Experience of World Vision India fieldworkers – role and discretion at the interface of organisation and communities

Sarma, Jaisankar (2019) Experience of World Vision India fieldworkers – role and discretion at the interface of organisation and communities. PhD thesis, Middlesex University / Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

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The agency and the role of fieldworkers in development NGOs are very important as they shape development projects through their cumulative daily interactions with community members and local partners. Using Street-Level Bureaucracy by Lipsky (1980), this research examined the tensions experienced by NGO fieldworkers, discretion they exercised and the coping mechanisms they put in place in responding to such tensions in their work. The overall research methodology is qualitative, with the use of in-depth qualitative interviews for data collection from fieldworkers and their managers in seven long-term, rural development programmes of World Vision India. Additionally, various documents of World Vision International and World Vision India were analysed.

This research has shown that the street-level bureaucracy as a framework is applicable for NGO fieldworkers albeit with some important differences. NGO fieldworkers experienced tensions in their work primarily because they were instrumentalised and their agency was not intentionally considered as an asset in the daily practices of the NGO. Fieldworkers experienced specific tensions as a result of policy conflicts and ambiguity and organisational performance management expectations due to a mismatch between organisational expectations and community dynamics. Fieldworkers were constrained in their exercise of discretion due to the pervasiveness of managerial approach and developed coping mechanisms through routines of interactions to manage their tensions.

This research adds to and expands the street-level bureaucracy in important ways. NGO fieldworkers expressed their discretion differently than how Lipsky envisages. NGO fieldworkers developed routines in their interactions with communities in order to make the complex task of implementing NGO plans and policies more manageable at the community level and not for the purpose of limiting demand from clients or controlling clients. Routines of interaction observed in NGO fieldworkers differed from Lipsky’s and included the following: a) routine of intermediation and distancing, b) routine of rationalisation c) manipulation of target data reporting and d) use of personal resources. Additionally, this research observed the critical role that values and faith plays in the expression of positive discretion by NGO fieldworkers. Positive discretionary behaviour was observed when the values or particular competencies of fieldworkers guided the choices made by fieldworkers, resulting in improved benefits for clients. There were several instances of fieldworkers going beyond their call of duty, drawing from their own personal resources to address some of the policy gaps. Perception of programme fit and managerial support enabled the fieldworkers to consistently express their positive discretion.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords (uncontrolled): NGO fieldworkers, development discourses, street-level bureaucracy, actor-oriented approaches, policy conflicts, design, monitoring and evaluation, child sponsorship, fieldworker tensions, discretion, coping mechanisms
Research Areas: A. > School of Law
B. > Theses
C. Collaborative Partners > Oxford Centre for Mission Studies
Item ID: 28162
Depositing User: Brigitte Joerg
Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2019 11:33
Last Modified: 14 Nov 2019 11:06
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/28162

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