The Art of “Bureaucraft”: Why and how bureaucrats respond to citizen voice

Organization(s): IDS
Author: Anuradha Joshi, Rhiannon McCluskey
Year: 2018
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Despite the recent increase of empirical research and conceptual development in transparency and accountability, much of this has been on the side of citizen action, looking at why and how citizens mobilize around accountability demands and at what makes their actions successful. Comparatively, there has been much less work exploring the state side of the equation – to explain why and how public officials respond (or not) to citizen demands for accountability. There are a series of reasons why our understanding of responsiveness is limited, namely:

  • the difficulty of clarifying which factors, among the multitude that shape bureaucratic
    behaviour, are likely to dominate in certain contexts
  • the lack of resources and accessibility when conducting systematic research into
    bureaucracies and their responsiveness
  • the difficulty of separating capacity and willingness when looking at bureaucrats’
    responsiveness.

The aim of this research briefing is to highlight some of the more prominent issues related to bureaucratic responsiveness, particularly in relation to a “willingness to respond”. We review the relevant literature on public sector responsiveness, and use a set of interviews with “reformists” within government to make three contributions.

First, we present a simple framework for thinking about the conflicting pressures that public officials face in their work which shape how likely they are to respond to citizens’ demands.

Second, we argue that the way that public officials see citizens and their claims (in terms of legitimacy, credibility and level of trust) directly influences their willingness to respond to citizen claims.

Finally, we show that if and when public officials are willing to respond to citizens, they make use of their political and social capital to devise a series of strategies to mobilize responsiveness within the state through what we call bureaucraft: the art of manoeuvring diplomatically within complex organisational and individual incentives that pervade state bureaucracies – in other words, the bureaucratic equivalent of statecraft.

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