexts. Against a widespread assumption, out-
put performance is not all about resources. The impact of perceived available resources hinges on
caseloads, which prove to be more decisive. These contextual factors interact with individual atti-
tudes emerging from diverse public accountabilities. The resultscontextualize the often-emphasized
importance of worker–client interaction. In a setting where clients cannot escape the interaction,
street-level bureaucrats are not primarily held accountable by them. Studies of output performance
should thus consider gaps between what is being demanded of and offered to street-level bureau-
crats, and the latter’s multiple embeddedness.
This article studies the interplay of contextual and individual determinants of the perfor-
mance of street-level bureaucrats. Public servants are often expected to provide services in
contexts where they are not given adequate resources (Lipsky 1980). Street-level bureau-
crats are typically urged to maximize output while also minimizing cost: to ensure the
prudent use of taxpayers’ money,budgets are limited and performance targets introduced
(Tummers et al. 2012b). Situations may occur in which the policy or the clients require the
street-level bureaucrats to do something that is not possible given the available resources
(Dias and Maynard-Moody 2007, p. 191; Brodkin 2011). As a result, public policies might
not be implemented in ways that resolve the policy problem, or services might not be
delivered such that target groups are served.
Resource scarcity hence crucially interferes with the effectiveimplementation of policies
at the street level (Lipsky 1980). In particular, pressures for efciency under New Pub-
lic Management reforms and the current increased austerity measures create a need for
a better understanding of these difculties (Hupe and Van der Krogt 2013, pp. 61–62).
Research suggests that street-level bureaucrats virtually always face resource limitations
(Kosar 2011), and that this strongly affects the attitudes and behaviour of caseworkers
(Riccucci et al. 2004; Brodkin 2012).
However, frontline workers’ discretion when delivering output is a multi-faceted
phenomenon (Meyers and Vorsanger 2003, p. 245). Multiple accountabilities guide and
constrain the street-level bureaucrats’ use of discretion (Hupe and Hill 2007). Street-level
bureaucrats are faced with various demands from their environment (Hupe and Buf-
fat 2014). Policies require them to perform output tasks; their organizations provide
Eva Thomann is at the University of Bern, Center of Competence for Public Management, Bern, Switzerland.
This article was published online on 19 September 2014. An error was subsequently identied in Figures 1, 3 and 4, and
Table3. This notice is included in the online version to indicate that this has been corrected on 19 November 2014.
Public Administration Vol.93, No. 1, 2015 (177–194)
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
them with resources to do so; clients want them to take their situation into account;
and professional peers establish good practices (Hupe and Hill 2007). Caseloads matter
(Brodkin 2011): when insufcient resourcesare coupled with a high workload, street-level
bureaucrats are required to ‘do more with less’. Such a mismatch between resources and
the demands of work has been conceptualized by Hupe and Buffat (2014) as a ‘public
service gap’. Empirical studies suggest that this is particularly detrimental for output
delivery (Brodkin 2012, p. 944). Conversely, street-level bureaucrats may not automati-
cally perform as prescribed when resources sufce. They might face other conicting or
competing demands; for example, the policy might require them to act against profes-
sional standards. The role of resources is hence context dependent and mediated by the
individual perceptions and dilemmas of street-level bureaucrats (Johansson 2012).
It is therefore not enough to state that ‘resources are usually inadequate in street-level
bureaucracies’ (Lipsky 1980, p. 29). Instead, this article explores how the inuence of a
public service gap on street-level performance depends on the street-level bureaucrats’
policy alienation (Tummers 2012) and role conicts (Tummers et al. 2012b). Thereby, the
article moves ‘beyond Lipsky’ and applies and tests recent conceptualizations of the core
notions of street-level bureaucracy. The article analyses the output performance of 19 Swiss
constituent state (cantonal) public veterinarians. Output performance is conceived as com-
pliance with the targets for inspections on livestock farms in 2010, as set out by the Swiss
Ordinance on Veterinary Medicinal Products (OVMP) (Sager et al. 2012).
Implementation research faces the challenge of capturing the cases’ particularities
while still producing some modest level of generalization. The ‘complexity of implemen-
tation processes and the inuences of multiple, interacting factors on street-level workers
(Meyers and Vorsanger 2003, p. 245) has led to a predominance of case studies (Meyers
and Vorsanger 2003, p. 251). As a consequence, ‘little comparative research on street-level
bureaucracy that draws inferences across organizational contexts’ has been conducted
(Hupe and Buffat 2014, p. 549).
This article intends to contribute to an ‘agenda for street-level bureaucracy research
with a more systematic comparative logic’ (Hupe and Buffat 2014, p. 549). Its contribution
lies, rst, in emphasizing the role of context, in terms of what is being asked of street-level
bureaucrats in relation to what is offered to them. Second, the article studies how context
interacts with individual factors. This article hence conceives of output performance as
a multilayered phenomenon. Performance can have several distinct explanations that
consist of congurations of diverse factors. This facilitates taking into account the ‘multi-
ple embeddedness’ of street-level bureaucrats (Hupe and Hill 2007, p. 291). Empirically,
third, this study moves implementation research design forward: it compares street-level
bureaucrats across organizational contexts (Winter2003, pp. 216–17, 221; Hupe and Buffat
2014) and uses the method of fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) (Ragin
Resource constraints alone prove not to be as harmful as is often assumed (Kosar 2011).
The results underscore the importance of a public service gap for output performance.
Unexpectedly, the workload faced by street-level bureaucrats proves more decisive than
the budgetary and personnel resources they report to have at hand. The inuence of these
factors is mediated by the street-level bureaucrats’ individual perceptions: rst, of the pol-
icy’s compatibility with professional values; and second, of its contribution to societal
goals. Conversely,street-level bureaucrats who mostly impose sanctions are not primarily
held accountable by their clients in a setting where the latter cannot escape the interaction.
Public Administration Vol.93, No. 1, 2015 (177–194)
© 2014 John Wiley& Sons Ltd.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT