Book summary

The book entitled “Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services” written by Michael Lipsky is talked about the all of things which related to street level bureaucracy, such as their role; sanction and benefits; the problem that their faced; and also their limitation as public services. 

Michael Lipsky states that the phrase of “street level bureaucrats “are from word “bureaucrats” and “street-level”. “Bureaucrats” means a set of rules and structures of authority. Then the phrase “street-level” implies a distance from the center where the authority stands. Public services are organizational institution which the position is between the clients and the government. They claims their self as the side to transfer or deliver all of problem that faced by the citizen toward the government. They claim that they will treat all citizens at the same time and also responsive toward the individual case appropriately.

The police and public welfare; hospital; school; legal services offices; and other agency that interact with citizen are called as the street level bureaucracy, then the person inside or the people are called as street level bureaucrats. Public services have complicated relation with street level bureaucracy because the citizen life’s (citizen benefits and sanction which related with the practice and psychological reaction of public services) are depends on the public services. 

First of all, street level bureaucrats were published in 1980. They divided into two clams, first clam is public services which have a big freedom in taking a judgment of the citizen and also regularly interact with the citizen such as police, teacher and social workers. In some condition public services cannot performed in the standard of decision making, because they lacked of time, information, or other resources. Then, the second clam is public officers which work in the field which not related too much with citizen; such as guidance counselor; judges; police officers; and social workers. Their field has similar setting, although they are different from one to another.

In this book the writer also tells about how people experience public services, how the public services treat them as their roles and structured. Although in the reality not all of public services treat individual in the same way, it shows that the public services works are so far from the expectation to treat person equally. To know why and how they perform or treat person contrary from their roles and goals, first of all we have to know how the public services perform and experience their rules. Street level bureaucrats work at their best, they have to pass all of the obstacle or problem when solving a case, and they should consistent in treating individual to make them has a high expectation toward public services. Public services interact with various types of clients, though citizen hope public services can treat people fairly, appropriately and fairly but sometimes they will do wrong way, they give stereotyping, favoritism, convenience, and etc.

As the citizen that always depends on the public services we have to thanks to the public services who teach us, teach our children, solve our problem, and etc. Pubic services have a high expectation toward the improvement of the citizen life in their own country, although some expectation is hardly to be implemented, they have been worked as much as they can. Public services is government organization institution that admired by all of citizen, they are highly respected and well paid by the citizen, they have high salary, support, pension, health insurance and etc. 

Some people think that public services work in the corrupted words, although not all public services have that kind of characteristics. Some of them always questioning their self by this question “Should I stay in my job and decided to dedicate myself to changing the client processing, I think it’s so problematic.” Then citizen also have dilemmas “Should I follow the bureaucracy, shall I use this public services?” actually citizen cannot choose which one public services they will be choose. They will be got public services which will be their subject, the example is when someone is poor, they have to accept the community arrangement for health, their income support, housing support and etc. The other citizen also has dilemmas to stay wait their return and submit the rule of the agencies despite choosing to reservation.


Public services are constitutes which have a work to make the connection between the citizen and government easier, whether the government policy is good or not good for citizen but they still have to do the job as the connector between citizen and government, although sometimes they have contrast in their heart they have to do the sanction and benefits as the public services.  Public services is constitute that directly interact with citizen,  through public services citizen can connect with government easily,  but actually the way public services deliver their benefits and sanction are really influence person’s life.  The services of public services are influenced by the demands of service recipients to improve the effective and efficiency of public services. 

Like what I said before, public services is someone that interact with the clients (citizen) directly, it means that public services have big responsibility in the aspect of citizen lives. The total amount of US workers which works in education institution (teacher, library officer, administration officer, and etc.) is 3.7 million people, so public services that have biggest responsibility for involvement with citizen is in the school. Then, why there’s so much in that field? Because the dependent citizen increases the state and the local act in education, health, and public welfare time by time. There’s always the improvement in the number of public services, because the birth and death are never stop. The number of public services is always increasing because the citizen needs it. The good facility and the guard function of public services are also increase in order to improve the quality of individual.

