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Winds of Change: How Street-Level Bureaucrats Actively Represent Minority Clients by Influencing Majority Clients: The context of LGB Israeli Teachers



The literature dealing with representative bureaucracy emphasizes the role that minority street-level bureaucrats may play when, directly and indirectly, they actively represent clients with whom they share a common identity. My study goes further, contributing to the implementation literature, by examining why and how these street-level bureaucrats use their discretion to shape non-minority clients’ attitudes toward minorities. I explore this phenomenon empirically through interviews with 36 Israeli lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) teachers. I analyze the traditional methods they routinely adopt such as exposing students to information about minorities, encouraging open discussions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) issues in the classroom, and entrepreneurially developing and introducing innovative learning programs. I illustrate how they respond to ad hoc cases (for example protecting LGBTQ+ clients or taking advantage of outside events to promote understanding of relevant issues) and the approach of leading by example. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Winds of change: How street-level bureaucrats
actively represent minority clients by influencing
majority clientsThe context of LGB
Israeli teachers
Maayan Davidovitz
Wagner Graduate School of Public Service,
New York University, New York,
New York, USA
The Center for Public Management and
Policy (CPMP), School of Political Sciences,
University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Maayan Davidovitz, Wagner Graduate School
of Public Service, New York University,
New York, NY, USA.
The literature dealing with representative bureaucracy
emphasizes the role that minority street-level bureaucrats
may play when, directly and indirectly, they actively repre-
sent clients with whom they share a common identity. My
study goes further, contributing to the implementation liter-
ature, by examining why and how these street-level bureau-
crats use their discretion to shape non-minority clients'
attitudes toward minorities. I explore this phenomenon
empirically through interviews with 36 Israeli lesbian, gay,
and bisexual (LGB) teachers. I analyze the traditional
methods they routinely adopt, such as exposing students to
information about minorities, encouraging open discussions
of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+)
issues in the classroom, and entrepreneurially developing
and introducing innovative learning programs. I illustrate
how they respond to ad hoc cases (e.g., protecting LGBTQ+
clients or taking advantage of outside events to promote
understanding of relevant issues) and the approach of lead-
ing by example.
Abstract in Hebrew
Received: 6 February 2022 Revised: 14 November 2022 Accepted: 6 December 2022
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12903
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© 2022 The Authors. Public Administration published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Public Admin. 2022;117. 1
באמצעותדוגמאאישית .
Street-level bureaucrats, such as teachers, nurses, police officers, and social workers, affect the lives of the public
they serve (Hupe & Buffat, 2014; Lipsky, 2010; Nielsen, 2006; Tummers & Bekkers, 2014). Through their daily inter-
actions with the public when providing services, they represent the state on the front. Given their extensive discre-
tion in providing services (Tummers & Bekkers, 2014), which influences social welfare (Maynard-Moody &
Musheno, 2012), they play a crucial role in actively representing citizens with whom they share social and demo-
graphic characteristics (Andrews et al., 2014; Guul, 2018; Hong, 2021; Marvel & Resh, 2015; Meier, 2019;
Raaphorst & Groeneveld, 2019).
The theory of representative bureaucracy focuses on the link between their social and demographic characteristics,
such as race, gender, or ethnicity, and bureaucrats', willingness to promote policies that will benefit the citizens with whom
they share a common identity (Bishu & Kennedy, 2020). Kingsley (1944) noted that in democracies, elected officials must
represent the diversity of the population, but in the bureaucracy demographic representation is required. According to
Meier (1993), this requirement has major implications for society because bureaucracy is perceived as less a threat to
democracy if bureaucracy is representative of all interests in society(p. 393). However, for active representation to be
realized, bureaucrats must have extensive discretion to directly influence the promotion of outputs within the delivery of
public services (Groeneveld et al., 2015; Meier, 1993;Sowa&Selden,2003;Wilkins&Wenger,2015).
The literature highlights the relationship between the discretion of street-level bureaucrats and their active rep-
resentation of their clients (Sowa & Selden, 2003). For example, various studies note that street-level bureaucrats
actively represent clients with whom they share a common identity by giving them priority or adapting policies to
suit their needs both at the organizational and individual levels (Grissom et al., 2009; Roch et al., 2010;
Zamboni, 2020). These studies focus on how street-level bureaucrats actively and directly represent clients with
whom they share a common social or demographic identity (Grissom et al., 2009; Riccucci et al., 2016;
Selden, 1997). There are also studies highlighting the indirect impact of street-level bureaucrats on producing bene-
fits for minority clients through influencing the behavior of non-minority bureaucrats (Hindera & Young, 1998;
Lim, 2006; Nicholson-Crotty & Meier, 2002). Research exists showing how minority bureaucrats' influence extends
beyond individual-level interactions with minority clients. For example, the study of Favero and Molina (2018) dem-
onstrates how students function better when there is a more appropriate representation of teachers in other schools
in the same district. This highlights how passive representation may generate benefits for clients who do not interact
directly with bureaucrats in their organization. The focus of my study, however, is on the individual level. I argue that
active representation may be expressed through the influence of street-level bureaucrats on the attitudes of non-
minority clients with whom they share no common identity towards the minority clients with whom they do share a
common identity.
I examine why and how street-level bureaucrats actively represent their clients by using their discretion to shape
non-minority attitudes toward minorities. I explore this phenomenon empirically through in-depth interviews with
36 Israeli lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) teachers. Focusing on this population is particularly interesting because,
despite recent significant advances in LGBTQ+rights worldwide, including in Israel (Gross, 2014; Hartal & Sasson-
Levy, 2018), LGBTQ+people still suffer from discrimination and inequality of rights in many countries (Elias, 2020;
Sabharwal et al., 2019).
My research makes four major contributions to the policy implementation literature. First, the study illustrates
why and how LGB street-level bureaucrats adopt the role of representing the LGB agenda in the organizations in
which they operate. Second, it demonstrates that street-level bureaucrats also represent their clients by helping
shape non-minority attitudes toward them through utilizing routine strategies, responding in innovative ways to ad
hoc situations, and acting as role models. In doing so, the study differs from previous studies focusing on the direct
and indirect active representation of street-level bureaucrats. Third, it shows how street-level bureaucrats see the
outputs of their active representation of their minority clients. Fourth, the study investigates empirically this phe-
nomenon among LGB street-level bureaucrats, a population hitherto ignored by the street-level and representative
bureaucracy literature (Bishu & Kennedy, 2020; Davidovitz, 2022; Davidovitz & Cohen, 2022a). Altogether, the
study contributes to a better understanding of the role of street-level bureaucrats as active representatives of minor-
ity clients and resultant policy outcomes.
