Michael Lipsky

Michael Lipsky, a distinguished senior fellow at Demos, a New York-based organization that also has offices in Boston and Washington, D.C., was born on April 13, 1940. After holding the position of political science professor at MIT, he worked as a program officer for the Ford Foundation. In the field of public administration, he is well recognized for his influential book on low-level bureaucracy.

In discussions and scientific research on the social work profession, some ideas keep coming up. Discretionary authority and low-level bureaucracy are two of them. Both reference Michael Lipsky's work in some way. This North American academic battled with the issue of how to measure the effect of government on citizens along with his political science peers. There was some worry of a potential low impact brought on by sloppy policy choice execution. The subtitle of a 1973 pamphlet, Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington are Dashed in Oakland, exemplifies this worry. An address Lipsky gave at the American Political Science Association's annual conference in New York in 1969 served as a precursor to his subsequent work in this field. The two key ideas of his work, which would spread following the release of the book in 1980, were already included in this presentation and paper: Street-level bureaucracy and individual problems with governmental services.

Lipksy introduced the term street level bureaucrat

Lipksy used the phrase "street level bureaucrat" to describe all public servants and government employees who regularly interact with citizens and have a significant influence on their lives. His initial research concentrated on judges from lower courts, teachers, and members of the police, but subsequently Lipsky and others broadened this to include social workers. These are the people who "represent government to the people," influencing how citizens see their government. They serve as the government's business cards, according to two Dutch experts. In some cases, such as in the instance of the neighborhood police in Antwerp, Belgium, this is taken very literally. They are the actual policy makers, according to Lipsky, who also calls them more than just business cards. Although policy can be discussed and documented at higher levels of the government, it is the labor of bureaucrats on the ground that actually put it into practice. This alludes to discretionary power, which is the second important idea in Lipsky's writing. One aspect of the work done by street level bureaucrats is their high level of autonomy, which allows them to choose the specifics of their position and only to a limited extent subject them to Taylorism.

Along with his PhD student Jeffrey Prottas, Lipsky asserts that lower-level bureaucrats form routines and habits for processing cases—a process he refers to as "people-processing." This concept has drawn criticism and sparked expert assessments of the bureaucracy on the ground.

Many were inspired by Lipsky’s work and applied his concepts in their practice.

Many people were moved by Lipsky's work and used his ideas in their work. Yeheskel Hasenfeld, Kathryn Ellis, and Tony Evans are just a handful of them. Numerous scholarly works on social work frequently cite Lipsky.
Scholars have suggested that there is a shift from street level bureaucracy to screen level bureaucracy, comprising a decline in the discretionary power of professionals, with the increased use of information technology in government and public services. Public libraries serve as a good illustration. Previously, if you returned a book that was overdue, the librarian may have decided to waive the punishment if they thought you were a dependable and frequent borrower. The modern computer system is ruthless.

Tony Evans recently conducted study on the evolution of street level bureaucracy in the context of British social work and the impact of new public management. Evans discovered that local managers and practitioners frequently shared a professional culture and collaborated to maintain discretionary power and professional ideals, in contrast to Lipsky's discoveries made in the US some forty years earlier. Additionally, he contends that the use of information technology to limit discretion in social work is constrained, just like it is in any other management method.

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