In recent year pubic services is kind of job which is desirable, because a healthy society needs public services such as teacher, doctor, police, and etc. And also many things provided by governments for public services, such as pension, debt service, health insurance, and etc. While employee has been with being discharged because of unstable condition, public services don’t even care and get the significant impact of that.

Providing service through people, the works of public workers reflects their dependence toward their salary. The salary of public services also other social workers are come from (resources income) taxes, payment in the jail, and etc. Actually the salary of public services is the part of the income that they got from citizen, I mean the primarily income that public services got from the citizen and public services use the major portion of it for their salary, because we can see the amount of workers, the government use the national income for pay the public services salary. We also can say that the majority of national income is also used for the public services salary.

Public services must deal with a policy if it is change; they have to immediately change their step because every step they take has a big impact for the citizen. When public services make decision toward the citizen, they decided individually or we can say they focused on the individual entirely. And sometimes the personal reaction of citizen will be respond angrily, act grateful, or passive decision toward the public service decision.

The controversy of public services are focused on the individual decision when solving citizen problem related with citizen life and also as the primarily target of protest. Public services are the only side that can be blamed by the citizen, because they are the connectors between government and citizen. If the citizen do not got the significant benefits from the decision making of public services, they will blame the public services for the collective step that they took. So, as public services they will have anticipated in everything. Actually, we cannot only blame the public services, they only follow the bureaucracy.  

Public services provide, give good benefits, and can solve the case of citizen in the good way; public services will get good impression for the group action. Public service bureaucracy is organizational institution that have dual role, first role is social role, and the second is economical role.

Public services have two related aspect, they tries to understand with the citizen they interact and their individual perspective towards clients will be influence agency behavior towards the citizen. When public services make a policy they have to respect the significant aspect when interact with citizen. Public services as policy making they have a high position of discretion and autonomy. They have freedom in determining their nature, amount, and quality of benefits and sanction of their agency. They have to follow their norms, rules, regulations and etc., but it does not mean that they are strict with that.

Then how far the public services are called as professional? Public services are called as professional when they exercise the freedom of judge in their field, when they are free from superiors and the clients will. Why discretion or freedom is the main characteristics of public services? Because in facing human situation or when solving their task they have to observe and judge, if they do not have freedom characteristics, the role as public service will not works. Public services want make the client believe in them, public services try to promote their self to make the clients believe that they hold the key of client’s wellbeing. 

Generally the work of public services less conform to what is expected, sometimes there are slippery between the orders and carrying out of orders. The slippage happened because of poor communication towards the clients or organization, disagreement between them when facing some case, and disagreement with the organizational goals. 

In this book, the writer also comparing the works of manager (also their low level employee) and public services, then both of them have big responsibility in their own field work. When lower level employee processes minimal resources to achieve small response from their manager, public services enjoy the benefits of collection resources that can strengthen their position.  When manager of lower level using their freedom to promote someone,  then to strengthen or improve their level, public services do their best by enjoying their collective resources and do train and test to promote their position. 

Street level bureaucracy also confronted by the unfairness when treating individual, because each individual much more than bureaucracy relevant (age, sex, place, income level, and etc.) the example is when the teachers recognize that all of children deserve their attention but some require more attention, so each public services have their own standard of fairness. Even though sometimes we think that they are not give equal treatments toward the each citizen, but they have their own way to treat every citizen case.

Many citizens criticized the public services about their ability, citizen thinks that public survives cannot provide responsive and appropriate service for them. Actually this is happened because of the ambiguous job of street level bureaucracy, their difficulties when measure their performance, and the working condition which not always same.  Public services face an ambiguities and difficulties in performing their job.  They have many case loads, the problem in resources, and problem in decision making.  Public services work in under condition of limited time and information. Street-level bureaucracy has many caseloads but they cannot fulfill their responsibility to solve the case faster. The example is when the teacher teaches the classroom which is crowded because of too many students, the teacher cannot give personal attention to the students which need more care. Public services have too many house chores to think about, so the case loads will be pile up, and then they use long duration to solve that problem.