In the article, I first review the literature on the theoretical framework of representative bureaucracy, followed
by that on street-level bureaucrats' active representation of their clients. Next, I describe the study's context. The
method section details the research participants and the data collection and analysis. I then present my findings,
followed by a discussion of the study's limitations and recommended avenues for future research.
2.1 |The theoretical framework of representative bureaucracy
There are numerous studies of the theory of representative bureaucracy in public administration (Bishu &
Kennedy, 2020; Gilad & Dahan, 2021; Keiser et al., 2002; Meier & Bohte, 2001; Meier & Nicholson-Crotty, 2006;
Ng & Sears, 2015; Selden, 2015; Sowa & Selden, 2003). According to the theory, the bureaucracy should reflect the
public's demographic characteristics and represent the broad range of groups in society (Nicholson-Crotty
et al., 2016).
This literature customarily distinguishes between passive and active representation (Riccucci et al., 2016;
Selden, 1997). Mosher (1968) first made this distinction between passive representation (bureaucrats share the same
demographic characteristics as their clients) and active representation (bureaucrats produce policy outputs that ben-
efit those who are passively represented) (Bishu & Kennedy, 2020). Active representation takes place when passive
representation leads to an action that is beneficial to the group represented (Kennedy & Bishu, 2020).
Recently, the literature has also emphasized symbolic representation, whereby the presence of minority bureau-
crats in public institutions prompts clients to grant legitimacy to government actions (Van Ryzin, Riccucci & Li, 2017).
For example, a study by Riccucci and colleagues (2014) revealed that more women on the police force increased
public trust in the institution.
A common assumption in the literature is that passive representation leads to active representation (Riccucci &
Van Ryzin, 2017). However, studies emphasize that several conditions are necessary but not sufficient for this to
occur (Wilkins & Wenger, 2015). A critical condition is that the bureaucrats work in a policy area in which they have
a sufficient margin of discretion (Wilkins & Wenger, 2015). The theoretical assumption suggests that, because repre-
sentative bureaucracy shares values and experiences with the general population when bureaucrats exercise discre-
tion, they will act according to their personal values. They will create policies more representative and responsive to
particular groups, especially minorities (Andrews et al., 2014; Sowa & Selden, 2003). Thus, the representativeness of
street-level bureaucrats who provide services on the frontlines, have considerable discretion, and perhaps are clients'
only connection to state institutions, may lead to the most significant benefits (Andrews et al., 2014; Bishu &
Kennedy, 2020; Meier, 1993). Despite the prevailing perception that representative bureaucracy is normative for the
allocation of resources in society, one of the popular criticisms of the theory is that it ignores the influence of the
dominant culture. Portillo et al. (Portillo et al., 2022) argue in this context that focusing on marked identities contrib-
utes to the assumption that only minorities carry a race or gender and are therefore affected by it. In practice, the
opportunities and prospects of all human beings are affected by these forms of identity. However, the goal of this
study is to shed light on the influence of minority street-level bureaucrats on the dominant culture.
2.2 |Active bureaucratic representation through direct and indirect efforts of street-
level bureaucrats
Street-level bureaucrats are actors who set public policy by virtue of the day-to-day decisions they make for the peo-
ple they serve, decisions that may contradict the intentions of those officially in charge (Lipsky, 2010). These players
are not neutral. They make decisions based on their ideological positions (Bell et al., 2021; Davidovitz &
Cohen, 2022a;Keiser,2010) or views about what is right for their clients (Maynard-Moody & Musheno, 2003;
Weißmüller et al., 2020). Often, they overcome the built-in gap between the policy as designed and the services
needed (Gofen, 2014; Hupe & Buffat, 2014). They do so because of their desire to move towards clients(Tummers
et al., 2015), be meaningful to them (Tummers & Bekkers, 2014), and provide solutions to the policy as designed
(Gofen, 2014). In some cases, they achieve this goal by engaging in policy entrepreneurship strategies (Cohen, 2021).
Studies emphasize that street-level bureaucrats have real power in creating or preventing discrimination
between clients (Einstein & Glick, 2017), promoting or violating social equity (Maynard-Moody & Musheno, 2012)
and justice (Portillo & Rudes, 2014), and insisting on the civil rights of those they serve to reduce social disparities
they see in the public service environment (Lavee, 2021). For example, Davidovitz and Cohen (2022a) demonstrate
how, to protect their clients, they challenge politicians' anti-LGBTQ+statements.
It has long been clear that street-level bureaucrats have a crucial role in actively representing citizens with whom
they share a common social identity both on the organizational and individual levels (see e.g., Johnston &
Houston, 2018; Raaphorst & Groeneveld, 2019; Wilkins & Wenger, 2015). However, most studies focus on how
bureaucrats actively represent these citizens directly, by providing improved services that benefit them. Focusing on
the organizational level, Li (2021), for example, found that traffic officers in a more racially representative police
force are more likely to treat white drivers and those of color in a similar manner. In addition, Grissom, et al.
(Grissom et al., 2009) reported that black students are less frequently suspended in schools with a higher proportion
of black teachers. Furthermore, Roch and colleagues (2010) noted that schools with racially and ethnically balanced
representation are more likely to adopt learning-oriented disciplinary policies, whereas non-balanced schools are
more likely to implement sanctions-oriented policies. Nevertheless, contrary to these findings, Wilkins and Williams
(2008) found that a higher rate of representation of black police officers increases racial profiling in vehicle stops.
One explanation for this finding is the strong organizational socialization in police departments.
