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Article
Publication date: 13 July 2015

Karen Boll and Roderick A.W. Rhodes

3485

Abstract

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

Article
Publication date: 13 July 2015

Karen Boll

– The purpose of this paper is to analyse everyday reasoning in public administration. This is done by focusing on front line tax inspectors’ decisions about tax evasion.

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to analyse everyday reasoning in public administration. This is done by focusing on front line tax inspectors’ decisions about tax evasion.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper presents ethnography of bureaucracy and field audits. The material stems from fieldwork conducted in the Central Customs and Tax Administration.

Findings

The paper shows that the tax inspectors reason about tax evasion in a casuistic manner. They pay attention to similar cases and to particular circumstances of the individual cases. In deciding on tax evasion, the inspectors do not just administer the laws; they also enact a policy of fair-mindedness. Doing this they are constrained by time and man-powers, but also enabled by various organizational devices.

Research limitations/implications

The tax inspectors that the author followed were carefully chosen and acted in accordance with procedures. The ethnography should be understood in relation to this set-up.

Originality/value

The originality of the paper is that it shows that ethnography can open the territory of everyday reasoning in public administration. Also, it shows the discretionary room that any front line tax inspector navigates in. This is significant as revenue collection often is described as formal and dominated by a legal steering in which rules are univocal.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

Keywords

Book part
Publication date: 8 October 2018

Karen Boll

This chapter focuses on the use of outcome-based performance management systems within public administration. It reports two qualitative case studies from respectively the Danish…

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the use of outcome-based performance management systems within public administration. It reports two qualitative case studies from respectively the Danish Tax and Customs Administration and the Swedish Tax Agency. Both of these administrations use outcome-based performance management systems to steer subsets of their administrative work. The chapter shows that the systems respond to broader demands for accounting for outcomes, yet, the systems also operate in very different ways. The Danish case shows a quantitative system which measures on a daily basis, the Swedish case shows a qualitative system which measures on a four to five-year basis. What is striking about both cases is that they balance meeting the demands for accounting for diffuse outcomes, with developing measurements that ‘fit’ local contingent concerns. While much of the current research on performance management systems in public administration is critical and stresses the downsides of such systems, this chapter shows that these systems should not always be assumed to be connected to gaming, strategic behaviour and/or reductionism. Instead, the performance management systems can be seen as attempts to reconcile and make ends meet in ‘post-bureaucratic’ organisations that are increasingly expected to account for rather diffuse and abstract outcomes and expected at the same time to steer and prioritise daily administrative work.

Details

Bureaucracy and Society in Transition
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78743-283-3

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 13 July 2015

Anja Svejgaard Pors

The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of e-government reforms on street-level bureaucrats’ professionalism and relation to citizens, thus demonstrating how the…

1975

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of e-government reforms on street-level bureaucrats’ professionalism and relation to citizens, thus demonstrating how the bureaucratic encounter unfolds in the digital era.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is based on an ethnographic study of frontline work at a citizen service centre in a Danish municipality, and draws on empirical material generated through observations, field notes, interviews and policy documents.

Findings

The paper shows that e-government changes the mode of professionalism in citizen service from service to support. An ethnographic account of how digital reforms are implemented in practice shows how street-level bureaucrat’s classic tasks such as specialized casework are being reconfigured into educational tasks that promote the idea of “becoming digital”. In the paper, the author argues that the work of “becoming digital” in client processing entails two interconnected changes in frontline agents’ practice: de-specialization of the task and intensified informality in relation to citizens. As a result, the frontline agent works as an explorative generalist whose professional skills and personal competencies are blurred.

Originality/value

The study contributes to ethnographic research in public administration by combining two separate subfields, e-government and street-level bureaucracy, to discern recent transformations in public service delivery. In the digital era, tasks, control and equality are distributed in ways that call for symmetrical and relational approaches to studying street-level bureaucracy. The argument goes beyond technological or social determinism to find a fruitful intermediary position pointing at technological change as having both constraining and enabling effects.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 13 July 2015

Sanne Frandsen

The purpose of this paper is to examine what we can learn from an autoethnographical approach about public administration. In this context it presents and discusses the advantages…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine what we can learn from an autoethnographical approach about public administration. In this context it presents and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of autoethnography.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is based on a case study of E-rail, a European national rail service subject to extensive negative press coverage. The autoethnographic accounts, based on interviews, observations, phone calls, e-mails, and other informal interactions with the organizational members, highlight the researcher’s entry to and exit of the organization.

