Toward a Theory of Loosely Coupled Systems: The Implementation of Federal Youth Employment Policies

Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten




Subgoals were defined as those short term, relatively discrete objectives that guide individual actions, particularly in situations where there are no necessary and clear relationships between a particular action and a broad goal. Based on work by Herbert Simon, subgoals were classified in this study as being of three types: professional, organizational and personal.

In the first part of this chapter is a discussion of the relation ships between professional subgoals and outputs. The latter part discusses the interrelationships among professional, personal and organizational subgoals and outputs.

1. Professional Subgoals: An Operational Definition

As used in this study, the term “professional subgoal” has a narrower and more specific meaning than the term might seem to imply. Professional subgoals could be conceived broadly as the whole set of discrete objectives related to an individual’s job or profession, as distinct from organizational or personal needs. A teacher’s professional interests are not limited to the sixteen services of a Youthwork project, but could involve getting students to pass particular tests, developing critical thinking, improving students’ writing abilities and a host of other objectives. A comprehensive study of professional subgoals could also include some measurement of “professionalism,” an individual’s understanding of and commitment to his or her profession.

This study does not use broad definitions of professional subgoals. This is one of the limitations of the study. What might be motivating staff actions at any given time may include other professional subgoals leading to behavior similar to that observed in the study? Teachers may not be concerned with getting students high quality jobs; they may get them these jobs in order to look good to the superintendent. Nor does the study address directly the question of an individual’s general level of professionalism, although it seems that a sense of professionalism is an important factor in explaining some behaviors.

The professional subgoals examined in this study are limited to those directly related to Youthwork’s subgoals. Each person was rated on the extent to which he or she considered each Youthwork project service important. There are two reasons for limiting individually held professional subgoals to those relating to project services. One is that the central point in this study has involved the level of congruence between project subgoals and those of the staff. Consequently, such subgoals must be stated in equivalent terms. The second reason that professional subgoals are limited to project related subgoals is that there is not immediately available a taxonomy of such subgoals, nor has adequate theory developed to posit a secure basis for such a scheme.


1. Overall Subgoal Rankings

Services were ranked according to: (1) the level of importance placed on each by the project’s proposals, (2) the level of importance staff as a group placed on each, and (3) the level of output the project delivered for each of the sixteen items. For example, the proposal for Site H placed heavy emphasis on subgoals 3 and 10 which were, therefore, assigned scores of 10. These were ranked as Proposal subgoals 1 and 2. The same process was repeated for average staff member scores and for outputs.

aBecause different sites did not all rate their top subgoals at a 10 level, this table presents the top four rated services, regardless of rating. Services with the same rating are indicated by brackets. Where ties occurred for fourth place, all tied services are included.
tHigh-slippage site.
*Low_slippage site.
SOURCE: Tables Cl.l through Cl..lO, “Service Ratings And Rankings, by Site,” Appendix C.

Two interesting, although tentative, relations were found when the rankings were analyzed. One is that there appears to have been a positive relationship between the subgoals rated highest in the proposal and the ratings on the same subgoals given by project staff members, regardless of which particular subgoals were involved. For example, at Site D, subgoals 4, 7, 10, 1 and 5 were listed as the top project sub goals. At the same time, subgoals 7, 10, 1 and 4 were listed among the top five staff subgoals.

Overall, project and staff top rated subgoals agreed in 21 of 26 cases. In 7 of 23 instances, top rated project subgoals were delivered that were not so rated by staff, and in 8 of 26 cases, top rated staff subgoals were delivered that were not rated in the project’s priorities.

The same finding holds true generally for eight of the ten projects involved. One notable exception was Site F, where there was little relationship between the subgoals the project listed as very Important and those the staff felt were Important. The second exception was Site B, a low-slippage site, which is discussed in Chapter VI.

This general finding, of course, may reflect the likelihood that staff members may have been recruited primarily on the basis of the congruence of their subgoals with those of the project. If, for example, a project had listed “paid work experience,” “attitude training” and “career guidance” (subgoals 4, 7, and 10, respectively) as being of highest importance, it is likely that project administrators would try to recruit staff who were sympathetic to those subgoals.

This is not to say that professional subgoals were Identical in ranking with project subgoals. Such was not the case, as can be seen in Table 5.2. There is considerable agreement among the very highest ranked project and staff subgoals. Below that, however, there are considerable variations and differences. Indeed, one question to be examined shortly is what happened when the two were incongruent.

A second and more important finding from the rankings of subgoals and delivery of services is that there seems to have been a strong and positive relationship between what was delivered and project subgoals. For example, in every case, one or more of the project’s top subgoals was among the top subgoals in terms of delivery. In eight of ten cases, two of the project’s priority subgoals were among the top services in de livery and, in four of ten cases, four of the top project subgoals were among the highest in terms of delivery.

