Hierarchical Differences within Collaborative Service Delivery Networks: The Role of Street‐Level Workers in Shaping Informal Accountability
21 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 2 Aug 2012
Date Written: 2012
Collaborative service delivery networks have become a common mode of public service delivery, especially for social services. The challenges of providing services through these collaborative networks are multiple and inter-related. While formal systems are used in network governance, informal dynamics are an important dimension as well, yet they have been given far less attention. This paper seeks to remedy that gap by building upon earlier research that empirically identified core elements of informal accountability, and offered evidence that informal accountability manifests differently at various hierarchical levels within service delivery networks. Our goal is to shed light on the latter by focusing on the roles that street-level workers play in creating and sustaining informal accountability, and on the impact this has on relationships and effectiveness in collaborative service delivery networks.
This paper uses a multiple case study design to examine the role of street-level workers in developing and managing informal accountability among individuals working in children’s human services in three counties. The data used were generated through semi-structured interviews with 55 individuals at 28 different organizations and analyzed using ATLAS.ti. Findings suggest that street-level workers play vital roles in shaping and sustaining informal accountability within service delivery networks. Contrary to the view that bottom-up implementation threatens accountability, we find that it is enhanced by front-line workers adhering to professional norms, exercising discretion and acting as “citizen-agents.” Our study contributes to the public management literature on alternative service delivery, collaboration, networks, implementation, and informal accountability and has implications for managers in understanding the importance of their front-line workers in the new collaborative service delivery paradigm.
Keywords: Informal Accountability, Collaborative Networks, Street-Level
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