The Moral Economy of Street-Level Policy Work

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The analysis of street-level discretion tends to be conducted in terms of political economy— seeing people who design, deliver and consume public services as self-interested and self-serving individuals. This has resulted in a paradigm of policy analysis that struggles to engage with the merits and mess of humanity (as well as its limitations) and the ethical dilemmas that arise in service delivery. Diverse needs and conflicting claims create tensions for front-line staff in balancing ideas of consistency and responsiveness to individual circumstances. This paper examines tensions in street-level policy implementation drawing on empirical research with professional staff in adult social care to consider their responses to the tensions and dilemmas they encounter in practice. The paper will consider the role of professional commitments and values in policy implementation and service delivery and suggests that the idea of ‘moral economies of practice’ can offer critical insights into street-level policy implementation and service delivery. Open Access link:
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-399
Number of pages19
JournalCroatian and Comparative Public Administration
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Discretion, Moral economy, Policy implementation, Professionals, Street-level bureaucracy

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