This does not mean, however, that slippage did not occur in the cases of the top project ranked subgoals. Indeed, at all high and some medium slippage sites, and even in one low-slippage project, there was considerable variation between the level of output promised by the project on the top ranked subgoals and what was actually delivered. What it simply means is that staff members appear to have focused much of their efforts on producing the highest level of delivery on those things the project rated as most important.

What seems to have happened, regardless of slippage, is that staff focused their efforts. Subgoals with the highest delivery appear to have been those ranked highest by both the project and the staff. Where something had to give, there was a strong tendency for it to be the things rated least important by the project.

2. Low- and High Slippage Sites

aAverages are the total of values assigned to each service by the staff at each site divided by the number of sites. Since such averages result in decimal places, overall rankings utilize these differences to distinguish between the average ratings from which rankings are derived.

Using the idea of service clusters and site grouping produced one of the more interesting sets of data yet. Services were ranked within slippage groups, using the 4point scale from the participant questionnaire (1 to 4, with decimal increments). Following are the basic data.

aRating refers to the average score of all staff members at projects within a slippage group for each service. For example, at the three low slippage sites, service 7 had an average score of 3.7 and ranked first.

The data in Table 5.3 reveal three interesting findings. The first is that staff members across sites are very much the same, at least in that they showed an overall tendency to attach much the same importance to the same services. Staff members at the high and low-slippage sites, for example, ranked services 7, 10 and 4 among their top six professional subgoals, while “research” (number 15) was ranked at the bottom by both groups. In between, services such as 14, 9, 12, 5 and 2 were very close in relative rankings.

The second observation is that staff members at low-slippage sites generally placed greater importance on any given service than did their counterparts at high-slippage sites. For example, service 4, ranked first at high-slippage sites, was nevertheless rated slightly higher by low-slippage site staff than by those at high-slippage sites. One of the cumulative results of this tendency toward higher ratings by low-slippage site personnel is that they gave above average (the mathematical norm of 2.5) values to more services than did staff members at high-slippage sites. As Table 5.3 shows, staff at low-slippage sites gave ratings of 2.5 or above to 11 of 16 services, whiles those at high-slippage sites gave the same ratings to only 7 of 16 services. What this seems to suggest is that staff members at low-slippage sites had a generally more positive attitude than did their counterparts at other sites, a point referred to earlier, and that they may, indeed, have had higher energy levels, a point that will be discussed in the following chapter.

The third finding from the data in Table 5.3 is, perhaps, the most interesting; there appears to have been a major difference in the ways staff members at high and low-slippage sites grouped important subgoals. It can be observed, for example, that services 4, 7, 8, 13 and 10 were among the top six staff subgoals at both high and low-slippage sites. It is worth noting, however, that service number 1 was ranked in fourth place by staff persons at low-slippage sites and in fifteenth place by those at high-slippage sites.

When the contents of these services are examined, the point becomes much clearer. Service 1 is “worksite quality”; number 4 is “paid work experience”; 6 is “academic skills”; and 10 is “career guidance”. What seems to have been involved is a matter of breadth of interpretation about what students need. Staff who saw “paid work experience” as being their number one priority may have interpreted the needs of students as being primarily a matter of the students getting some money and secondly as being something from which they might learn certain job skills and attitudes that would enable them to earn money in the future. As a result, the “worksite quality” was not very important. In short, “paid work experience” was, first and foremost, an end in itself.

Staff members at low-slippage sites, by contrast, seem to have had a broader view of students’ needs. What they seem to have believed is that students require an overall notion of what the real job market is, what possibilities exist, and what the requirements are. “Paid work experience,” to them, seems to have been as much a means to an end as an end in itself. Youths may need money and the experiences of working, but, in the long run, they really need an understanding of the world of work and a firm set of skills that prepare them for that world. For these staff people, “worksite quality” was important. Getting a student a job with the janitorial staff in a government building might get the student some money today, but placing the student on a job in a computer center might be far better. The immediate money might be the same, but the long range payoff could be much greater.

This analysis seems to suggest that service outputs are related to:

(1) the breadth and depth of the staff’s vision of the needs of students, (2) their ability to develop and maintain a clear focus on the important subgoals, and (3) an attitude and energy level that are positive and high enough to accomplish the tasks.

3. Specific Services and Outputs

Since it seemed possible that slippage might be tied, to some extent, to the types of services a given project chose to emphasize, this question was examined in part by looking at each service and the type of site that emphasized the service. This is to say a given service, such as “career guidance,” might be easier to deliver than another service, such as “job skills training.” Each project was checked to see whether each of the 16 services was included within its top five subgoals. The findings were then grouped by service and slippage project category. When the data were analyzed, however, no strong patterns emerged, as Table 5.4 indicates.

Thus, for example, five of the ten projects contracted to emphasize “worksite quality” (service 1). Of those five, two were low and one was a high-slippage project. Seven projects indicated they would emphasize “paid work experience”, and six agreed to emphasize “academic credit.” On both services, high and low-slippage sites split evenly.

