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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Public Management Review

For a Special Issue on
Public Management and Street-level Bureaucrats

Abstract deadline
01 October 2022

Manuscript deadline
01 April 2023

Cover image - Public Management Review

Special Issue Editor(s)

Flemming Larsen, Aalborg University
[email protected]

Marie Østergaard Møller, Aalborg University
[email protected]

Nadine Raphorst, Leiden University
[email protected]

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Public Management and Street-level Bureaucrats

The street-level bureaucracy literature originally focused on how street-level bureaucrats use coping mechanisms to handle the balance between political and organizational demands of efficiency on one hand and higher demands from citizens than resources to address them on the other hand (Lipsky 1980). It is not only a question of how the street-level bureaucrat  distributes limited resources among citizens, but also about the role they have in implementing public services as intended by policy makers. The translation of policy intent to street-level decisions is far from a neutral, technical process, but is both complicated and highly site-specific. In this process the public management has a huge impact on how street-level work takes place, including street-level bureaucrats who encounter citizens in public service organizations.

The relationship between public management and street-level bureaucracy is as obvious as it is understudied in terms of understanding how governance interact with value creation in the encounter with citizens. Public Administration and Management literature (Osborne et. al. 2022, Hood & Dixon 2015; Hood and Peters 2004, Kickert 2003) as well as studies of professional judgment, discretion  and use of knowledge (Møller & Hill 2021; Møller 2021; Cecchini & Harrits 2021) emphasize the risk of fragmentation in the public sector and within public service organizations causing individual dilemmas in the public service delivery as when introspective internal efficiency hijacks the focus from the external impact policies have on societal and individual problems. Ignoring a clash between performance management logic and street-level bureacracy challenges democratic governance, transparency, and democratic control (Brodkin 2011, Larsen 2013). In the street-level bureaucracy literature this relates to how public management shapes the role of the street-level bureaucrats, who must balance between external regulation of performance targets and discretionary practices depending on room of maneuvre or professional autonomy to avoid strategic behavior towards citizens (Jakobsen et al. 2018).

Recently, new reform frameworks have emerged such as management approaches focusing on how to mobilize resources and solve problems by engaging both the local milieu and public service delivery networks, how to make a shift in focusing on production and system demands towards focusing on value-creation for the citizens and, finally, how the frontline workers can interact with citizens in such processes (Osborne et.al 2022). Important concepts or frameworks in the public administration and management literature for this shift is public value, addressing the societal impacts of public services; collaborative governance, examining the role of organizational networks of public service delivery; public service logic, addressing citizen value creation through public service delivery; and behavioral public administration, focusing upon the psychology of citizens and staff engaged in public services (Osborne et al. 2022).

These new reform paths are either uniform or replacements for earlier management paradigms, which means that earlier element of public management logics such as NPM, still will be inherent logics in new hybrid governance forms. Also new parallel developments take place at the same time, as for example digitalization of services, which sometime even is named as an independent paradigm, digital era governance (DEG).

How these reforms come to look like in real life, is highly dependent on to what extent the street-level organizations and its street-level bureaucrats can be reformed in ways that make them capable of balancing value creation for the citizens with other political and organizational demands inherent in public service production. After all, these reforms can pull into opposite directions, as an increased use of standardized tools and/or AI may curtail street-level bureaucrats’ experienced discretionary room (de Boer & Raaphorst, 2021), while paradigms focused on value creation and responsiveness, stress street-level bureaucrats’ professional judgment as indispensable to assess citizens’ individual and local circumstances (e.g. Bartels, 2013; Raaphorst, 2018).

Research suggests we should not only examine the demand side of street-level work, but also how street-level bureaucrats are enabled to carry out their work (Hupe & Buffat, 2014). In this regard, street-level bureaucracy scholars increasingly pay attention to how the social context of frontline decision-making is or could be mobilized to improve the quality of decisions (Møller, 2021; Rutz et al., 2017; Visser & Kruyen, 2021). Team work or the organization of collective discretion could for instance help in making decisions that are both responsive to individual need, but also consistent (Rutz et al., 2017; Zacka, 2017). While still scarce, research has indicated that leadership development at the frontline could support managing the cognitive uncertainty experienced by street-level workers (Bernards, 2021).

Call for papers

In this special issue we call for articles that either theoretically or empirically investigate how public management affect street-level bureaucrats’ roles and work, and outcomes for citizens. This special issue’s main aim is to further insights on the management of street-level bureaucracies, as the role of street-level managers in facilitating change at the frontline is still understudied (but see e.g. Gassner & Gofen, 2018; Klemsdal, Andreassen & Breit, 2022). We invite articles that address topics such as (but not limited to):

  • Street-level management, leadership and roles in service delivery contexts stressing value creation
  • Organizational networks and co-production in public service delivery
  • The role of AI and digitalization in (reforming) street-level work
  • Professional knowledge and organizational professionalization strategies in street-level bureaucracies seen in a reform perspective
  • The implications of reforms and developments in public service delivery for citizens

The special issue welcomes manuscripts which examine processes and mechanisms in street-level bureaucracy related to the role of management, leaderhip, competence and organization of outcomes in different policy fields. We welcome both quantitative and qualitative studies, however we emphasise the theoretical concern for developing street-level bureaucracy scholarship and conceptual frameworks.

Submission Instructions

Projected timeline

  • Deadline for abstract proposals (maximum of 500 words): October 1, 2022.
  • Feedback from guest editors: November 1, 2022.
  • Submission of first paper draft to guest editors: January 15, 2022
  • Feedback from guest editors: March 1, 2022
  • Submission of full paper through PMR system for peer-review: April 1. 2023

Subject to the process of per review, accepted papers will be published online as they are accepted, and the issue is planned to be published in the last quarter of 2022/ first quarter of 2023.

 Format of contribution

High-quality submissions are sought that offer theoretical and empirical contributions to the street-level bureaucracy field by testing, extending, or adapting the previous findings of this literature to the context of public management and street-level bureaucrats.

Abstracts: Extended abstracts should be between 300 and 500 words and should include the main points that will be covered in the research paper. Theories/perspectives, research methods, results and findings should also be briefly described. Deadline: October 1, 2022.

The format of research papers should comply with the styles of Public Management Review

Abstracts and papers should be in MS Word format and be submitted to Flemming Larsen at [email protected] by email. Final submission of revised papers should be made directly to the online submission system.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

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