Active representation can be expressed directly and indirectly. Studies have shown that minority bureaucrats
may produce benefits for minority clients directly through their own behavior. They may also do so indirectly by
influencing the actions of minority clients vis-à-vis non-minority bureaucrats (Lim, 2006). Lim (2006) points out that
there are at least two ways in which minority bureaucrats can influence minority clients to change their behavior to
benefit themselves. First, the very presence of minority bureaucrats may lead to increased demands for service by
minority clients. Second, minority bureaucrats may encourage minority clients to invest the extra effort that certain
programs require for improved outcomes.
My study goes further to examine whether street-level bureaucrats may actively represent minority clients by
helping shape the attitudes of non-minority clients towards them. I argue that by adopting practices aimed at promot-
ing tolerance and preventing discrimination, street-level bureaucrats lead to normative outcomes for the minority cli-
ents whom they represent. I illustrate this contention by focusing on LGB street-level bureaucrats, a population
overlooked in the literature on both representative (Kennedy & Bishu, 2020) and street-level bureaucracy
(Davidovitz, 2022; Davidovitz & Cohen, 2022a).
2.3 |The contextLGB Israeli teachers
I focus on the context of LGB teachers in Israel. Israel is a unique case study in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-
gender, and queer (LGBTQ+) rights. Within the unique structure of the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic,
LGBTQ+people are still struggling to gain full legal rights. In recent decades, however, legal protection for the
LGBTQ+community has improved considerably. Equality is a fundamental principle of Israeli law (Ilany &
Ilany, 2021) and LGBTQ+people are entitled to the same rights as all other citizens in a liberal democracy
(Gross, 2014). Indeed, the city of Tel Aviv is known as the gay capital of the Middle East and attracts LGBTQ+peo-
ple and their supporters from all over the world (Kama & Ram, 2020; Snellings, 2019). Developments in the legal,
technological, and social fields in Israel have led to the creation of a model LGBTQ+family (Ilany & Ilany, 2021).
However, paradoxically, LGBTQ+s in Israel have not yet been granted the same rights as heterosexuals when it
comes to marriage and parenting (Gross, 2014; Snellings, 2019). This gap is mainly due to the conflict and tension
between the country's ultra-Orthodox religious and secular populations (Shilo et al., 2015). Because these tensions
may directly affect street-level bureaucrats (Davidovitz, 2022), they may also affect how these bureaucrats represent
their clients. Given that street-level bureaucrats make decisions based on their ideologies and perceptions (see
e.g., Cohen, 2021), this will impact how they use their discretion when representing LGBTQ+clients.
3.1 |Data collection and participants
My objective in this study was to understand whether LGB street-level bureaucrats actively represent their
LGBTQ+clients indirectly as well as directly and how their representation is reflected in the street-level public
service environment. It should be noted that this study focuses on sexual orientation rather than gender iden-
tity. The data was collected through semi-structured in-depth interviews with 36 LGB Israeli teachers
(13 women and 23 men). Following the thematic analysis approach of Braun and Clarke (2006), my goal was to
identify themes emerging from the data rather than coming to the interviews with pre-conceived ideas that I
wanted to test. All but three participants were from middle schools and high schools, and they taught a range
of subjects. As such, they are considered classic street-level bureaucrats who implement public policy within
the framework of public education. Due to the difficulty of finding participants and the sensitivity of the
research questions, I recruited the first participants through professional contacts. I then asked these partici-
pants to refer me to other possible interviewees, whom I approached via phone or Facebook. Most were willing
to take part in the study. To examine the phenomenon from a broad angle and to avoid focusing only on sub-
groups within Israeli society, efforts were made to recruit participants from different geographical and social
backgrounds. Posts were published inviting participation in research within the Facebook groups of cities
including metropolitan Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, as well as in areas of the northern and southern periph-
ery. In addition, the sample was intentionally composed of participants from different age groups and with dif-
ferent levels of religious observance. The average age was 36.2 (the oldest 52 and the youngest 30). Of the
participants, 31 defined themselves as secular Jews, four as traditional Jews, and one as unaffiliated religiously.
These efforts helped me to increase the validity and reliability of the study.
The interviews, which lasted between 45 min and an hour and a half, were recorded and transcribed between
July 2019 and December 2021. Twenty-seven were conducted via Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions. All partici-
pants were asked to identify their gender and agreed with the classification of 13 women and 23 men. The interview
included open-ended questions. All interviewees were promised anonymity. Through the questions, I explored
whether LGB street-level bureaucrats actively represent LGBTQ+clients, their reasons for doing so, how these rea-
sons are reflected in their work, and whether doing so benefits LGBTQ+clients.
Finally, given that qualitative research assumes that the researchers' perceptions affect their view of social
reality, I cross-referenced the data with the participants to ensure reliability.
3.2 |Data analysis
The data analysis process was iterative. I sought to develop a theory based on data collected in the field. To
achieve this goal, I constantly monitored the data and focused them according to the relevance of the topics I
identified during the collection process. Employing a thematic analysis method (Braun & Clarke, 2006), the pro-
cess involved searching for meaningful repeating patterns across a data set. I constructed analytical codes and
categories from the data without preconceived notions in order to identify, analyze, and report themes embed-
ded within.
In the first stage, I read and re-read the data, noting down the initial patterns that appeared. This process
allowed me to identify the primary codes and categories that were repeated in the data. For example, a statement
such as: I am the one who initiated bringing the Hoshenorganization [the organization of education and informa-
tion of the LGBTQ+community in Israel] to the school,was classified as act entrepreneurially.During this stage, I
read and researched the data in depth. This required me to focus my attention on the meanings that emerged from
the data while actively investigating them.
In the next stage, I searched for connections between and within my initial codes in order to organize them into
potential thematic categories. For example, a statement such as: I'm teaching in a school where the teaching staff is
from the religious sector, and they are aware of my sexual orientation. I think I have an influence on them [the stu-
dents] from their very awareness that I am gay,was classified as perceptions of street-level bureaucrats regarding
their representativeness.Similarly, a statement such as:
I get to leverage my role to raise pro-LGBTQ+awareness. There have been cases in school where the
word gayhas been heard, and this is something that happens a lot among students, and I usually
take advantage of these cases as an opportunity to talk about the subject. [I emphasize to students]
that it's not a curse and that it's legitimate to be gay
was classified as active representation strategies adopted in response to ad hoc cases.