High case loads of public services affect the time for decision making, they will make a quick decision. Then, why the public services did cannot work optimal, it happened because they do their house keeping organizational cores so the interaction toward citizen will be less.

The characteristics of work setting of public services are the demand for services tend to increase to meet the supply. When someone is poor they will be have greater influence towards public services. Not only poor citizen but all of citizen always expect of demands in public health service, citizen hopes that they will get health care with the low cost. But actually when makes public facility, public service have to consider many things, and also different people have different income for medical attention and they also have to consider the capacity of institution. 

Some situation that makes dilemma for public services is when the demand are increase and make them difficult to response because they also have to increase the service. Actually there are three things that should be care by public services, public services have to choose additional service rather than improve in survive, more spending time in each case, they have to know which one is active case and inactive case. Inactive case has low priority, and then when solving the citizen problem is better for public to give equal services rather than give specialization to some case. Another dilemmas of public services is the demand are always increase or sometimes unpredictable,  it makes the citizen have to wait too long so the one way the public services took is give the usual treatment because high treatment are difficult to provide. 

Actually, public services had to have clear goals and better developed to their performance, but in the realization they have ambiguity goals. The example is a teacher, are the teacher role is communicating social value, teaching basic skill, or making the student meeting the need for a work. Public services also have idealized dimension and it makes them difficult to achieve the goals, they have complicated and confused approach in achieving goals.  The reason of ambiguous goals is because sometimes there are lateen oriented, and because they are not solving the citizen case till the root. 

When solving problem,  there are many aspects that should be consider by public survives,  when public services judge some case,  they have to find many fact although they have limited time,  then when takes a side they have to take the right side,  they have taken a side in the poor people or self-centered? Public services not only have a norm to not only process and protect the rights of individual but also the impact after the judgment toward citizen life. 

What kind of goals that taken by public services? Client centered goals or organizational centered goal?  Public services have ability to treat individual to process the work easily. Public expectation are affect street level bureaucracy,  sometimes there are some misconception between citizen perspective and the real condition of public services, the example is when some parents want the school develop community value and vocational training for the children, when  the others oriented toward in achievements in basic skill.  The more street level responds to community orientation, the more heterogeneous community sentiment is. 

The performance of public services are difficult to measure, the job performance cannot be evaluated through the market transaction.  Although public services have positive side that they are free from superior when make a decision, they have problematic in choosing effective approach.  The example is the teachers, the new and old teacher have their experiences to effective teaching, their experiences is problematic because is it okay to use that approach or not.

Citizen has their right to speak up about public services, but the citizen had to have ability or knowledge related to that.  If they do not have knowledge or information or just compare the one agency to another agency that citizen opinion is meaningless. Each agency has their own standard so we cannot differentiate between one agency to another. 

The clines of public services are not voluntary, example is poor people, and they use public services because public services are more care with the poor people. As if the poor citizen has money, they will choose private doctor rather than general doctors. If there’s no voluntary clients, public survives will not have discipline ability, because the clients are satisfy, no complaints, and no correction for the public services. 

Clients have to do the proper behavior, obey and aware with the norms, because if they do not they will get punishment. Public services have a job to control clients, they have caseloads so they have to make quick decision, fair when making decision, and make the client satisfied to make the work of public service good. 

Actually, sometimes clients do gratification so it affects their interaction; they do that to express empathy and look humble.  Why did the client do that? It because the client do not want the workers not give negative view about them, but that’s not hold out for long. 