What can be said fairly safely is that, in this study, the particular services a project chose to emphasize seem to have had little relationship to the success of the project.


Two subgoal related factors separating low- from high-slippage projects were aggregate levels of staff professional subgoals, and congruence between staff and project subgoals. While this research was not designed to employ high order statistical analysis, data collected here suggest that these factors may hold at least part of the key to understanding and potentially predicting the project related behaviors of bottom line providers of services intended by federal social policies.

aEmphasis refers to those services ranked among a project’s top five subgoals. bTotal = total number of sites where the specific service was ranked in the project’s five top subgoals. cLow = number out of three low-slippage sites, where the service was ranked as one of the project’s five top subgoals. dHigh = number out of three high-slippage sites, where the service was ranked as one of the project’s five top subgoals.

EXPLANATION. Service 10, Career Guidance, was ranked among the top five subgoals at 8 sites, three of which were low-slippage projects and one was a high-slippage project, and the rest average slippage sites.

1. Aggregate Level of Professional Subgoals

The aggregate level of staff professional subgoals refers to the combined average ratings that a staff placed on all of the sixteen Youthwork services. If the staff at a site averaged a 9 as the value they placed on one service and placed an 8 on the second and a 9 on a third and so on through all sixteen services, the combined total of the values constituted the aggregate level of staff professional subgoals for that site.

Of the indicators distinguishing low-slippage projects, one of the most immediately obvious was the aggregate levels of staff professional subgoals, as the following tables illustrate. Where they were clearly above the comparable levels specified in projects’ proposals, outputs were consistently high and slippage was minimal. Where they were at or below those of the projects, slippage was considerable.

As Table 5.5 indicates, the aggregate level of staff professional subgoals at the three low-slippage sites was 105. This is to be compared with the average comparable level for all projects, which was 85. At middle and high-slippage sites, the averages for staff subgoal aggregates were 86 and 77, respectively.

It is clear from Table 5.6 that the aggregate level of a staff’s professional subgoals, alone, does not sharply distinguish middle-slippage from high-slippage projects. At the same time, it does serve to separate low-slippage sites from all others.

aAggregate level of staff’s professional subgoals, by site.
bAverage of aggregates of staffs’ professional subgoals at sites within category.

What is equally important, for reasons that are discussed more fully in the following chapter, the aggregate levels of staff professional sub goals seem to be particularly important when weighed against the level called for by the project’s proposal. Table 5.6 illustrates the critical nature of the balance between aggregate staff subgoals and the aggregate of project assigned levels.

SOURCE Table 5.6

While it is not intended to make more of these aggregates than they may be worth, it is, nevertheless, important to point out that they may indicate a number of things. One is the relative levels of interest a staff had in a given project’s subgoals. As will be explained shortly, service outputs showed a clear and consistent tendency to follow more closely after staff subgoals than those of the project.

Equally important is the fact that these aggregate levels of staff professional subgoals may be taken as one measure of the amount of a precious and scarce resource that any project has available to it to pro vide the services it has contracted to offer staff energy. Like time and community goodwill, staff energy levels seem to be critical resources. Clearly, these aggregates alone do not fully account for slippage. They may, however, indicate a kind of starting line of the resources available to a project. This issue of resource scarcity seems to be important and is discussed at greater length in the next chapter.

2. Subgoal Congruence

If there is one thing clear from this research, it is that slippage is related to the congruence between the subgoals of the staff and those of the project. Slippage is defined as the difference between the level of service outputs delivered and the level specified in a project’s con tract. Data in this study show that the levels of outputs for delivered services show a consistent and unmistakable tendency across all sites to follow more closely after the levels of staff subgoals than the levels specified by the project’s proposal.

Overall, the data are compelling. At sites where the average levels of staff subgoals for services showed a high degree of congruence with the levels specified by the project, delivery tended to be at a level equal to or higher than the project called for. Conversely, at sites where subgoal congruence was low, output levels were lower than the projects called for.

Secondly, the data show that, when delivered outputs missed the project’s target level, outputs tended to be closer to the level suggested by the staff’s subgoals those called for by the project.

In 71 percent of the cases at low-slippage sites, the staff rated a given service at a level equal to or higher than the project rated it. At high-slippage sites, the comparable figure was 33 percent. At the same time, delivery of services at low-slippage sites was at a level equal to or above that called for by the project in 71 percent of the cases, but in only 23 percent at high-slippage projects.

Another interesting finding and one that was mentioned earlier, and that is that in about 40 percent of the cases, delivery was at a level equal to or higher than staff subgoals seemed to suggest. In large part, this appears to reflect the tendency of staff to work harder on those subgoals that the project ranks highly, even though the staff itself may not place as much value on them. As has already been noted, there was a high tendency among staff members across sites to place relatively the same importance on the same services. This similarity also included the tendency to prioritize their subgoals and to focus on those the project seemed to believe most important. The fact that the difference is so small, (0.40 vs. 0.38), between high and low-slippage sites on this item is entirely consistent.