Next, I checked if the themes corresponded successfully with the coded extracts and the data set in order to be
able to refine and create clear definitions of each theme Finally, returning and reviewing the analysis of the research
question and the literature, I was able to produce a single uniform explanation that shows how LGB street-level
bureaucrats actively represent clients who are LGBTQ+by adopting practices to influence the attitudes of majority
clients toward them.
Being aware of the need to ensure the credibility of the qualitative data (Charmaz & Bryant, 2011), I managed
my data using ATLAS.ti 9.1.3 software into which I inputted all of the interview transcripts and field comments. In
addition, as I constructed my theoretical framework, I reread my data to further examine my interpretations. I had a
research assistant go over my encodings to avoid any bias that might be caused by the interpretation I attributed to
the data. Finally, I conducted the interviews to the point of saturation where no previously identified data appeared
(for a full coding guide see Table A1).
The findings show how and why street-level bureaucrats see their role as representatives of the LGBTQ+agenda in
the organizations in which they operate. In addition, the findings illustrate how they make use of external events to
provoke discussion and serve as role models and exemplars when a situation requires them to do so. Finally, the find-
ings reveal how street-level bureaucratsefforts to shape the attitudes of non-minorities toward minorities promote
the welfare of minority clients and lead to normative results in the street-level implementation environment.
4.1 |How and why street-level bureaucrats represent the LGBTQ+agenda in their
The findings revealed that street-level bureaucrats see themselves as officials informally representing LGBTQ+
issues within their organizations. Participants described how, by virtue of their social affiliation with the LGBTQ+
community, they felt a mission to represent an LGBTQ+agenda in schools. They emphasized their wish to serve as
role models for LGBTQ+clients in a way that empowered them and gave them legitimacy and recognition.
According to one interviewee: I'm teaching in a school where the teaching staff is from the religious sector, and they
are aware of my sexual orientation. I think I have an influence on them [the students] from their very awareness that
I am gay.
One interviewee described: I [am] perceived as [the] gay teacher at school. This is something [a role] that I took
on to be very active about so that it could allow me [to be a source] for conversations [on LGBTQ+issues], mostly
with students, but also with teachers and parents.
Another stated: It is clear that when there are LGBTQ+teachers [in the school], there is representation
[of LGBTQ+people].
Participants described how their representativeness depended on their revelation of the fact that they were
LGBTQ+to their clients. They explained that this was necessary in order to serve as a personal example for their cli-
ents in general, and also to allow LGBTQ+clients to feel confident about revealing their own identities. An inter-
viewee stated:
If the teacher does not challenge the system [organization] by revealing himself in terms of his
LGBTQ+identity, it will be easier for him, and the environment can easily ignore it. If he does reveal
himself, he challenges those around him with the knowledge of this element in his identity.
Another interviewee said:
I'm telling you that statistically there is no class without students who are LGBTQ+. In the previous
class I taught, there were 3 gays out of 12 boys, and I know that if I did not raise these things [talk
about LGBTQ+issues], I would not hear from the students about it [about their sexual orientation]
and I would also betray students who may be undecided about their orientation, as someone who is
considered an authority. Because if I hide my sexual orientation and am afraid to deal with these
issues because I am afraid of being exposed, the students will be hurt. In addition, if students under-
stand that I am afraid to raise such issues, as a gay person, I am not fulfilling the commitment I have
towards them as individuals.
According to one street-level bureaucrat:
[Being gay] is part of my identity and I come with it everywhereit's what I bring with me to the sys-
tem along with certain balances and levels. But I want [the students] to know meI mean [that I
want] to be known when I talk about what I am experiencing as an LGBTQ+person, about how I
struggle [in personal life] just as any other normal parent does, for example with coping related to my
children and their kindergarten etc
The interviewees indicated that their choice to share that they were LGBTQ+allowed them to convey a mes-
sage to clients that they could discuss LGBTQ+issues in their organization. They deliberately created a safe space
for LGBTQ+clients. According to one interviewee: I have a safe spacesticker on my notebookit's known
because I'm out of the closetso people feel comfortable contacting and talking to me about these (LGBTQ+)
4.2 |Active representation mechanisms used by street-level bureaucrats to influence
the views of non-minority clients
The findings revealed that street-level bureaucrats tended routinely to adopt active representation strategies to rep-
resent LGBTQ+clients, in response to windows of opportunity in ad hoc cases and by leading by example. The
street-level bureaucrats adopted two main strategies(1) acting traditionally by shaping the content of policy to
favorably influence the perceptions of the majority clients toward LGBTQ+issues; (2) acting entrepreneurially by
creating initiatives and programs designed to promote positive LGBTQ+attitudes among the majority clients.
Table 1presents the active representation strategies adopted by street-level bureaucrats to influence the major-
ity clients.
4.3 |Active representation strategies adopted routinely
4.3.1 | Acting traditionally
The findings revealed that the LGB street-level bureaucrats saw their identity as LGB individuals as a means of influenc-
ing the attitude towards people like them among clients who were not part of their minority group. Traditionally, they
used the content of existing lessons and shaped existing policies during their work routine. They reported that because
they were LGB themselves, they believed their role was to represent the LGBTQ+students in the school and influence
the attitudes of non-LGBTQ+clients towards LGBTQ+issues. For example, they had conversations with these clients
to expose them to the existence of different types of relationships and families. They tailored the content of their les-
sons to promote understanding of these issues among non-LGBTQ+students. They attempted to raise awareness
about social diversity and increase tolerance towards LGBTQ+people. According to one interviewee:
[I deal] with exposure to issues that are relevant to the LGBTQ+community, or that exclude the
LGBTQ+community. I take care [in my classes] to link [the content] also to issues of exclusion or
inequality in general in society, that isI use the LGBTQ+issue as a case study for exclusion, inequal-
ity, and activism. This is how I leverage my role. I promote openness, closeness, intimacy that will
allow students to show more openness and sharing between students and teachers and between the
students themselvesto create an open and participatory environment and vulnerability. In fact, a
vulnerability that strengthens resilience.
Another street-level bureaucrat stated: The textbooks are very carefulfor example in a certain book there is a ref-
erence to gender but only regarding womenthere is no reference to LGBTQ+people so I add [content regarding
LGBTQ+issues] myself.
