Delegation, discretion and diplomacy: theorising street-level policy work of the National Disability Insurance Scheme

Stream: Disability, policy and governance
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 3.40 pm – 5.00 pm


Street-level perspectives have been integral in understanding the implementation complexities and influential organisational practices of welfare reforms. In the case of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), these perspectives provide an opportunity to scrutinise the politics and practices of reasonable and necessary supports, in an ambitious and complex reform environment. Relying on the aspiration of choice and control to set the direction, the NDIS delegates responsibility to street-level organisations and personnel, participants and families to work out funded supports at major service interfaces.

Drawing on seminal developments in street-level perspectives, this paper proposes an analytical framework for understanding the organisational mechanisms and discretions of this policy work and responding practices of disability support governance. Significantly, it conceptualises NDIS participants as co-opted policy actors who challenge the assumptions of reform politics and street-level work. In that respect, the paper brings a new street-level perspective on a national dilemma of working out reasonable and necessary supports. First, the seminal aspects of street-level bureaucracy and developments of contemporary street-level perspectives are overviewed as background to the proposed framework. These are then discussed in relation to the NDIS and how a street-level perspective might facilitate an understanding of the effects of governance provisions on organisational practices and discretion. Developing street-level perspectives to account for devolved disability governance in a choice and control environment will facilitate better understanding of governance failures and successes.


Eloise Hummell (Presenter), Griffith University
Eloise holds a PhD in Sociology and is currently a Research Fellow at The Hopkins Centre, Griffith University, conducting research in the areas of disability and rehabilitation. Her general research expertise is in cultural and social research of a qualitative nature. Eloise is interested in the complex and shifting factors that influence identity construction, social well-being and government policy, and developing nuanced understandings of emerging social relations and transforming systems.

Michele Foster, Griffith University
Michele is Professor of Disability and Rehabilitation Research with Griffith University and the Division of Rehabilitation, Metro South Health, in Queensland Australia. She is an internationally recognised social work and health services research academic with a strong interdisciplinary track record in rehabilitation, disability services, and primary health care research. Her research focuses primarily on how policy and service systems impact the experiences of service users and the work of service providers, and how service delivery innovations translate into local contexts. Michele has a thorough understanding of the interaction of research, policy and practice and importance of knowledge translation.

Karen Fisher, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney
Karen Fisher is a Professor at the Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW. Her research interests are the organisation of social services in Australia and China; disability and mental health policy; inclusive research and evaluation; and social policy process. Karen applies mixed methodology and adopts inclusive research methods with people with disability, families, policy officials and services providers.

Paul Henman, University of Queensland
Paul holds degrees in sociology, social policy, computer science and education. His main research interest is the nexus between social policy, administration and digital information technologies. His research interests include: social policy; welfare state; welfare reform; e-government; the administration of policy; costs of raising children; internet studies; living standards & wellbeing.

Catherine Needham, Birmingham University
Catherine Needham is Professor of Public Policy and Public Management. She is part based at the Health Services Management Centre, developing research around social care and policy innovation. She is also part-based in the University’s Public Services Academy, researching new approaches to public service workforce development.