What this says, so far, is that the greater the congruence between staff and project subgoals, the greater the likelihood that services will be delivered at levels equal to or greater than those called for by the project.

A related and important set of data reinforce this point convincingly. The level of service output misses the target about seven out of ten times (72%). The point is, however, that when delivery misses the target level set by the project, output is most often in the direction of staff subgoals (55%). In 27 percent of the cases, misses are closer to project subgoals, and 18 percent of the time, they are tied. In one out of six cases (16%) staff subgoals were higher than the project’s subgoals and delivery was also higher and, in four out of ten cases (39%), both delivery and staff subgoals were lower than the project subgoals. At high-slippage sites, the tendency was more pronounced. In two thirds of the cases, delivery was in the direction of staff subgoals.

To clarify this a bit, an analogy may be helpful. If someone with a bow and arrows was shooting at a target, it would not be expected that the archer would hit the bulls eye every time. One might, however, look to see if there was a pattern in the misses.

Further analysis of the suspected pattern of service output delivery levels and staff subgoals makes a persuasive case. Overall, delivery missed the project’s target level 72 percent of the time (115 cases out of 160). Of the 115 misses, delivery was closer to the staff’s subgoal than to the project’s 61 percent of the time. It was closer to the project 23 percent of the time and equidistant in 16 percent of the cases.

aCases out of a total of 160 in which services were delivered at the level called for by the project (target), delivered at other levels (of f target), and direction of delivery if off target.

Where there was a “higher level interest” in a service by either the project or the staff, that is, a service was rated at a level of 5 or above, actual delivery begin to climb upward in the direction of the staff. Of the cases where services were not delivered at the project’s target level and where there was some difference between the distances separating the level of staff’s subgoal and delivery and the level of project subgoal and delivery, staff were closer by a ratio of 68 to 32 overall where their subgoals were involved and by an even wider margin of 78 to 22, where project subgoals were concerned.

When low and high-slippage sites are considered as groups, the situation became clearer. At low-slippage sites, there were 25 in stances (out of a total of 48) in which the project rated a service at a level of 5 or above, and 35 such cases at high-slippage sites. (Among other things, the disparity between the numbers25 and 35points again to a consistent problem at high-slippage sites, and that was an inability to focus their interests and activities.) Of those cases of higher rated services, delivery was off target 97 percent of the time at high-slippage sites and 72 percent of the time at low-slippage projects.

In those cases services were not delivered on target at low-slippage sites, delivery came closer to staff subgoals than to project target levels in 61 percent of the instances. At high-slippage sites, delivery was closer to staff subgoals in 76 percent of the cases. In only 9 percent of the cases was delivery closer to what the project wanted.

There seems little room for doubt from these data that delivery shows a strong and consistent tendency across all sites to follow more closely after staff subgoals than those of the project. This, of course, underscores the importance of subgoal congruence.


This section focuses on the sixteen individual services or outputs that could be offered in Youthwork projects; it analyzes the relation ships among what was promised, what was delivered, and what were the professional subgoals of the staff. Nine patterns of relationships were found and are discussed in this section. For ease of notation, the following symbols are used: “J” for project subgoal level; “D” for delivery (i.e., output) level; and “G” for professional subgoal level.

1. Professional Subgoals (G) are Lower than Project Subgoals (J )

a. G<J and D<J. The project staff rated a service at a lower level than did the project, and the service was delivered at a lower level than the project called for.

Overall, in the 160 cases, this situation was found about twofifths of the time (62 cases). At one site or another, every service fell into this category. Among the least frequently involved services were “supplemental services,” “academic quality” and “youth participation.” It can be noted that these were ranked by the staff overall in 15th, 10th, and 14th positions, respectively, and in 16th, 13th and 15th positions, respectively, by the project. This simply seems to say that, when the project promises little or nothing in terms of delivering a service, there cannot be very much slippage.

The four most frequently involved services were “research,” “academic credit for work experience,” “worksite quality,” and “private sector involvement.” This is particularly interesting because they were ranked 16th, 11th, 9th and 12th, respectively, by the staff, but as 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th, respectively, by the project. It should also be noted that “research” suffered at nine of the ten sites, “worksite quality” at six, “private sector involvement” at five, and “academic credit for work experience” at eight sites.

At low-slippage sites, the same pattern was found, although it was somewhat weaker. In eleven of the forty-eight cases, both staff subgoals and delivery were at levels lower than the project called for. “Academic credit for work experience” was involved at all three sites; “re search,” “worksite quality” and “privatesector involvement” at two, “private sector involvement” and “career guidance” at one site each.

