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Title: On the street-level implementation of ambiguous activation policy. How caseworkers reconcile responsibility and autonomy and affect their clients' motivation
Other Titles: De implementatie van ambigu activeringsbeleid op de frontlijn: Hoe bemiddelaars verantwoordelijkheid en autonomie verzoenen en de motivatie van hun cliënten beïnvloeden
Authors: Van Parys, Liesbeth
Issue Date: 27-Oct-2016
Abstract: Over the past decades implementation and street-level bureaucracy research has shown forcefully that policy implementation is an integral part of the political policy process as a result of the discretion of street-level bureaucrats. For instance in the field of activation policy multiple studies have shown how caseworkers assign more resources to unemployed clients who have higher chances on the labour market (creaming) and park others (e.g. Wright, 2003; Thorén, 2008; Brodkin & Majmundar, 2010). In 1980 Elmore made a plea to switch the perspective of implementation research by no longer focusing on the gap between policy as designed and as implemented but by applying ‘backward mapping’ to find out how client outcomes are affected by the behaviour of street-level bureaucrats. At the end of the 1990s Winter made a similar call upon implementation scholars by suggesting to shift the focus from the coping behaviour of street-level bureaucrats to their interaction styles so as to learn how interaction styles affect the motivation and the behaviour of clients. Since the path breaking theoretical and empirical work on interaction styles by Winter and May (e.g. 1999 and 2000) too little further progress has however been made. An important obstacle is the need for a further theoretical development of the concept and the development of a measurement instrument. An underlying obstacle is the need for a more robust theoretical framework on motivation within the discipline of social policy research as a counterweight to the dominant but not entirely adequate rational choice paradigm (Hoggett, 2001; Wright, 2012). The importance of moving ahead on this path is further underlined by the fact that scholars in other disciplines too have advocated more research on the influence of factors which are not specific to a policy intervention but rather generic such as street-level bureaucrats’ interaction styles on the motivation and behaviour of their clients. These scholars are among others policy evaluation scholars Van Yperen and Veerman (2008), organisation studies scholar Hasenfeld (1992/2010) en social-psychologist Reeve (2006) and Vansteenkiste and Van den Broeck (2014).
In my doctoral research I have made a contribution to the theoretical and methodological renewal of the interaction style concept by connecting this academic problem to the following policy issue. With the European wide shift from a passive to an activating labour market policy the receipt of a benefit is made conditional upon job seekers participation in a trajectory that supports and stimulates them in their search for work. The expectation is that the conditionality of the benefit forms a serious financial incentive (‘a rational choice’) for job seekers to participate. Previous empirical research (Dean, 2013; Van Parys & Struyven, 2013) however has indicated that such a financial incentive is not sufficient if not pernicious for the motivation of (young) job seekers to participate in a trajectory. An important clue for an additional and more adequate source of motivation is the increased attention for autonomy, namely that job seekers have some freedom in choosing the goals and the activities of their trajectory in line with their internal compass so that they are more intrinsically motivated (e.g. Dean, 2003; Ziguras, 2004; Vansteenkiste & Van den Broeck, 2014). Yet the room for autonomy in activation is limited as activation policies balance rights with duties, and individual choice with the reality of the labour market. The question rises how caseworkers as ‘active moral agents’ (Wright, 2012) balance their double role to support and foster the autonomy of their clients on the one hand and enforce responsible behaviour from the side of their clients by monitoring and potentially sanctioning their behaviour on the other.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Research Group Education and Labour Market
Centre for Sociological Research

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