Deservigness cues and street-level decision making: Two survey experiments on employment offices’ use of descretion

Dnr: 41/2020

In their daily interactions with citizens, frontline workers of the public sector make several decisions that affect what becomes of public policy in practice. For instance, prior research shows that employment officers and their selected strategies affect job finding among unemployed jobseekers. Thus, understanding how frontline workers use discretionary power is an important research task. When deciding how to prioritise among clients, and what services to provide, frontline workers may assess whether a client is deserving of help. According to theory, a client regarded as more deserving of help tends to get better services. In this project, we examine the impact of two “deservingness cues” on frontline workers’ use of discretion: the extent to which clients seem to need help, and the extent to which clients have responsibility for their neediness. The analysis is based on two survey experiments conducted with around 2,000 Swedish employment officers in 2018 and 2019. The employment officers are confronted with vignettes of fictitious cases. We study how these frontline workers allocate time among clients, and their decisions about labour market training, depending on randomly assigned client attributes. The project is related to the large and important research literature on street-level bureaucrats and their role within the public sector.