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Street-level bureaucracy is a term used to refer to a public agency employee who actually performs the actions that implement laws.


Street-level bureaucrats

The concept of street-level bureaucracy was first coined by Michael Lipsky in 1980, who argued that "policy implementation in the end comes down to the people who actually implement it".[1] He argued that state employees such as police and social workers should be seen as part of the "policy-making community" and as exercisers of political power.


Examples of street-level bureaucrats

Street-level bureaucrats include police officers, firefighters, and others who "walk the streets" with regular citizens, and provide services to protect, as well as uphold the laws.

Problems with street-level bureaucracy

Lipsky identified several problems with street-level bureaucracy, including "the problem of limited resources, the continuous negotiation that is necessary in order to make it seem like one is meeting targets, and the relations with (nonvoluntary) clients".[1] However, some commentators have challenged Lipsky's model. Tony Evans and John Harris."[2] argue that "the proliferation of rules and regulations should not automatically be equated with greater control over professional discretion; paradoxically, more rules may create more discretion." They also argue that the exercise of professional discretion by street-level bureaucrats is not inherently "bad", but can be seen as an important professional attribute.[2]

A 2003 American study, conducted by Steven Maynard Moody of the University of Kansas, reiterated the significance of street-level bureaucrats in the political process, asserting that street-level workers "actually make policy choices rather than simply implement the decisions of elected officials."[3] They also claim, based on a study of 48 street-level state employees in two states, that "workers' beliefs about the people they interact with continually rub against policies and rules" and that the prejudices of the street-level bureaucrats influence their treatment of citizens.[3]

In 2007, Emil Mackey confirmed that even the Resident Assistants in campus housing exercise their discretion to change policy at the implementation level. Furthermore, these policy implementation changes reflected the individual values of each street-level bureaucrat rather than the will of policymakers. Therefore, this research not only confirmed previous street-level bureaucrat research and literature, but also expanded it to include the Higher Education policy environment. [4] [1]


Impartiality is a quality that is sought after when employing street-level bureaucrats. An impartial street-level bureaucrat will fairly implement the law, and apply it to all citizens, and not just a select few.


  1. ^ a b Lipsky, M., Street-level Bureaucracy; Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services, 1980, view summary
  2. ^ a b Evans, T and Harris, J, Street-Level Bureaucracy, Social Work and the (Exaggerated) Death of Discretion, British Journal of Social Work, vol.34, no.6, September 2004, view abstract
  3. ^ a b Maynard-Moody, S and Musheno, M, Cops, Teachers, Counselors: Stories from the Front Lines of Public Service, University of Michigan Press, 2003, view summary
  4. ^ Mackey, Emil Robert (2008). “Street-level bureaucrats and the shaping of university housing policy.” Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press.


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