Street-Level Bureaucrats in Policy Implementation: The Case of Addis Ababa City Administration Land Bank and Transfer Office

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Addis Ababa University


Public policies made at the ‘top’ will have to be implemented at local level by street-level bureaucrats who enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy and discretion in the execution of their duties. The implementation of the urban land lease policy (ULLP) by street-level bureaucrats in Addis Ababa land bank and transfer office (LBTO) is one such case. The operatives in the office have substantial autonomy and discretion from the directives and regulations enacted by the city administration council for better implementation of the policy through urban land lease holding proclamation NO. 721/2011 (ULLHP). Using Lipsky’s street level bureaucracy as a theoretical framework, this study sought to assess the factors that influence the exercise of discretion, autonomy and coping mechanisms employed by officers at LBTO in the implementation of the ULLHP. Using qualitative case study through a triangulation of data collection methods such as in-depth face-to-face interviews with twenty respondents and documentary review, the study examined factors that influenced the role of officers and how the role of officers influenced the implementation of access to land for the public through tender in Addis Ababa. The findings of the study showed that, the work conditions of the officers, influenced the implementation of the ULLHP’s provision. The factors- problem of resources, clarity of goals and objectives and control measures, were seen to influence the role of the officers and the decisions they take in providing access to land for the public through tender. It was further noted that the officers are not equipped with the necessary resources which in turn influence the extent to which they provide the necessary services to the public. The findings also reveal that the officers’ level of experience and education has a significant influence on the extent to which they are able to develop coping mechanisms when the situation calls for it. There is a variation in the extent to which officers develop coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges and indeterminacies that confront them in the course of their work while the use of discretion seems to be very useful for respondents in situations where the policy is inadequate which in turn promote the implementation of the policy. The study therefore concludes that the coping strategies that street-level bureaucrats develop when they encounter indeterminacies in their work have implications for the outcome of policy implementation at the front-line. In this view, Addis Ababa City Administration and Land Bank and Transfer Office should work towards successful implementation of ULLP by managing the resource inadequacy; designing internal rules, procedures and frameworks; trainings and awareness creation which recognize the officers’ autonomy and their exercise of judgment in the implementation of ULLHP as resources that needs to be used effectively. Also Policy makers has to understand the behaviour of street-level bureaucrats and acknowledge the manner in which they ‘make’ policy at the bottom and seek the input of street-level bureaucrats in the current efforts to streamline the ULLP.


A thesis submitted to the Department of Public Administration and Development Management of Addis Ababa University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Masters in Public Management and Policy.


Bureaucrats, Policy Implementation