Journal Articles

The Street-Level Bureaucracy at the Intersection of Formal and Informal Water Provision

Marie-Hélène Zérah

Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science

January 24, 2021

Street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) interact directly with users and play a key role in providing services. In the Global South, and specifically in India, the work practices of frontline public workers—technical staff, field engineers, desk officers, and social workers—reflect their understanding of urban water reforms. The introduction of technology-driven solutions and new public management instruments, such as benchmarking, e-governance, and evaluation procedures, has transformed the nature of frontline staff’s responsibilities but has not solved the structural constraints they face. In regard to implementing solutions to improve access in poor neighborhoods, SLBs continue to play a key role in the making of formal and informal provision. Their daily practices are ambivalent. They can be both predatory and benevolent, which explains the contingent impacts on service improvement and the difficulty in generalizing reform experiments. Nevertheless, the discretionary power of SLBs can be a source of flexibility and adaptation to complex social settings.

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