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3 Forms of Discretion in Welfare Services

14. May 2020 @ 14:15 - 15:45

Research group seminar with presentation from Tony Evans.

While street-level bureaucracies — front line public services —  are similar in that they are subject to policies, operate under conditions of inadequate resources, and afford frontline workers discretion in their work, there are also significant differences between  types of public services in the ways they work with policy and the nature and extent of discretion of staff delivering the service.  Different services do different things; the nature of the policy they work with varies, and the logic of provision and priorities vary between services. Policy, for instance, may refer to a precise set of instructions, or to setting out particular concerns or broad-brush commitments. Some services, such as benefits provision, are specified in detailed policy which not only sets out what they can do but also how decisions should be made. Others services, such as policing, are subject to a range of policies and concerns often expressed as conflicting demands that have to be balanced and managed in the particular circumstances of their application. And others, mainly human services, are primarily thought of in terms what the professionals within provide, and assumes a logic of service provision to be located in those providing the service. Policy is sometimes more explicit and discretion narrower; it is sometimes looser and relies more on discretion.

Tony Evans is a professor at the Department of Social Work at Royal Holloway, University of London and guest researcher at the Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (UiB) in May 2020. His research focuses broadly on discretion as an organisational practice in welfare policy and practice and as a professional attribute, particularly in social work. Among other, he has explored the impact of managerialism on frontline discretion in welfare services, examined policy implementation analysis and developed a critical re-evaluation of street-level-bureaucracy theory and the relationship between policy and professional practice, and he has looked at ideas of expertise and ethics and how these relate to claims to discretion in professional practice. Today, his research includes the exploration of discretion as a creative practice and using drama as a form of research enquiry to understand activity-dependent expertise; and exploring professional ethics as a practical decision-making process – particularly through exploring current tensions in adult social work.

The seminar is part of the RDV seminar series – a collaboration between the Research Group Law, Democracy and Welfare at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Center for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (UiB) and the Center for Law and Social Transformation – Lawtransform (UiB/CMI).


14. May 2020
14:15 - 15:45
Event Category:


Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism
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