The concept of ‘street-level bureaucracy’ was coined by Michael Lipsky (1980) as the common denominator for what would become a scholarly theme. Since then his stress on the relative autonomy of professionals has been complemented by the insight that they are working in a micro-network of relations, in varying contexts. The conception of ‘governance’ adds a particular aspect to this: the multi-dimensional character of a policy system as a nested sequence of decisions. Combining these views casts a different perspective on the ways street-level bureaucrats are held accountable.
In this article some axiomatic assumptions are drawn from the existing literature on the theme of street-level bureaucracy and on the conception of governance. Acknowledging variety, and arguing for contextualized research, this results in a rethinking of the issue of accountability at the street level.