Building on Lipsky, public administration scholars have conducted ample research on the coping strategies of street-level bureaucrats. To explain their behaviour, many studies focus on the individual characteristics of street-level workers or on features of the organization that they form part of. So far, less attention has been paid to the influence of the wider institutional context. This article presents findings of research on how different elements of the institutional context – the formal public administration, the norms of the professional community and the expectations of the public – can explain the coping strategies of agricultural extension officers in Tanzania. In the absence of specific guidance from the administrative context and of pressure by the public, the strategies that these street-level workers choose are primarily inspired by the norms of their professional community. Points for practitioners: Public managers should be especially aware of the fact that, to a large extent, the professional norms of street-level workers determine how they use their discretion. Therefore, the training of street-level bureaucrats should not only focus on their professional abilities, but also include the transfer of key values of the public service.
- agricultural extension services
- public administration
- street-level bureaucracy