At high-slippage sites, the pattern was more pronounced. “Academic credit,” “research,” “worksite quality,” and, interestingly, “raising enrollees’ levels of aspirations” were involved at all three sites. “Sex role destereotyping,” “paid work experience,” “basic academic skills,” “supplemental services” and “helping youths with their personal problems” were involved at two sites. With the exception of “job skills training,” each of the remaining services were involved at least one site.

b. G<J and D=J. A project’s staff rated a given service at a lower level than did the project, yet the service was delivered at the level called for by the project.

This situation was a rarity, and occurred in only 5 percent of 160 cases. These involved “sexrole destereotyping,” “privatesector involvement and “paid work experience” at two sites each, and “personal counseling” and “career guidance” at one site each. Three occurrences happened at low-slippage sites, while two such instances occurred at a medium slippage site, and another three at high-slippage sites.

c. G<J and D>J. A project’s staff rated a given service at a lower level than did the project, but the service was delivered at a level higher than the project called for.

No case of this situation was found, nor was any expected. It seems unlikely that, given the necessity to allocate scarce resources, staff members would expend enough time and effort to deliver a service at a higher level than either they or the project believed appropriate.

d. Discussion

One likely explanation is that the services that suffered most frequently were those that were farthest from the professional interests of the staff. It may be recalled that two thirds of all project participants and nearly ninety percent of project staff members came from backgrounds in public school education. Such things as “research,” “academic credit for work experience” and “expanding private sector involvement in education” are typically far removed from the mainline professional Interests of high school teachers and counselors. Related to this is the fact that, even where the staff may have wanted to deliver these services at a higher level, they did not have the experience or skills to do so. It is an interesting observation that Youthwork considered these services to be the most innovative and essential to its mission of supporting “exemplary projects.••

What appears to have happened is that staff members rated certain services as unimportant and, regardless of the fact that the project or Youthwork called for high levels of delivery on them, the staff responded to their own drummers. In short, where staff members rated a given subgoal as unimportant to their professional subgoals, they appeared unwilling to allocate much of their time and effort to providing that service.

There is an important caveat. This relationship does not necessarily apply to those subgoals on which the project focused. As noted earlier in this chapter, staff members seem to focus their efforts, with the result that any given project’s top two or three priority items were most frequently those that were delivered at the highest level by the staff.

2. Professional and Project Subgoals Are Equal

a. G=J and D<J. The professional subgoals of a project’s staff rate a given service at the same level as does the project, but delivery is at a lower level than the project calls for

As might be expected, this situation was relatively rare, occurring in only about 7 percent of the cases (11 times), and, with one exception, seems to have occurred almost randomly. All but two sites (H and E, a mid and a high-slippage site respectively) were involved. One service was involved at sites B, D, I, A and H. Two services were involved at Sites A and C, and three services were involved at sites J, C and G. “Career guidance” was the only service involved at three sites, while “academic standards” was involved in two sites, with the rest of the cases occurring at a single site.

The exception to the general randomness across sites and services was the already noted instances of “career guidance.” Both staff and projects rated this service as a top priority, and its delivery ranked second only to “paid work experience.” Nevertheless, at three sites, delivery of career guidance was at a lower level than called for by the project. Why this occurred is not at all clear. One of the sites involved was ranked first in terms of delivery and last in terms of slip page. The other two sites were both medium slippage projects.

Two explanations seem plausible. One is that both project and staff subgoals overshot reality, which is to say that no matter how much both wanted to deliver, providing “career guidance” for the type of youths involved proved to be more difficult than either the proposal writers or the staff imagined. The students in the programs had serious problems all were poor, most were low academic achievers, many had police records, and few came from families where career planning was discussed at dinner. Jobs were few in the areas involved; in fact, Youthwork gave projects only to high unemployment areas. In many cases, the effort necessary to get students jobs, let alone jobs with any career potential, wore out the teaching staff.

A second, equally plausible explanation is that the case of career guidance was a fluke measurement error perhaps.

b. G=J and D=J. A given service is rated on the project’s staff’s list of professional subgoals at the same level as the project rates it, and delivery is equal to that called for by the project

Interestingly, this situation was detected in only seven cases. Four situations were at low-slippage sites and involved “attitude training,” “academic skills,” “career guidance” and “youth participation.” At high slippage sites, there were no occurrences.

c. G=J and D>J. A project staff rates a given service at the same level as does the project, but delivery of that service is at a level greater than either the project or staff call for.

Of 160 cases, this occurred only twice. While these instances may be taken as oddities, the particular sites and services suggest another possible explanation. Both projects were among the three low slippage sites; the services were “worksite quality” and “academic standards.••

One project was officially based at a high school, but was actually headquartered and run by the local Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the project was a spinoff of a decade old set of Chamber sponsored activities focused on problems related to youth unemployment.

