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First published in 1980, Street-Level Bureaucracy by Michael Lipsky is a critically acclaimed study of public service workers - be they teachers, nurses, police officers, or child protective caseworkers-and the ways that they wield discretion and influence over the day-to-day operation of government programs. Lipsky's path-breaking book explores the tensions among these front-line workers, their clients and their managers, and how those tensions shape the possibility of systemic reform.
On Thursday, September 16, NYU Wagner Dean Ellen Schall joined Lipsky, distinguished senior fellow with Demos, New York City Deputy Mayor for Human Services Linda Gibbs, and John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center, to reflect on the award-winning book - reprinted on its 30th anniversary - and to discuss current problems and creative solutions in reforming social services.
The need for effective health care, social services education, and law enforcement is as urgent as ever, three decades since the book's original publication by the Russell Sage Foundation.
Deputy Mayor Gibbs recalled her reform-oriented work at the Administration for Children's Services and the Department of Homeless Services of New York City, emphasizing the value of engaging with street-level staff, while Dean Schall, the Martin Cherkasky Professor of Health Policy & Management, discussed her years early in her career as a Legal Aid attorney, and her experiences with reform as the commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice for New York City. Along with Michael Lipsky, they explored the everyday tensions between rules and discretion that exist for front-line workers and managers.
All agreed that the desire to make a difference draws younger people, mid-career professionals and increasingly even retirees to careers and positions in public service, and that this motivation remains at least as powerful as it was 30 years ago.
"I would say what young people want is impact," Dean Schall said during the question-and-answer segment, which included involvement by several Wagner faculty and students in the audience. "There isn't a sector where you can have greater impact than the public sector."