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Automated Discretion

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Discretion and the Quest for Controlled Freedom

Abstract

This contribution discusses the impact of information technology (IT) and algorithms on discretion in large-scale bureaucracies. It shows that IT has both transformed and reshuffled traditional street-level discretion. Discretion has shifted from the level of individual cases such as welfare benefits, traffic fines or construction permits to the design of IT that deals with welfare benefits, traffic fines or construction permits. Street-level discretion first became screen-level discretion and it can nowadays be framed as system-level discretion. Some recent developments even show a transformation of discretion beyond system-level discretion. Inter-organizationally connected IT, the rise of data science techniques and continuous small-scale ‘bricolage’ of the increasingly complex systems have given rise to new types of discretion. As this chapter shows these transformations of discretion in public organizations require rethinking of the constitutional and democratic embeddedness and foundation of IT-driven large-scale bureaucracies.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although research into street-level bureaucracies, their management and the context of the tasks of street-level bureaucrats has been considerably augmented since Lipsky’s original work (see, for example, Hupe, Hill and Buffat Eds 2015), these organizational features continue to be relevant.

  2. 2.

    SAGITTA as an acronym stands for: ‘Systeem voor Automatische Gegevensverwerking met betrekking tot Invoeraangiften met Toepassing van Terminals voor het doen van Aangifte. It is a data system used by customs.

  3. 3.

    Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2014–2015, 33, 326, nr. 5.

  4. 4.

    In a report on ‘big data’, the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy describes a number of practices of data analysts (WRR 2016).

  5. 5.

    Technologies for Better Tax Administration, Using big data in tax administrations, OECD (2016: 49).

  6. 6.

    See, for example, Weber (1922) and Hayek (1944), but also Waldo (1948).

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Correspondence to Stavros Zouridis .

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Zouridis, S., van Eck, M., Bovens, M. (2020). Automated Discretion. In: Evans, T., Hupe, P. (eds) Discretion and the Quest for Controlled Freedom. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-19566-3_20

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