Findings

The paper mobilizes fieldwork access negotiation and trust building with participants as empirical material in its own right, arguing that challenges involving “being in the field” should be explored to provide new types of knowledge about the organizational phenomenon under study – in this case the rise of organizational paranoia.

Originality/value

This paper uses autoethnography, which is rare in public administration studies, and discusses the distinct features of autoethnography as an ethnographic approach to public organizations. It argues that autoethnographic accounts of fieldwork relationship highlight and challenge the boundaries of the kind of research questions we might ask – and the kind of answers we might provide – about public administration.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 13 July 2015

Nina Holm Vohnsen

The purpose of this paper is to explore and problematizes one of the oft-cited reasons why the implementation of public policy and other development initiatives goes wrong …

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore and problematizes one of the oft-cited reasons why the implementation of public policy and other development initiatives goes wrong – namely that there is a mismatch or antagonistic relationship between street-level worker’s decisions and priorities on the one hand and on the other hand the policy-makers’ or administrators’ directives and priorities.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper builds on seven months of ethnographic fieldwork set in a Danish municipal unit which administered the sickness benefit legislation.

Findings

Through the reading of an ethnographic example of implementation of labour market policy this paper suggests that when policy invariably is distorted at the administrative level it is not necessarily due to lack of will among street-level workers to comply with legislation or centrally devised directives but rather because: in practice, planning and implementation are concurrent processes that continuously feed into each other; and that the concerns and the “local knowledge and practice” that guide planning-implementation do not belong to individual people but are dynamic perspectives that individual people might take up in certain situations.

Originality/value

This challenges conventional descriptions of street-level workers as a distinct group of people with distinctive concerns and attitudes to their work. The paper suggests instead the metaphor “vector of concern” to capture the way street-level workers’ changes of perspectives might cause interventions to disintegrate and evolve in potentially conflicting directions.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 13 July 2015

Roderick A.W. Rhodes and Anne Tiernan

The purpose of this paper is to outline the current state of political and administrative ethnography in political science and public administration before suggesting that focus…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to outline the current state of political and administrative ethnography in political science and public administration before suggesting that focus groups are a useful tool in the study of governing elites. They provide an alternative way of “being there” when the rules about secrecy and access prevent participant observation. Briefly, it describes the job of Prime Ministers’ Chiefs of Staff before explaining the research design, the preparations for the focus group sessions, and the strategies used to manage the dynamics of a diverse group that included former political enemies and factional rivals.

Design/methodology/approach

It outlines the approach to analysis and interpretation before reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of focus groups for research into political and administrative elites.

Findings

It concludes that focus groups are a valuable tool for making tacit knowledge explicit, especially when all participants work in a shared governmental tradition.

Originality/value

It is the first project to use focus groups to study the political elites of Westminster systems, let alone Australian government.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 13 July 2015

John Boswell and Jack Corbett

Turning laborious ethnographic research into stylized argumentative prose for academic consumption is a painstaking craft. The purpose of this paper is to revisit this perennial…

Abstract

Purpose

Turning laborious ethnographic research into stylized argumentative prose for academic consumption is a painstaking craft. The purpose of this paper is to revisit this perennial issue, and extend a claim the authors have made elsewhere about the inevitably impressionistic, rather than the oft-claimed “systematic”, nature of this task.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors draw and reflect on their own experiences of conducting and navigating across political science, ethnography and interpretation in order to justify and uphold the benefits of impressionism.

Findings

The authors argue that the impressionistic account of writing up fieldwork has important implications for these diverse disciplinary terrains.

Originality/value

The authors develop an argument as to how and why an appreciation of this craft’s impressionistic nature can affect how the authors go about creating, evaluating and ultimately thinking about ethnographic research in foreign disciplines like political science.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

Keywords

Content available
Book part
Publication date: 8 October 2018

Abstract

Details

Bureaucracy and Society in Transition
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78743-283-3

Content available
Article
Publication date: 7 December 2021

Mike Rowe and Bagga Bjerge

273

Abstract

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 10 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

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