Discretionary Decision-Making in a Changing Context of Activation Policies and Welfare Reforms


Publication date


Series/Report no

Journal of Social Policy;43(2)


Cambridge University Press

Document type


Street-level bureaucrats are considered to be subject to bureaucratic managerial regimes and threatened by stronger regulation and a reduction in their ability to exercise control over their work. Contrary to the managerial approach, predicting curtailment of professional autonomy, theorists foretell the continuing importance of discretion in the translation of social objectives into actual service delivery. Given such opposite predictions, what is the perceived direction of change and scope for independent decision-making for front-line workers? This paper empirically investigates the contradictory hypotheses predicting continuing or declining opportunities for street-level discretion in a context of activation policies and welfare reforms. The data come from two surveys conducted among practitioners and local managers in the Norwegian employment and welfare services in 2004 and 2011. Despite managerial control and bureaucratic procedures that regulate many decisions, discretion still remains a characteristic of front-line work. Continued discretion is closely related to the implementation of activation goals and the merging of tasks and integrated services following the whole-of-government reform. The findings confirm the role of managers as key players in implementing policies at the local level. Concurrently, the discretionary power of trained social workers is decreasing and challenged by the push for uniform practices and a managerially regulated role.


Permanent URL (for citation purposes)

  • http://hdl.handle.net/10642/1970