The decisive role of street-level bureaucrats in environmental management

Detta är en avhandling från Luleå tekniska universitet

Sammanfattning: Humanity faces dire challenges associated with environmental degradation. Policy makers try to curb these problems with various policies and management strategies. Some strategies are successful, yet too often, others fail to meet their overall objectives. Scholars in the field of environmental management have suggested several explanations as to why environmental policy fails to address environmental concerns. In this thesis, I take my point of departure in a neglected theoretical component in environmental management research, namely the decisive role of street-level bureaucrats, i.e. bureaucrats working at the end of the policy chain, making operational decisions and taking action based on official policy. The aim of the thesis is to highlight the significant role of street-level bureaucrats in the implementation of environmental policy and to examine which factors that can explain their decisions. In order to fulfil this aim, a tentative theoretical framework encompassing four explanatory factors – management setting, policy understanding, implementation resources and policy beliefs – is developed. A qualitative case study approach is utilised in an attempt to empirically examine how these factors influence decision-making and implementation at the street level. Data is collected by means of semi-structured interviews with 40 street-level bureaucrats working in the fields of fishery and water policy respectively. The results from the empirical studies are used to refine the suggested tentative theoretical framework and propose a more refined framework that can explain street-level bureaucrats’ implementation of official policy. The findings suggest that different management settings seem to affect – more or less – street-level bureaucrats’ autonomy and discretion. Moreover, bureaucrats’ policy understandings, in particular their notions concerning policy coherence, affect their decision-making. The results also imply that the characteristics of bureaucrats’ implementation resources, i.e. the actors to whom they turn for policy advice, influence implementation. Finally, differences in the implementation of environmental policies can be explained by the bureaucrats’ policy core beliefs. In particular, the bureaucrats’ empirical policy core beliefs, i.e. their views on the policy problem and its solutions, seemingly affect how policy is implemented. The results from this thesis underline the importance of street-level bureaucrats in the implementation of environmental policy and the significance of the above mention factors as drivers for street-level action. Thus, the decisive role of street-level bureaucrats should be considered when explaining success and failure in the struggle to curb environmental problems.

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