What seems likely is that the norms used by both the project developers and staff alike to judge these two services and those used by outside evaluators were different. This is to say that what the project staff took as normal quality in their specific local context was judged to be above average by outsiders viewing delivery levels from a broader, national perspective. What the staff and project meant when they said they would deliver “high quality work sites” and “academic standards” for project youths may have sounded the same as what other projects said, but they may have meant something quite different. They may have taken high quality as a norm.

d. Discussion

Overall, staff professional subgoal ratings for given services matched exactly those of the project in 13 percent of the 160 cases and, in 11 of the 20 instances Involved, delivery was at a level lower than the project called for. Given the strong tendency of delivery to follow staff subgoals, it seems probable that other factors may have been operative in some if not all of those cases. This is a matter that will be taken up again later in this chapter.

3. Professional Subgoals Are Greater Than Project Subgoals

a G>J and D<J. On a project staff’s list of professional subgoals, a given service is rated at a higher level than the project rates it, but delivery is at a level lower than the project calls for.

In 9 percent of the total number of cases, the delivery of a given service was at a level lower than the project called for, even though staff subgoals placed a higher value on the service than did the project. With the exceptions of “attitude training,” which was ranked third over all by staff, and “research,” which was ranked last, all but four other services fell into this category at least once. “Worksite quality,” “paid work experience,” “basic academic skills” and “raising aspirations” occurred at two sites each.

Only one of the fourteen instances of this situation happened at a low-slippage site, while one of the high-slippage projects experienced this situation with five different services. “Academic standards” was involved at the low-slippage site. This case may again have been a matter of intentions overshooting reality. “Basic skills” was rated at a 9 by staff at Site H, while the project promised only a 6 and delivery was at a 5.

Several explanations are plausible. One is that, even though the staff believed that teaching “basic academic skills” was very important, the fact that the project rated it lower led the staff to allocate less resources to it. Another explanation is that the staff found students had so many other immediate problems that needed to be dealt with that the staff simply did not have much time to devote to “basic academic skills” training.

Comparable instances at medium and high-slippage sites seem to be of a different variety. At Site F (high-slippage), at which three of these instances occurred, the project started badly and got consistently worse. The first director was replaced; a key staff member was fired; teachers were arbitrarily assigned to and from the project by the local school board; others were simply RIFed. Insecurity was rampant. Hostilities were epidemic. Nonetheless, many of the staff had strong and high professional subgoals. These subgoals, however, seem to have been overridden by personal subgoal conflicts. This is a point that will be discussed again later in this chapter.

b. G>J and D=J. The project staff rates a given service at a higher level than does the project, and the service is delivered at the level called for by the project.

This combination of conditions occurred in nearly onefifth of all cases, and involved every site and service except four services. Interestingly, two of the services most frequently involved were providing “supplemental services” and “youth participation in decision making.” They were ranked sixteenth and fifteenth, respectively, by the projects and fourteenth and fifteenth by staff members overall. What this means is that, on both the projects’ and staffs’ scales of priorities, these two services were at the bottom of the lists. The fact that they happened to be delivered at the level called for by the project probably does not mean very much.

c. G>J and D>J. The project staff rates a given service at a higher level than does the project and the service is delivered at a higher level than the project calls for.

Overall, twenty-six such cases were noted and they accounted for 16 percent of all cases. These amounted to 93 percent of all situations in which the level at which a service was delivered exceeded that called for by the project.

Two middle-slippage sites (J and I) and two high-slippage sites (A and C) showed no instances of this set of conditions. “Worksite quality,” “academic credit,” “career guidance” and “research” were the only services not involved.

The services most frequently involved were “personal counseling” and help. Overall, these were ranked twelfth and fifteenth by the projects, but seventh and eighth by the staffs. The differences may be Important. From the staffs’ viewpoint, only “paid work experience,” “career guidance," “attitude training,” “aspirations,” “basic skills” and “job training” were more important. From project’s perspective, few services were less important.

The result was that staffs apparently spent more time and effort on these personal services than the projects asked for and delivered them at higher levels than the projects required. Given the backgrounds of most staff members education, this is hardly surprising.
More than half the instances of this situation were at low-slippage sites (15 of 27 cases). “Personal counseling,” “job skills training”, “academic standards,” “raising youth’s aspirations and “helping youths with their personal problems” were most frequently involved there. All are services that were rated as relatively unimportant by the projects. At the same time, they are the kinds of services that would be of relatively high importance to staff members with professional backgrounds in teaching and counseling.

The only high-slippage site involved was F, where three instances of this situation were observed. These included “attitude training,” “personal counseling” and “help with personal problems.” Site F is the project referred to earlier as the one that started badly and got worse. What this may suggest is that, even under the worst of conditions, core values remain intact. Staff members at Site F may not have been able to do much, for a variety of reasons, about work related activities or even to produce much in the way of academically related services; nevertheless, the staff and their professional subgoals could not be reduced to the point that no services were offered.


