Research

 

You will find a complete range of our monographs, muti-authored and edited works including peer-reviewed, original scholarly research across the social sciences and aligned disciplines. We publish long and short form research and you can browse the complete Bristol University Press and Policy Press archive of over 1,500 titles.

Policy Press also publishes policy reviews and polemic work which aim to challenge policy and practice in certain fields. These books have a practitioner in mind and are practical, accessible in style, as well as being academically sound and referenced.
 

Books: Research

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Most research on street-level bureaucracy has historically been conducted in countries generally characterised by high levels of administrative capacity, professional bureaucracies, stable rules of law, and in industrialised and often liberal democratic societies. However, most of the world’s street-level bureaucrats work under very different social and institutional conditions. Politicised bureaucracies, low social trust in government, systematic corruption, precarious labour conditions, and limited state capacities are common traits of bureaucracies in developing countries and post-authoritarian regimes. The contributions in this book explore how such institutional conditions affect street-level bureaucracies, public service delivery, policy implementation, and law enforcement. Often, significant gaps appear in the alignment between street-level practices on the one hand and formal rules, guidelines, and policy designs on the other hand. Institutional deficiencies are often left unresolved and subsequently pushed towards the street level, where public servants must deal with them in diverse ways. Thus, citizens are as likely to encounter transit police officers seeking a bribe as they find primary school teachers investing their time and money to provide the best education possible under challenging conditions. Thereby, this book also complements our current understanding of street-level bureaucracy and challenges implicit assumptions about professionalism, state capacity, and trust in government common for advanced democracies.

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Frontline work in weak state institutions is influenced by administrative, political, social, and professional factors that make SLBs face more complex conditions to carry out their jobs. One of the primary sources of complexity and ambiguity for SLBs is their interaction with citizens. Previous studies have contributed to understanding how uncertainty affects SLBs while interacting with citizens. However, the relationship between bureaucratic encounters and frontline work in weak institutional contexts remain understudied. This chapter focuses on bureaucratic encounters in weak institutional contexts and how citizens develop their agency through repeated interactions with SLBs. Drawing on qualitative data on the implementation of a CCT programme in Mexico, the chapter argues that repeated interactions between citizens and SLBs reduce ambiguity and uncertainty. However, paradoxically, this process increases complexity for SLBs because it increases citizens’ capacity to act as agents.

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Most research on street-level bureaucracy has historically been conducted in countries generally characterised by high levels of administrative capacity, professional bureaucracies, stable rules of law, and in industrialised and often liberal democratic societies. However, most of the world’s street-level bureaucrats work under very different social and institutional conditions. Politicised bureaucracies, low social trust in government, systematic corruption, precarious labour conditions, and limited state capacities are common traits of bureaucracies in developing countries and post-authoritarian regimes. The contributions in this book explore how such institutional conditions affect street-level bureaucracies, public service delivery, policy implementation, and law enforcement. Often, significant gaps appear in the alignment between street-level practices on the one hand and formal rules, guidelines, and policy designs on the other hand. Institutional deficiencies are often left unresolved and subsequently pushed towards the street level, where public servants must deal with them in diverse ways. Thus, citizens are as likely to encounter transit police officers seeking a bribe as they find primary school teachers investing their time and money to provide the best education possible under challenging conditions. Thereby, this book also complements our current understanding of street-level bureaucracy and challenges implicit assumptions about professionalism, state capacity, and trust in government common for advanced democracies.

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How do police officers cope, both behaviourally and emotionally, with the double challenge of precarious working conditions and a dangerous social context? And how does this impact the nature of law enforcement and the police’s interactions with citizens? In this chapter, we discuss the case of the municipal police of Morelia, a large city in central Mexico, among the world’s 50 most dangerous cities, and where municipal police officers face shortages in basic materials, receive low salaries, work long shifts, and have limited training and psychological support. Based on original interviews with police officers and complementary document analysis, we demonstrate that such conditions can lead them to move away from dangerous situations, act out aggressively towards citizens, and rely on colleague support and substance abuse to deal with their everyday reality at work. Their response to social and institutional complexities fundamentally changes the face of law enforcement and leaves police officers to fend for their own physical survival and mental health.

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Having explored some micro-foundations of public management reform in the previous chapter, we now turn to the more ‘macro’ perspective provided by organisational sociology. Although sociologists care deeply about human agency, their additional concern to situate this amid the powerful but latent social structures that constitute society at large contrasts markedly with the methodological individualism of cognitive psychology. In particular, this chapter focuses on the ‘institutional theory of organisations’, which explains reform as a compromise between one overt and one latent influence on organisational behaviour. The former is the familiar, instrumental purpose of enhancing technical performance and goal attainment; the latter, hidden but no less causative, relates to furthering the organisation’s social approval – or legitimacy – among powerful constituencies. The chapter begins by defining legitimacy and explaining its influence over organisations. Next, it shows how the twin considerations of efficiency and legitimacy interact – at times reinforcing one another, at times forcing trade-offs. Finally, the chapter explores practical implications for improving public management reform based on this sociological account, including the potential use of legitimacy as a check on organisational misdeeds and the caution needed around ‘flashy’ reform ideas.

