Insights From Arts Performance Theory And Practice — A Research Agenda For Frontline Discretion As Creative Process

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In this theoretical paper I want to draw on insights from arts performance theory and practice to suggest a research agenda opening up the examination of a dimension of frontline discretion as creative process mediating policy and service delivery in street-level organsiations.

Historically professional discretion was seen as a creative process in the delivery of services and the development of policy in the welfare state. However, over the last thirty years the rise of neo-liberalism and of Managerialism has been associated with a distrust of frontline discretion and the increasing separation of professional practice and policy practice. Performance theory, I will argue, offers new ways of conceptualising and theorising front line discretion in the policy process, which connects with the re-emergence the idea of discretion as a site of creativity in policy delivery.

Exercising judgement within constraints is a common experience across the apparently different domains of policy and arts practice. Within welfare services, professionals operate within rules, policies and procedures to deliver services which are intended to be responsive to citizens. In the performing arts, actors and musicians perform from texts and manuscripts. They do not simply replicate words and notes, but have to lend them their own interpretation and express them through their own performances.

Alongside the similarities between the two situations, the different ideas of the relationship between professionals and policy, and performers and their sources open up an important area of discretion for exploration.

For welfare professionals, contemporary policy tends to be thought of as an alien and external constraint on practice, and a detrimental limit on their autonomy. In welfare services the creative dimension of frontline discretion tends to be constrained by the normative constraints of policy, whereas, in performance, the manuscript and text are recognised as opportunities for creativity and interpretation that can bring out new meanings and speak in different ways to specific contexts.

This current sense of the external nature of policy and the constraint it exercises over professional judgement and practice is exemplified in professional critiques of Managerialism. In contrast, in the arts the relationship between performers and source is much more intrinsic. The text and the manuscript are a starting point that performers seek to bring to life, recognising it as something that both limits what they can do and at the same time, necessarily guides and facilitates their performance.

In summary, in this paper I want to suggest arts practice theory can offer insights into an aspect of policy work that has been under research, and offer tools for the examination of frontline discretion as a creative process. This could, in turn, provide new insights into the role of professional discretion and policy as a more creative process in making policy work, an imaginative and sensitive way for service-users.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2015
EventInternational Conference on Public Policy - Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore., Milan, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Jul 20154 Jul 2015


ConferenceInternational Conference on Public Policy
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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