4.3.2 | Acting entrepreneurially
The participants described how they worked routinely to actively represent LGBTQ+issues within their
schools in an entrepreneurial manner and to support LGBTQ+students by leading initiatives and developing
curricula and programs that promoted tolerance. They saw themselves as representing the LGBTQ+commu-
nity. One interviewee explained: I'm the one who initiated bringing the Hoshenorganization [the organiza-
tion of education and information of the LGBTQ+community in Israel] to the school.Another street-level
bureaucrat stated: I talk [with the students] about issues related to racism, homophobiaI create my curricu-
lum and adapt it to this discourseAnother interviewee said: I'm talking about these [LGBTQ+] subjects in
classI led a project called Star of Justicein middle school and in it they [the students] were required to pre-
pare a research paper on a social issue, so [following my conversation with the students on the subject], many
students chose to write their paper about the LGBTQ+community. It is very present in the discourse
Another described: I'm active in the Proud Teachers' Organization, so I led a project where teachers recount
their experiences coming out of the closet.
4.4 |Active representation strategies adopted in response to ad hoc cases
4.4.1 | Protecting LGBTQ+clients
The participants described also how they took advantage of windows of opportunity to actively represent their
LGBTQ+clients, developing strategies in response to a particular event. The findings revealed that when non-
LGBTQ+clients made homophobic statements, the participants responded unequivocally. These street-level bureau-
crats saw themselves as gatekeepers whose job was to represent and protect LGBTQ+clients. Some noted how
TABLE 1 Core findings of the study including constructs, codes, and their descriptions
Construct Code Description
Active representation strategies
adopted routinely: Refers to
strategies that street-level
bureaucrats adopt in routine
situations rather than in response
to an external event.
Act actively but
Actions that street-level bureaucrats adopt during their
formal work
Act entrepreneurially Actions that street-level bureaucrats adopt in an
innovative and entrepreneurial way, not within the
framework of formal policy
Active representation strategies
adopted in response to ad hoc
cases: Refers to strategies that
street-level bureaucrats adopt while
exploiting a window of opportunity
to promote LGBTQ+issues
Protecting LGBTQ+
Actions that street-level bureaucrats adopt aiming at
responding to and resisting homophobic behavior on
the part of the majority clients
Using an external
event to promote
Actions are taken by street-level bureaucrats in
response to an external event on the LGBTQ+agenda
to promote LGBTQ+issues
Leading by example strategy Being an LGBTQ+
role model
Serving as a personal example of an LGBTQ+character
they took advantage of these situations to advance a pro-LGBTQ+agenda through non-LGBTQ+client education.
According to one of the street-level bureaucrats:
I get to leverage my role to raise pro-LGBTQ+awareness. There have been cases in school where the
word gayhas been heard, and this is something that happens a lot among students, and I usually
take advantage of these cases as an opportunity to talk about the subject. [I emphasize to students]
that it's not a curse and that it's legitimate to be gay
In the words of two more interviewees: When a student makes an ignorant remark, I will not be silent. I will really
express my opinion and give the [LGBTQ+] students a feeling that no matter what they feel, there are [in society]
people of all kinds and that they will get all the support they need.”“When there are abusive comments in class that
are made by students about issues of intolerance and sexual orientation, then I open the topic [in class] and give it
space. I do not ignore it. I explain how important it is to avoid these abusive remarks.
4.4.2 | Using an external event to promote LGBTQ+issues
Participants described how they adopted active representation strategies in ad hoc responses to external events
(unrelated to the behavior of the majority clients). They viewed as opportunities any event that raised LGBTQ+
issues on the public or political agenda. An example could be an incident of LGBTQ+violence that occurred some-
where in the world or a new policy related to LGBTQ+rights.
One participant described how he took advantage of Pride Week to raise awareness of LGBTQ+issues:
During Pride Week I brought [study] materials to the class and built lesson plans related to it. For
example, I received material from Hoshenorganization regarding the structure of LGBTQ+families
(for example, two mothers or two fathers). We talked about abusive reactions on the Internet towards
LGBTQ+people, etc
Another street-level bureaucrat stated: During Pride Month I talked to the students in all the classes I was teaching
and I talked about the LGBTQ+struggle.
In some cases, the external trigger was not specifically related to LGBTQ+issues. An item on the public agenda
involving the violation of equal rights of any minority could create an opportunity for street-level bureaucrats to
advance LGBTQ+issues. An interviewee described:
I draw connections to issues [on the public agenda]I make the students read articles and analyze
the connections that I think are important, about discrimination [against LGBTQ+people], about
homophobia. We talked about the murder of George Floyd, and we read an article about it
4.5 |Leading by example strategy
In some cases, the participants reported how active representation resulted from the very exposure of their sexual
orientation to students. They described how they chose to serve as role models to provide a sense of security and
acceptance for LGBTQ+students. One interviewee stated:
[At school everyone knows] that I am out of the closetand I share with my students my background,
including my sexual orientation. [When making acquaintance with the students] at the beginning of
the year I put the cards on the table from the start. Especially because I know for sure that I always
have students that I teach who are from the LGBTQ+community, and I want them to be unashamed
of being who they are and to be open to the human diversity they will live with in our country. I edu-
cate my students to be critical citizens and fight for what they believe in
Another interviewee explained:
The fact that the school knows that I'm a teacher out of the closet and that I have a spouse and a sur-
rogate child - it affects how the students perceive me. And I have known for a long time that there
are students who came out of the closet in front of me at some point, and they told me that they felt
comfortable sharing [their sexual orientation] because they knew I was out of the closet. And I think
the most significant effect is that when you see a teacher out of the closet for a long time and not just
on TV, but you see him in different real situations, then it has a human and significant effect. Then tol-
erance can also be developed. And if there are LGBTQ+students, then they may feel that they are
not alone.
