The Best Dissertation Award
Dr. Shelena Keulemans is the recipient of the 2021 PMRA Best Dissertation Award for Understanding Street-level Bureaucrats’ Attitude Towards Clients: A Social Psychological Approach. Dr. Keulemans work analyzes the environmental, managerial, and individual-level dynamics that shape frontline workers’ disposition towards clients. The work contributes to the literature on street-level bureaucracy by providing compelling theoretical and empirical insights into the role of social context and leadership on attitude formation, with implications for successful public service provision and delivery.
Drawing on the context of tax administration systems in the Netherlands and Belgium, Dr. Keulemans conceptualizes frontline workers’ disposition towards clients as a multidimensional construct and develops a measurement instrument to validate it. The study examines the impact of organizational environments on how tax auditors perceive small-business owners, focusing on the influence of work peers and frontline supervisors. Keulemans’ findings challenge prior scholarship’s pessimistic assessment of leadership opportunities at the street level and underscore the importance of social relations perspective for understanding the role of managers on attitude formation. By offering a more nuanced understanding of the antecedents of street-level bureaucrats’ attitudes towards clients, this research opens new avenues for studying the impact of dispositions on bureaucratic behavior.
The committee was impressed by the combination of theoretical rigor, extensive data collection, advanced analytical methods, and skillful writing. For instance, Dr. Keulemans’ data collection spans across multiple tax regions in two European countries and involves interviews, surveys, and archival research. Dr. Keulemans’ dissertation has practical relevance beyond European tax auditor systems and speaks to the importance of attitudes of street-level bureaucrats across a variety of public services, where the state directly interacts with citizens. This dissertation is especially instrumental and current in the post-pandemic time when societies are reassessing the role of street-level bureaucracy in the pursuit of a more equitable provision of public services among social groups.
Dr. Keulemans is a graduate of Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Her dissertation committee was comprised of Professors Steven Van de Walle, Sandra Groeneveld, Bram Steijn, Peter Hupe, and Lars Tummers.
Dr. Weston Merrick’s dissertation Using Behavioral and Design Science to Reduce Administrative Burdens: Evidence from Minneapolis Public Housing warrants an honorable mention. The committee was impressed by Dr. Merrick’s novel approach that employs behavioral and design science to develop interventions that reduce the psychological, learning, and compliance costs in citizen-state interactions. The dissertation is an example of research in action and how academic scholarship can be instrumental in creating public value. Dr. Merrick engages with residents and staff to design interventions seeking to reduce eviction actions and ultimately increase the quality of life of public housing residents.
The dissertation demonstrates a skillful utilization of mixed-method research approaches. Specifically, Dr. Merrick draws on quantitative research techniques to illustrate how individuals experiencing conditions of scarcity are more prone to cognitive errors that result in long-term outcomes against their self-interest. The qualitative data collection serves as the basis for randomized control trials to validate the impact of two interventions informed by behavioral and design science. Dr. Merrick’s findings underscore the utility of design-based approaches to remedy cognitive shortcuts stemming from poverty-induced scarcity, with practical implications that include lower costs for governments and improved outcomes for residents.
Dr. Merrick is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. His dissertation committee was comprised of Professors Jodi Sandfort, Aaron Sojourner, Joe Soss, and Edward Goetz.
The 2021 PMRA Best Dissertation Committee
Dr. Milena Neshkova (Florida International University), Dr. Amanda Girth (Ohio State University), Dr. Bert George (Ghent University, Belgium), and Dr. Liang Ma (Renmin University of China)
PMRC 2021 will be held virtually and will not include an awards ceremony. The 2021 Awards will be formally presented at PMRC 2022 when we can, hopefully, convene in person.
The PMRA Best Dissertation Award recognizes exemplary public management research at the doctoral level.
2020 – Miyeon Song, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of South Carolina
2019 – Andrea Headley, Assistant Professor, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
2018 – Huafang Li, Assistant Professor, Grand Valley State University