Discretion in the Policy Process

  • Peter HupeEmail author
  • Michael Hill


This chapter examines discretion in the policy process. On the basis of an examination of the theoretical literature, some specific insights are identified. First, discretion concerns the freedom to act as granted in a set of rules. Second, the way a rule is applied leaves the rule intact. Third, norms aimed to prescribe action stem from many sources in addition to formal rules. Fourth, cultural standards and the institutional context are important sources. Fifth, the degree of legitimacy of practised discretion will vary. This theoretical examination leads on to an exploration of where discretion is located in the policy process. Discretion can be found in street-level implementation, but not only there. It appears to be granted as well as exercised at a multiplicity of points within an overall context, in which both vertical and horizontal power relationships may apply. Hence from an ‘output’ perspective, the study of discretion concerns the question how laws or other norms ‘work’ within a multi-layered structure.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public Governance InstituteCatholic University of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.University of NewcastleNewcastle upon TyneUK

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