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Nina Holm Vohnsen

Street-level planning; the shifty nature of ‘local knowledge and practice’

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The article explores and problematizes one of the oft-cited reasons why the implementation of public policy and other development initiatives goes wrong – namely that there is a mismatch or antagonistic relationship between street-level worker’s decisions and priorities on the one hand and on the other hand the policy-makers’ or administrators’ directives and priorities. The article builds on seven months of ethnographic fieldwork set in a Danish municipal unit which administered the sickness benefit legislation. Through the reading of an ethnographic example of implementation of labor market policy this articles suggests that when policy invariably is distorted at the administrative level it is not necessarily due to lack of will among street-level workers to comply with legislation or centrally devised directives but rather because a) in practice, planning and implementation are concurrent processes that continuously feed into each other, and b) that the concerns and the ‘local knowledge and practice’ that guide planning-implementation do not belong to individual people but are dynamic perspectives that individual people might take up in certain situations. This challenges conventional descriptions of street-level workers as a distinct group of people with distinctive concerns and attitudes to their work.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Pages (from-to)147-161
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Research areas

  • street-level workers, policy implementation, bureaucracy

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