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Most research on street-level bureaucracy has historically been conducted in countries generally characterised by high levels of administrative capacity, professional bureaucracies, stable rules of law, and in industrialised and often liberal democratic societies. However, most of the world’s street-level bureaucrats work under very different social and institutional conditions. Politicised bureaucracies, low social trust in government, systematic corruption, precarious labour conditions, and limited state capacities are common traits of bureaucracies in developing countries and post-authoritarian regimes. The contributions in this book explore how such institutional conditions affect street-level bureaucracies, public service delivery, policy implementation, and law enforcement. Often, significant gaps appear in the alignment between street-level practices on the one hand and formal rules, guidelines, and policy designs on the other hand. Institutional deficiencies are often left unresolved and subsequently pushed towards the street level, where public servants must deal with them in diverse ways. Thus, citizens are as likely to encounter transit police officers seeking a bribe as they find primary school teachers investing their time and money to provide the best education possible under challenging conditions. Thereby, this book also complements our current understanding of street-level bureaucracy and challenges implicit assumptions about professionalism, state capacity, and trust in government common for advanced democracies.

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This chapter analyses the implementation conditions of one of Chile’s central social protection system programmes: the Families programme. Successor to the Puente Programme (2002–2011) and the Ethical Family Income (2011–2016), the Families programme consists of preferential access to state social programmes, conditional and unconditional cash transfers, and a psychosocial support component for families living in situations of extreme poverty. This programme is Chile’s most significant state action in the ‘fight against poverty’. However, despite almost 20 years of experience, the highly precarious working conditions of the professionals who implement the programme and the territorial differences in implementation conditions are critical and persistent issues discussed in this chapter. Based on the findings from 17 individual and six group interviews with frontline professionals who implement the Families programme in six municipalities and the descriptive results of a nationally representative survey of frontline professionals implementing the programme, we discuss how weak institutions – specifically administrative/organisational and professional factors – contribute to undesired policy outcomes. We conclude the chapter by reflecting on the challenges of implementing social policies in weak institutional contexts and suggest recommendations for policymakers.

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The contributions in this volume explore how structurally adverse working conditions that prevail in many places affect street-level bureaucrats’ (SLBs) decisions and behaviour and how they, consequently, shape the everyday experience of law enforcement, policy implementation, and public service provision for citizens worldwide. In this concluding chapter, we formulate several key lessons and findings from the preceding chapters. Furthermore, we outline what we believe to be the main contributions of the book and add some concluding remarks on the crucial role of SLBs in advancing the functioning of public administrations in weak institutional settings. Finally, we offer a comment on avenues for future research, including identifying the conditions under which frontline workers can constructively perform the role of brokers, understanding the institutional preconditions and vulnerabilities for frontline working conditions, analysing the consequences of democratic backsliding, and including the citizen’s perspective of policy implementation and street-level interactions.

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This brief introduction situates public management reform amid the two principal alternative mechanisms for building management capability for the state: changes effected by public managers individually responding to problems and opportunities on a discretionary, case-by-case basis (termed the ‘laissez-faire’ approach); and change as an involuntary reaction to sudden and severe adversity, such as war or natural disaster (termed ‘shock and awe’). The advantages and limitations of laissez faire and shock and awe are discussed, before top-down public management reform is presented as a response to these, involving deliberate policymaking by a central authority determining how public services should be organised and managed across multiple sites simultaneously. The argument of, and structure for, the remainder of the book is then previewed.

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Applying cognitive psychology to questions of public management reform provides an opportunity to examine its ‘micro-foundations’. Rather than asking how disembodied socio-economic forces initiate or condition reform processes, we look, far more granularly, at the choices of individual decision-makers. Further, by rooting our analysis in cognition rather than preferences, we replace the microeconomist’s concern for utility and incentives with the psychologist’s focus on information processing, perception, and judgement. After briefly outlining the merits and challenges of adopting such an approach to understanding and improving reform, this chapter explains the concepts of heuristics (information-processing shortcuts) and biases (non-random errors resulting from heuristics) that psychology provides for analysing cognition. It then shows how two common biases – the tendency to overlook evidence contrary to existing beliefs (‘confirmation bias’), and the tendency to notice, diagnose, and respond to bad news more than good (‘negativity bias’) – can help to explain several widely recognised reform pathologies. These include wrongly equating dissimilar organisations, over-reforming in high-performing contexts, and devising pendular reforms that circle back and forth between opposing doctrines. The conclusion suggests an empirical research agenda to test these ideas and discusses how ‘de-biasing’ might improve reform design.

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