The influence of Local Decision-Makers, Street-Level Bureaucrats and Lay Actors in the Making of the Hungarian Integrated Education Public Action

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The broad term of local knowledge can result in diverse meanings. In what follows we will discuss (a) knowledge as a tool for creating local policies by local public officials such as local decision-makers and members of the city administration; (b) the knowledge of street-level practitioners; and (c) the knowledge of laymen users of education services.

As Freeman (2007) argues, learning is an essential element of actors whose focus is on the translation of generative and theoretical knowledge flows and the application of these to local conditions, thereby piecing together various forms of knowledge in the process of bricolage. Local actors face the challenge of bridging “the very mundane, yet expert understanding of, and practical reasoning about, local conditions derived from lived experience” (Freeman, 2009 cites Yanow, 2004: 12) with standardized, generative policy goals.

A) Local decision-makers bring together bureaucratic rationalities, field knowledge, and national expertise to their work. The decentralized system of authorities results in an education policy driven by multi-level decision-making, nevertheless local actors were not fully involved in the preparation of the PA. Local decision-makers primarily influence central decision-making through lobbying (without exception against desegregation) to influence parliamentary decision-making and ensure the success of their town’s application to EU projects. The majority of the local authorities resist central integration initiatives and their knowledge-use is oriented towards creatively avoiding putting into practice particular policy and the exact mandates of the law. Often, knowledge brought from external sources is mobilized to legitimate local decisions. As a reaction to the local opposition, in the 2006-2010 political cycle the liberal minister was replaced by a professor from the socialist party who proclaimed that he would be more open to compromises and that he would be less “violent” in enforcing integration compared to his predecessor.

B) Street level bureaucrats are expected to participate in projects and implement policies as well. These actors, day by day, exchange knowledge depending on the currency of daily practice. Although several tender developers previously worked as street level practitioners, seemingly these two positions are not compatible because the developers are exclusively considered to be members of the expert community. Street level actors are invited to the “dissemination” conferences where “best practices” are presented as reserves of procedural knowledge and local stories are narrated (verbally or by short videos) to demonstrate that if done professionally, integration is possible without generating major conflicts.

C) Lay actors’ knowledge and agenda is primarily concerned with school choice. Knowledgeable lay school users “vote with their feet” but their choice relies on gossip and anecdotal knowledge. Data driven assessment and other comparative “evidence” are rarely studied by parents. For lay actors the proportion of Roma children in each school is highly relevant for parents and they try to get informed about ethnic composition before choosing a school. Once a school has a bad reputation in the neighbourhood the migration, or ‘flight’ process soon intensifies. Although most people seem to be in favour of integration in general, when it comes to the question of their own child, the majority of the middle class and lower class parents, who are non-Roma, choose schools not attended by the Roma.

D) Translating policies to practices: Although responsible for negotiating between different ways of knowing the Central decision makers however did not set up formalized channels where the contribution of street level actors and laymen were requested or included. Conferences (“professional events and forums”) are organized for schools participating in projects, but these occasions often have a ‘pro-forma’ atmosphere as on the one hand, the number of conferences are used as indicators of success for the EU funded programmes, and on the other, practitioner participants are often obligated by their employers to take part in these events for the same reason. If a professional wishes to bring forward ideas toward project development (or the development of training courses) s/he needs to present herself as an expert (recommended by other reliable experts) and validate his/her ideas.

NEUMANN Eszter with BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans, KNOWandPOL report, 96-97. FREEMAN Richard (2007), What is "translation"? Evidence and Policy, 5, 4, 429-447. FREEMAN Richard (2009), Epistemological bricolage: how practitioners make sense of learning, Administration and Society, 39, 4, 476-496.

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