Paolo Rossi, Teresa Bertotti

The horizontal construction of discretion in social care services. Street-level bureaucracy between organizational identities and integration processes

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Street-Level Bureaucracy; Professional Discretion; Horizontal Discretion; Organizational Identity; Organizational Integration.

Street-level bureaucrats’ activities have been studied mainly from a top-down (vertical) perspective focusing on the implementation of regulations set by the relevant organizational managers. This study deals with a less explored aspect that refers instead to a horizontal dimension, i.e. the scope of discretion that characterizes peer relationships. The article builds on a research and training project that the authors carried out in a large Northern Italian municipality for the reorganization of the social service sector – a reorganization which entailed the transition from a specialist to a generalist model of service provision. Based on a qualitative analysis of the data collected during small group discussions with approximately seven hundred practitioners, the study sheds light on their perspectives on organizational matters, with particular reference to organizational identity and integration mechanisms. The study documents how such processes develop locally and horizontally, with practitioners exploiting opportunities for discretionary action, thus compensating for the uncertainty created by organizational changes; this confirms the importance of paying more attention to the horizontal dimension of street-level bureaucrats’ work.

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