The Simon Hypothesis suggests that individually held organizational subgoals and personal subgoals might influence the behaviors of street level bureaucrats. In order to test this idea, four items were formulated for the participant questionnaire that concerned organizational subgoals and seven were developed that involved personal subgoals. Data concerning the findings on these subgoals were discussed in the previous chapter.

Several central questions relating to these subgoals are considered in this section. One involves what happens when a staff’s organizational subgoals conflict with those of the project. Another concerns what results when personal subgoals appear to dominate individual behavior. A third involves a set of possible relationships among the three types of subgoals and output.

1. Organizational Subgoals

One item on the participant questionnaire concerned the amount of time and other resources individuals appear to have been willing to expend in cooperating with other organizations, agencies and individuals in order to provide project related services to youths. A related question involved cooperation with the funding source(s), and a third concerned the extent to which participants seemed willing to promote a positive image of the project to the community. Two additional questions of a more general nature were asked. One involved the level of the Individual’s apparent overall commitment to the organization and the other concerned the extent to which the individual seemed to feel a conflict between the organization’s subgoals and those of the project.

The broad question here is whether or not these organizational subgoals seem to have been related in systematic ways with the levels of outputs a given staff delivered.

An overall norm was established for each question across the ten sites. This was done by averaging the values of each individual question. Each project was then considered according to whether staff members’ organizational subgoals were either equal to or above the average for that question or below that average for that item.

2. Organizational Subgoals and Delivery

Overall, organizational subgoals, as formulated in this study, do not appear to have been strongly related to the levels of service out puts. In 59 percent of the cases of service delivery at sites where the staffs experienced a higher than average level of conflict between sub goals for the organization and those for the project, the level of out put for a given service was lower than the project specified. At the same time, however, in 58 percent of the cases of service delivery at sites where organizational and project subgoal conflict was below aver age, delivery was still at a lower level then the project stipulated. The same general situation appears to have existed as far as organizational commitment went and as far as willingness to cooperate with other agencies, organizations and individuals was concerned.

Two items did seem to reveal a positive relationship between outputs and individually held organizational subgoals. These involved the willingness of the staff to cooperate with the funding sources and with the community. In 77 percent of the cases of service outputs at sites where the staff rated these subgoals at below average levels, output levels were below those called for by the projects. Conversely, in 55 percent of service output cases at sites where higher than average levels of willingness to cooperate with funding sources were found, delivery equaled or exceeded the levels called for by the projects. Exactly the same finding seems to have been associated with staff willingness to project a positive image of the project to the community.

It is not clear what, if anything, these findings mean. It seems possible, for example, that the questions themselves did not really get to the heart of the individually held organizational subgoals, and that the two questions concerning staff willingness to cooperate with external agencies may reflect personal subgoals more than organizational subgoals.

At the same time, it appears equally plausible to suggest that it might be revealing to examine each site in terms of staff organizational subgoals and service outputs. It might be that these aggregated data may mask other important relationships. For example, while aggregations of service outputs may differ little from one organizational subgoal to another, outputs on particular services or patterns of services could be related in some systematic way. Consequently, this possibility is explored in the following section.

3. Organizational Subgoal at Individual Sites

One project, Site H, seemed to stand out above the others in terms of the willingness of the staff to cooperate with other organizations and agencies to secure project related services for project enrollees. It also ranked second in overall service outputs and second from the least in slippage.

This project also had the longest history of organizational activity on a community wide basis. While it was technically listed as a school based program, it was In fact run by the Chamber of Commerce and headed by a director who was tied into the whole network of local businesses. With this background, It Is not surprising to find a staff strongly committed to working with other organizations.

At the same time, It seems highly likely that much of the strength and success of Project H resulted from its strong interorganizational ties and cooperative working relationships. “Paid work experience,” “private sector involvement” and “worksite quality” were all rated at the top level of output, as were the project’s two other top priority services "career guidance” and “attitude training.

On the other hand, it should also be noted that, at another low slippage site, Project B, staff were ranked at a lower level on inter organizational cooperation than were the cases at the two highest slippage sites. Moreover, the staff at Site G, a middle-slippage project, were ranked second in terms of interorganizational cooperation.

It appears there is no necessary and consistent relationship between this Item and slippage. What may well be is that the importance of this type of cooperativeness is project specific. What this means is that projects may differ in the extent to which such cooperativeness is required for success. To the extent that cooperativeness is necessary for success, high levels of staff willingness to cooperate will be required. Such willingness, in and of itself, however is no guarantee of success, as was evidenced at Site G, nor is such cooperation inherently necessary, as Project B illustrated.

4. Cooperation with Funding Source

There seems to have been a more consistent, but not much stronger relationship between a staff’s willingness to cooperate with the funding sources and the level of the project’s service outputs than was true of the preceding case. The three sites at which the respective staffs rated this item lowest were the three high-slippage projects. Among the remaining sites, there seems to have been no consistent pattern. At one low-slippage site and at one in the middle-slippage group, both had staffs with very high ratings. The rest were all rated at the same, medium high level of 7.

