The Space before Action: The Role of Peer Discussion Groups in Frontline Service Provision
~Studies of street-level discretion tend to focus on what influences
workers’ behaviors and the consequences of their choices for advancing or compromising policy goals, but studies rarely focus on the space before action, that is, the processes through which workers make decisions and, in particular, how they deliberate with one another about practice problems within groups dedicated to improving social service delivery. Drawing from two qualitative studies of peer discussion groups, a study of teams of child welfare workers and a study of interorganizational groups composed of employment service workers, we find that workers in each setting grappled with similar types of problems but differed in their focus on specific clients or routine tasks, how they sought to legitimate their responses, and the extent to which their proposed solutions modified established approaches to practice. Our analysis suggests that features of the accountability contexts associated with the two policy fields help explain observed differences.