The participants described the personal price they pay as the result of their self-exposure. They indicated how the
choice to lead by example creates personal vulnerability. In the words of one interviewee: I pay a price for
[my] privacy [because] I have to share with [the] children [students] what it's like to be gay[to talk about my daily
life with my family, my culture, it's a lot of things
4.6 |Street-level bureaucrats' perceptions about the benefits of active representation
for LGBTQ+clients
The findings revealed how the practices that street-level bureaucrats adopt to shape the attitudes of non-LGBTQ+
clients towards those who are LGBTQ+are examples of active representation that have a positive effect on the for-
mer's view of the latter. They described how their efforts reduced bullying, increased tolerance and acceptance of
LGBTQ+students, and created a safe space for them. One interviewee stated: I know students hear and internalize
what I say about tolerance and inclusionAnother described: At school I always express my opinion [on LGBTQ+
issues] and I know I have an impact [on the students]A third asserted: When I hear students use the word gay
as a curse, I respond and explain to them that I am gay and that it is not a curse [and I feel] that they understand and
internalize it.A fourth explained: At school I can express my opinion [on LGBTQ+issues], but I will always choose
to present all sides and that is because I know I have an influence [on students' attitudes]
In many cases, the participants indicated that they connected the discourse around LGBTQ+issues with sub-
jects on the academic curriculum. According to one interviewee: Every day I talk to the students about LGBTQ+
topics, and they ask and are interested in these topics
Another said: My students told me that after getting to know me, they started paying more attention to issues
related to the LGBTQ+community.
One interviewee explained that she was unsure whether her efforts to shape students' attitudes towards
LGBTQ+people had real consequences, but she believed they had an impact that was reflected in student
I do not know whether what I did personally directly affected students in this context. This has been
part of my conversation with students over the years. I assign social projects in middle school and
there has always been a group or two of students who chose to engage in projects related to the
rights of the LGBTQ+community.
In some cases, the participants described how non-minority clients shared with them a change in attitude follow-
ing their efforts. One of the interviewees explained: Students told me that after getting to know me, they paid more
attention to the issue of LGBTQ+people.A teacher stated: I see students coming to pride parades and it is impor-
tant for them to show [me] that they are there. It is important for them that I see them there even though they are
Participants emphasized how their representativeness had a real effect on the sense of security that LGBTQ+
students experienced and the comfort they felt in revealing their sexual orientation within the school environment.
One interviewee stated: I know that over time there are students who have come out of the closet in front of me at
some point and who have felt comfortable sharing it with me.
Using in-depth semi-structured interviews with 36 Israeli LGB street-level bureaucrats, this study explored
whether and why these street-level bureaucrats actively represent their LGBTQ+clients and how their repre-
sentation is reflected in the street-level public service environment. My findings reveal five unique insights that
improve our understanding of policy implementation at the street level. First, the findings demonstrate why
and how LGB street-level bureaucrats take on the role of representing the LGBTQ+agenda in the organiza-
tions in which they operate. Specifically, the findings show the active representation strategies that LGB
street-level bureaucrats adopt to influence the majority clients. The research results distinguish between
strategies routinely adopted (traditional and entrepreneurial), in response to ad hoc cases and the strategy of
leading by example. The results reinforce findings in the literature that have highlighted the tendency of street-
level bureaucrats to be proactive and entrepreneurial in advancing their own values (Cohen, 2021;Cohen&
Aviram, 2021). The findings also reinforce literature highlighting how street-level bureaucrats may change the
content of policies when they think this is the right thing to do (Gofen, 2014). However, this study is the first
to demonstrate how they also adopt these strategies to influence the perceptions of majority clients towards
minorities. My findings accord with those in the literature emphasizing the importance of street-level bureau-
crats in representing minority clients (Bishu & Kennedy, 2020; Meier, 1993; Raaphorst & Groeneveld, 2019;
Wilkins & Wenger, 2015). However, this study focuses on teachers and the encounter between them and their
students in the classroom environment. It confirms earlier findings that directly address the importance of
inclusiveness in diverse teams or groups. Studies have shown (see e.g., Ashikali et al., 2021), that social or
ethnic diversity in teams does not guarantee an inclusive climate, but rather inclusive leadership is required for
team members to feel that their voice is heard and valued.
Second, on the individual level, the findings are in line with a large body of research indicating that street-level
bureaucrats actively represent their clients by using their discretion when implementing policy (Diab & Cohen, 2021;
Grissom et al., 2009; Meier, 1993; Roch et al., 2010; Selden, 1997; Sowa & Selden, 2003; Zamboni, 2020). They rein-
force findings in the literature that the actions of street-level bureaucrats benefit clients with whom they share a
common demographic or social identity.
Third, the findings reveal how street-level bureaucrats see the outputs of their active representation. Like the
findings of Diab & Cohen, 2021, Grissom et al., 2015, and Zamboni, 2020, my findings illustrate how the active rep-
resentation of minorities both directly and indirectly leads to policy outcomes that benefit them in the street-level
public service environment. Fourth, unlike previous representative bureaucracy studies that focus on demographic
characteristics of bureaucrats and clients such as ethnicity, race, and gender (Wilkins & Wenger, 2015), I focus on
sexual orientation. There are few studies about LGBTQ+street-level bureaucrats and the role that their sexual ori-
entation plays in representing clients who are also LGBTQ+(Davidovitz, 2022; Davidovitz & Cohen, 2022a). As
stated, although the policy towards LGBTQ+people in many countries has come a long way in terms of the rights
granted to them, they still suffer from discrimination. Therefore, my findings may be applicable to other populations
suffering from discrimination. My study emphasizes that to provide equality in public services, not just equal repre-
sentation of various groups in society is necessary, but the instilling of values of tolerance and pluralism in all clients.
Fifth, this research makes a significant contribution to inclusion literature as it focuses on the creation of envi-
ronments that value diversity and support the integration and acceptance of members of minority groups (see
e.g., Andrews & Ashworth, 2015; Ashikali et al., 2021; Sabharwal, 2014). The present study, focusing on the interac-
tions between teachers and students, highlights the need to conduct inclusion studies applying to interactions
between street-level bureaucrats and clients. It is possible that the insights gained from this research may be relevant
to environments other than education, such as welfare, healthcare, and law enforcement. Furthermore, the represen-
tation strategies found in this study may be relevant for studying other inclusive work settings (such as those involv-
ing relationships between managers and employees or between colleagues).
