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Rules vs. Discretion

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Rules vs. Discretion
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Rules vs. Discretion 

This topic explores the appropriate balance in public administration between creating and enforcing rules and leaving room for public employees to exercise judgment. It explores the different methods available to each approach to achieve desired outcomes. This topic examines the dangers of wide discretion and the inefficiencies of narrow discretion. It looks at the conditions under which cooperation is more likely to happen, and it explores innovative accountability mechanisms (Atlas).

Topic Learning Outcome: Upon mastering this topic, students will understand the management challenges associated with the need to create binding rules for public servants while leaving them sufficient room to exercise judgment, discretion and common sense in the performance of their duties.  

Core Concepts associated with this Topic: Binding Rules; Discretion.

Recommended Readings

Morgan, Bronwen and Karen Yeung. 2007. An Introduction to Law and Regulation: Texts and Materials. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pal, Leslie. 2006. Beyond Policy Analysis: Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, 3rd ed. Toronto: Nelson Education, p. 181.

Sample Assessment Questions:

1.)    1. What are some of the dangers associated with a public institution leaving unusually wide discretion for public employees to exercise their own judgment in the performance of their duties? Discuss in a short (1-3 page) paper that includes (real or hypothetical) examples.

2.)   2. Rule sets that tightly govern the actions of public servants and leave them with narrow discretion can create inefficiencies and undesirable outcomes. Please discuss in a short (1-3) page paper some of the inefficiencies or unintended consequences that can result if the room for discretion for public servants is too narrow.  Please include (real or hypothetical) examples in your answer. 

Page created by Sean Goertzen and Ben Eisen, last edited on 19 May 2015.

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School of Public Policy and Governance