Some controls of public survives are have to distribute the benefits and sanction, structuring the context of clients interaction, teaching clients how to behave as the clients, and allocating physiological rewards or sanction.  Distributing the benefits and sanction means that they have to decide the clients; public services will classify the behavior, background, benefits and the sanction of the clients.  This is the part of constructing client profile.  Structuring the content means that determine the behavior action for decision making. The public services do not fear with the action that they take, because client does not fear with the cost.  Teaching to the client role means that the public services have to socializing the procedures.  The example such as the teacher in classroom, they not only teach about knowledge, but also the value, norm, socialization and how to speak and walk in front of many people or toward the oldest; organize their works and etc.  Then sometimes not all of people have concept about what is public services, the public services will help the clients till they achieve and know what is they expected of toward the public services. By teaching client role the public services hope that the citizen will give absolute respect towards the public services. Then allocating psychological benefits and sanction is the result of the involvement of the client towards the bureaucracy.  The process of solving the case always gives rewards or penalty for the clients. The example is in the teaching learning process,  when the teacher labeling the student as the slow learners,  their parents will also think that their children is slow learners,  and actually it also influence the personality of the children so they will be think that their selves is slow learner,  and makes them difficult to improve their selves. 

Service of public services is delivered by people to people (human interaction).  Services delivered by street level bureaucracy invoking equal treatment under some condition and limitation.  The myth of altruism of public services is related with providing the fair and benefits treatments. Professional agency is constructing to treat a whole person, to respect the client, and encourage the client autonomy. 

Public services expected to be more advocates, use their skill, and use their knowledge and position to secure the clients. Advocacy has impact for public services to provide optimal resources so there will be no misunderstanding between the clients and public services. Advocacy makes the public services avoid special treatment toward the clients. By having advocacy the public services will not lose control when judge the case.  Advocacy also helps the public services to prepare presentation toward other workers to against peer criticism. 

Public services are also alienated in their work field. When public services make a decision, they are work in isolation, they took the decision by their self although they alienated they still perceive support from the public services. 

Public service is working in the field where the demand always increases to meet the supply of services.  Public services never free from conflicting ambiguous goals that guide their work, they also confront by the uncertainly in difficulties in measuring and evaluating work performance.  The client satisfaction is priority of public services; they do their best in performing their job. Public services never claim their selves are doing perfect job, they do their best to provide service and protection toward the citizen. Public services concern in the satisfactory of the clients rather than optimal solution. The analysis of public services are different from others studies, because not only decision that become satisfactory but also mental and organizational process. 

My Opinion

It’s really challenging to read this book. This book gives new perspective related to what is street-level bureaucracy, the conflict and dilemmas that faced by public services. 

Actually I ever blame public services because of their slow responds toward client case. I am little bit scared if I will be public services but I am also want to be a public services.  When I am in senior high school I have an future figure in myself, I want to be public services that citizen oriented. I want to be policy maker that always care with poor citizen. But after I saw my sister that work as public services or my father who work as police, I look the reality that it’s difficult to implement the ideal public services workers. When I look at my sister and my father, I think they only go to work and back to home, like my sister she works as the public services that work to arrange, provide all of things related to the immigrant worker, I thought that she will be solve the problem of the immigrant bias, but actually no, that’s not her works, the majority of her job is related with auditing, she has more focused on the organizational chores rather than client case loads. Then my father, he works as policeman but in the realization he works as the security of bank or event, yes I know that’s a work of police to secured the citizen, but I think the majority of citizen think that the work of police is arrested the robbery or something like that. We don’t know whether the police do not catch the criminals because there’s no crime in that place or they cannot catch the crime and as far as I know policeman have a task to secure the society and arrested criminal. 

This book gives me new perspective for me,  it make me more understand and strengthen my understanding related to street level bureaucracy, and all of my fearless almost answered in this book.  I want to be public services work for the citizen so we have to have citizen oriented, and always straight forward with our idealism even after we are work as public services. I hope if I am a teacher or lecturer or others public services workers I can be individual that not only can implemented my skill or knowledge to solve the case loads but also use my heart and my mind to help everyone. Public services have to do their sanction and benefits as a public official and oriented toward the citizen, and as the citizen we cannot blame public services if we do not got good services, they just work as much as they can, and they just do the government mandate, and we have to care if each worker or individual have their positive side and limitation.

What will I be? It depends on our self. If we want to be public services that work for the citizen we have to have some expectation about our self in our mind, and always remember it in our brain as long as we dedicate our self for the citizen.

*Thank You*

~   Tyara~

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