The study indicates the desirability of decision-makers and practitioners formulating a policy plan that will
enable educational staff to instill the values of tolerance and pluralism within the school environment. Staff should
be trained to provide appropriate support for those with a variety of identities, including LGBTQ+students. Such
training should give such students more self-confidence and a sense of acceptance. This recommendation is also rel-
evant for other populations that suffer from discrimination.
5.1 |Limitations and recommendations for further study
This study has several limitations that point to the need for further research. The study focuses on street-level
bureaucrats who are teachers. While these employees are considered classic examples of street-level bureaucrats
(Davidovitz & Cohen, 2022b; Lipsky, 2010), the nature of the relationships they have with their clients (students and
parents) is unique in that they may be lengthy and informal. These conditions may impact their ability to influence
the perceptions and attitudes of their clients (Davidovitz & Cohen, 2021). Service providers such as police officers or
firefighters who interact with people on a one-time basis may be unable to exert the same kind of influence. Future
studies are needed to examine whether the findings of this study can be generalized to other group or team contexts
in which street-level bureaucrats have the ability to affect multiple clients (both minority and majority) simulta-
neously. This may be relevant to the interactions of community social workers dealing with groups of youth, at-risk
populations, or the elderly. It may also be relevant to the training courses of street-level bureaucrats such as police
officers, firefighters, or prison guards. Future research should examine these questions with street-level bureaucrats
such as social workers or probation officers who shape their clients' attitudes during long-term interactions with
them. Since the findings of the current study are relevant to the literature on inclusion, future studies should address
whether representation strategies similar to those identified here may be found in the work relationships between
managers and employees or between colleagues in the public service.
This study was conducted in Israel and the findings may not be relevant in countries where LGBTQ+people fear
publicly revealing their sexual orientation. Moreover, the unit of analysis in this study is relevant only to the issue of
sexual orientation. Further research is needed to examine this question with regard to gender identity and expres-
sion. Given the unit of analysis in this study is street-level bureaucrats, there may be a bias that results from the par-
ticipants' responses regarding their perceptions about the outputs of active representation.
All study participants but one defined themselves as secular. Research is needed to compare bureaucrats with
diverse religious views which may influence how and whether they expose their sexual orientation in the workplace.
Bureaucrats from different generations should be compared since generational affiliation may also impact the ten-
dency to expose one's sexual orientation. In addition, future studies should examine the phenomenon from the per-
spective of clients.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
The peer review history for this article is available at
The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are
not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.
Maayan Davidovitz
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How to cite this article: Davidovitz, M. (2022). Winds of change: How street-level bureaucrats actively
represent minority clients by influencing majority clientsThe context of LGB Israeli teachers. Public
TABLE A1 Coding guide
Construct Code Sub-codes
Active representation strategies
adopted routinely: Refers to
strategies that street-level
bureaucrats adopt in routine
situations rather than in response
to an external event.
Act actively but traditionally (any action
that street-level bureaucrats adopt
during their formal work)
Adjusting the content of
classes to promote LGBTQ+
Exposing non-minority clients
to knowledge about minorities
Act entrepreneurially (any action that
street-level bureaucrats adopt in an
innovative and entrepreneurial way
and not within the framework of
formal policy)
Leading programs to promote
Entrepreneurial actions to
promote LGBTQ+issues
Active representation strategies
adopted in response to ad hoc
cases: Refers to strategies that
street-level bureaucrats adopt while
exploiting a window of opportunity
to promote LGBTQ+issues
Protecting LGBTQ+clients (any action
that street-level bureaucrats adopt
aiming at responding to and resisting
homophobic behavior on the part of
the majority clients)
Expressing a position against
the homophobic behavior of
Conveying knowledge about
LGBTQ+in response to
homophobic behavior of non-
Using an external event to promote
LGBTQ+issues (any action taken by
street-level bureaucrats in response
to an external event on the LGBTQ+
agenda to promote LGBTQ+issues)
Promoting knowledge about
LGBTQ+people in response to
Pride Month
Promoting knowledge about
LGBTQ+issues in response to
LGBTQ+issue that is on the
public agenda
Active representation strategy
through leading by example
Being an LGBTQ+role model (any
action through which street-level
bureaucrats serve as a personal
example of an LGBTQ+character)
Exposing sexual orientation to
Conveying knowledge about
LGBTQ+people through
exposing personal information
regarding being LGB
Perception about the outcomes of
active representation efforts
Perception about the positive or
negative results of using strategies to
promote LGBTQ+clients through
influencing the majority clients
Perception about a positive
outcome for LGBTQ+clients
Perception about the negative
outcome for LGBTQ+clients
Perception that efforts have no
impact on LGBTQ+clients
Why represent LGBTQ+clients Factors for choosing to represent / not
represent LGBTQ+clients
Willingness to provide a
supportive environment for
Loyalty to self-identity
Unwillingness to be the
LGBTQ+representative in the
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Conference Paper
Full-text available
As issues of social equity and inclusiveness have become increasingly salient to political discourses, they are also more strongly emphasized as dimensions of effective public service delivery. As a consequence, representative bureaucracy has become more significant to the study of public management. The theory of representative bureaucracy assumes that several positive effects of representation in public organizations, such as perceptions of accessibility to power for groups in society and reflection of group preferences in bureaucratic decision making, will boost organizational performance. While previous empirical studies have examined this performance claim of representative bureaucracy theory, this paper argues that to gain a full understanding of representative bureaucracy academic inquiry should be devoted to the role of context, both theoretically and empirically. To substantiate this the paper reviews the literature on contextual factors salient to representative bureaucracy and theorizes on how these factors condition the impact of bureaucratic representation on public policy and performance. 2
Full-text available
While public administration scholars argue that core values of social equity are exceedingly important in service provision, less is known of how these values are practiced on the frontline in the contemporary public administration. Research points to a dual trend: together with practices aimed at increasing clients’ wellbeing, public service workers’ decisions about allocating public resources are guided by moral perceptions of worthiness, leaving behind the most weakened populations. The current study aims to decipher this duality, analyzing street-level bureaucrats’ decisionmaking about providing personal resources to low-income clients, in order to examine whether the pursuit of social equity is manifested in informal practices. Drawing on indepth qualitative interviews of social service providers in Israel, we found that decisionmaking about personal resource provision is grounded in two distinct sets of values. Alongside a pattern of providing resources to deserving clients, street-level bureaucrats also provide them to clients typically considered undeserving. These latter practices are aimed at decreasing social inequality, demonstrating that social service providers often walk the talk of social equity.
