Mind the Gap: Dimensions and influence of street-level divergence

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Often portrayed as policymakers rather than policytakers, street-level bureaucrats play a key role in policy implementation. It is now well accepted that the implementation actions of street-level workers frequently result in outcomes that differ from those expected from formal policy. Although the adaptation of rules among street-level bureaucrats is well documented, its influence has been relatively understudied. Furthermore, the conceptualization of street-level divergence is relatively ambiguous. To explore the conditions under which divergence may contribute to a policy change, this study suggests a more-nuanced portrayal of street-level divergence, by referring to three analytical dimensions, namely, motivation, transparency, and collectivity. Data draw on street-level actions that are considered inconsistent with formal policy both among policy principals and among street-level workers, in three different policy sectors: education, health, and welfare. Findings suggest that transparent, collective, and other-serving divergence tends to trigger a policy change. A better understanding of the reciprocal relationships between street-level divergence and policy change may contribute to the coordination of the efforts of different governmental tiers as regards policymaking and the design of policy implementation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)473-493
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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