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Understanding street-level bureaucracy$
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Peter Hupe, Peter Hupe, Michael Hill, and Aurèlien Buffat

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781447313267

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447313267.001.0001

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When and why discretion is weak or strong

When and why discretion is weak or strong

The case of taxing officers in a Public Unemployment Fund

(p.79) Five When and why discretion is weak or strong
Understanding street-level bureaucracy

Aurélien Buffat

Policy Press

Focused on the study of discretion at the frontline, the chapter explores the following central question: what are the main factors potentially accounting for both weak and strong amounts of used discretion simultaneously observed within the same social service field unit? Based on empirical data collected in a Swiss Public Unemployment Fund through ethnographic methods, the chapters main result is that the amounts of used discretion depend of a combination of factors such as the task at hand, the material economy of cases to be processed, the regulation framework and the existing control mechanisms. While the main insights gained regard the complex multi-causal nature of discretion and the importance of distinguishing discretion as granted and discretion as used, the conclusion argues that future research should favour analytical and empirical disaggregation of the concept of discretion into the various specific tasks street-level bureaucrats have to achieve in their given context.

Keywords:   unemployment insurance policy, contextual factors, type of task, control mechanisms

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