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Democratic Legitimacy, Accountability and Performance in Frontline Implementation

Policy Analysis
Public Administration
Policy Implementation
Eva Thomann
University of Exeter
Eva Thomann
University of Exeter
Eva Lieberherr
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Zürich

Democratic legitimacy is often seen as exclusively implying political-administrative accountability, within hierarchical relationships. In street-level organizations, however, multiple accountabilities are practiced. Based on the literature on democratic legitimacy, we conceptualize the practice of street-level accountability as a constitutive dimension of the throughput legitimacy of state action. This conceptual clarification enables an empirical exploration of how the democratic (input) legitimacy of policy decisions affects the practices of street-level accountability (throughput legitimacy), as well as the consequences for performance (output legitimacy). The case at hand is the implementation of the Swiss Federal Forest Policy 2020 by subnational governments and private actors between 2012-2015. We find that deficient input legitimacy of policies produces accountability dilemmas and thereby negatively affects output performance.
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"Aristocracies … may preserve themselves longest, but only democracies, which refresh their ruling class, can expand" - Hugh Trevor-Roper

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