Do street-level bureaucrats exercise discretion to encourage clients’ political participation? If so, how, and in what way is it demonstrated? This study examines these questions empirically through 36 semi-structured in-depth interviews with LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) teachers in Israel. Findings reveal that these street-level bureaucrats encourage clients to participate politically through strategies they adopt both inside and outside the work environment. In the classroom their lessons contain political content and expressions of political protest. Outside school they employ digital media to influence students. Clients’ political participation is manifested both jointly with street-level bureaucrats and independently of them.
Introduction The bureaucrats working in public agencies are often the first, and sometimes the only, contact that the public has with the government. As this contact is most often with street-level bureaucrats who exercise discretion, understanding how the characteristics of street-level bureaucrats influence their behaviour is important in understanding policy implementation (Lipsky, 2010). There is a long literature examining bureaucratic representation that focuses on the identity of the street-level bureaucrat, primarily, race, ethnicity and gender. Instead, we theorise about how an individual street-level bureaucrat's values alter the use of discretion. This is an important question as discretion provides street-level bureaucrats with the opportunity to shape outputs and reward or disadvantage clients (Meier, 1993). Researchers have long been concerned with understanding how street-level bureaucrats use discretion to provide public services. The concern stems from questions about the impact of discretion on democratic governance and the knowledge that as street-level bureaucrats exercise discretion, they may alter policy outcomes for clients. Bureaucrats on the front lines of service provision work in an environment governed by rules and procedures, and although their work is ‘rule-saturated’, it is not ‘rule-bound’ (Maynard-Moody and Musheno, 2003, p 10). In addition, monitoring bureaucratic behaviour is costly and often not possible. This environment results in street-level bureaucrats making decisions about which rules to apply, and, in doing so, they make choices that have an impact on the lives of their clients. Given this, it is important to develop theoretical models to identify the factors that affect the interactions between street-level bureaucrats and the clients of their agencies, particularly how the personal values of the bureaucrat influence her or his behaviour. Work in the area of representative bureaucracy concerns how the identity of a bureaucrat affects the distribution of outputs to clients when the bureaucrat and client share demographic characteristics. The extant research on representative bureaucracy almost exclusively focuses on three identities – race, ethnicity and gender (notable exceptions are Thielemann and Stewart, 1996; Van Gool, 2008; Pitts and Lewis, 2009). However, recent work has expanded to consider a broader range of identities, including mutable identities (ie veteran status, profession and language). Implicit in much of the representative bureaucracy literature is the conflation of identity and other personal characteristics, including values. This research assumes that women and African-Americans hold certain values as part of their gender or racial identity.
Throughout much of representative bureaucracy literature, scholars have primarily focused on the representation of people seen as other in the professional workforce—people of color and women. However, whiteness and masculinity have been central to the development of public administration as a field of scholarship and practice. As a field, we have often avoided explicit discussions regarding the impact whiteness and masculinity. We argue that silences around race and gender have significant implications. Using representative bureaucracy as a frame, we seek to highlight how acknowledging whiteness and masculinity in our scholarship can help provide a more comprehensive understanding of race and gender in public administration.
Representative bureaucracy scholarship has rarely examined whether passive representation of minorities changes the behavior of majority bureaucrats. To address this omission, this article explicitly tests the relationship between the two, in the context of traffic law enforcement. Using individual-level data over multiple years in Washington and South Carolina, analyses show that minority representation has spillover effects on decisions made by white officers. They are more likely to treat drivers of color similarly to white drivers, when working on a more racially representative police force. These findings support an under-explored causal mechanism whereby representation improves policy results for historically underprivileged groups, making a theoretical contribution to representative bureaucracy. It also has managerial implications for practitioners who seek to reform future law enforcement for greater racial equity in policing outcomes. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Does political rhetoric play a role in street-level bureaucrats policy implementation? If so, how? We examine this question through in-depth semi-structured interviews with 31 Israeli LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) teachers. Our findings demonstrate that when politicians express anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that contradicts the ideological position of these street-level bureaucrats, the latter implement policies that run counter to the stated positions of the former. Our study contributes to the implementation literature by highlighting the implications of political rhetoric in the execution of bottom-up policies. It illustrates that politicians’ words have power, which paradoxically motivates street-level bureaucrats to react by subverting them.
Studies of representative bureaucracy have shown how minority groups are often underrepresented in public agencies. They also indicate that the match between the backgrounds of the bureaucrats and their clients has a strong effect on minority groups. Less attention has been devoted to the question of what happens when street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) from a minority group serve clients in organizations all of whose clients belong to the same minority group as the SLBs. How do they behave when the policies they must implement are inconsistent with their collective moral values? What dilemmas do they experience, and how do they address them? We explore these questions using the case of Arab civics teachers in Arab schools in Israel, organizations with a homogeneous work environment of minorities. Our findings contribute to the existing literature by emphasizing the importance of the organizational context. In a homogeneous work environment, it is easier for SLBs to deviate from formal policy. While they must still consider “disobeying costs” imposed by the state, the organizational mixture strengthens the legitimacy among clients, colleagues and direct managers to deviate from official public policy.
Trust betrayal is a subjective feeling of a street-level bureaucrat (SLB) that a client acted contrary to expectations, diminishing the former’s belief in the latter’s good intentions. How do SLBs experience a betrayal of trust by clients? How do such betrayals shape the future ways in which SLBs cope with clients? We investigate these questions empirically using semi-structured, in-depth interviews and focus groups with Israeli social service providers. The findings reveal four types of client trust betrayal: integrity-based, previous impression-based, legitimate behaviour-based, and category-based. We identify five strategies SLBs employ to cope with clients following such betrayals. With specific clients who betrayed their trust, they adopt minimal, formal, and guarded behaviour; they satisfy the client’s demands; they sever the relationship with the client entirely. With future clients, they exhibit careful, less “naïve” behaviour and adopt a boundary-setting approach. The negative implications for public service delivery may be far-reaching.