5. Community Relations

Looking at the projects and respective staff members individually, staff concern with projecting a positive image of the project to the community appears to have had the strongest and most consistent relationship to service output levels of the four organizational subgoals. Staffs at the three low-slippage sites had ratings on this subgoal of 9, 9 and 10, respectively. One middle-slippage staff also had a 9, while the others in that group had an 8. At the high-slippage sites, the ratings were 7, 5 and 5, respectively.

Equally important, nearly half the individual staff members at the three high-slippage sites ranked “community relations” as either “not very important” or not important at all.” By contrast, fewer than one in ten staff members at low-slippage sites gave the same ratings. At one such site, the entire staff rated “community relations” as very important. At another, 80 percent of staff members gave this same rating to community relations.

6. Commitment to Organizational Subgoals and Conflict Between Organizational and Project Subgoals

As noted, the patterns that emerged relative to these subgoals and outputs at different sites revealed little in general. Overall, there appears to be no consistent variations on either of these questions that can be tied directly to levels of delivery. Perceived conflict appeared to have been in the low-to-moderate range at low medium and high slippage sites alike with one notable exception while organizational commitment was registered in the strong range at all but two sites.

There are, however, a few observations that should be made. One concerns Site A, where the level of staff commitment to the subgoals of the organization seem to have been somewhat weaker than at any other site, except one. Site A suffered from a serious split between staff and administration. Two issues were central. One concerned priorities and the other involved management styles. On the priorities Issue, project administrators appear to have been highly committed to the project’s priorities, which included “basic academic skills,” “attitude training,” “raising youth’s aspirations” and, at a somewhat lower level, “research.” Staff, however, seem to have had little interest in those priorities and to have instead been primarily concerned with placing students in paying jobs and making sure they received high school diplomas. The quality of the jobs seems to have made virtually no difference. In fact, it is obvious that some of the jobs were of dubious legality. Academic standards were not characterized by their high quality. In fact, students were graduated who were far short of having acquired the necessary number of school credits. Staff and administration never came to agreement.

At the same time, the situation was exacerbated by the director’s management style, which many staff members considered heavy handed. One result was that everyone lost and slippage was rampant. About the only things delivered were paid jobs. The staff went out, recruited private sector employers and put students into those jobs. Several staff also devoted considerable time to talking with youths about their problems and maintaining personal relations with the youths. Otherwise, such services as “basic academic skills,” “career guidance,” “aspirations” and “research” went by the wayside.

The second exception involved Site F. One of the interesting things about Site F is that the staff was divided between (1) those who had little or no commitment to the organization, (2) those who were moderately committed, and (3) those who were very strongly committed. At the same time, the level of conflict they seem to have felt was much higher than that at any other site. As mentioned earlier, dissension was ram pant but, unlike Project A, dissension involved more than priorities and management style.

Project F’s host organization had begun a half dozen years earlier as a community based street academy for exoffenders, drug addicts and other high risk youths. Over the years, it had developed what appears to have been a set of highly successful methods and a good track record, as evidenced by community support. By the time Youthwork entered the picture, the host organization had become a semipublic agency, with most of its funding coming from the local board of education.

In accepting funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the organization also had to accept Youthwork priorities and concerns, as well as its restrictions and limitations. As time went by, the staff and administration alike felt increasing stress as they moved farther and farther from their old and from their points of view, at least successful ways of doing their jobs. While few, if any, realized at the start that the subgoals of Youthwork and their own organizational subgoals were incompatible, most came to the realization before the year had progressed very far. By the year’s end, it was clear to all that the subgoals were not only incompatible but that they were mutually destructive. It might be pointed out as a postscript that, despite every conceivable kind of problem, their overall level of service output was higher than might be expected.


1. Background

Personal subgoals are posited in the Simon Hypothesis as one of three sets of individually held subgoals influencing behaviors of street level bureaucrats in loosely coupled systems. In this study, personal subgoals are considered to be derived from individual needs one of the central Ideas examined in this section concerns what happens to the level of service outputs when personal subgoals are either not fulfilled or are threatened.

Personal subgoal data were presented in the previous chapter on an item-by-item basis. What are discussed here are the relationships between these subgoals and service outputs.

2. Personal Subgoals

Seven personal subgoals were involved and ordered in a general pain pleasure set of subcategories. The first category included three sub goals believed to be particularly sensitive to threat. These were an individual’s needs for: (1) personal security, (2) economic security, and (3) to feel fairly treated. The second set included subgoals where the level of fulfillment, rather than threat, seemed to be the chief characteristic. These were a feeling of ownership in the project, a sense of personally helping youths and belief that one’ s career might be advanced in some way by working in the program, and a perception of participating in personally rewarding activities.

For reasons discussed in the previous chapter, two of these personal subgoals advancement” and “personally helping youths" are not very illuminating. Briefly, project staff generally appeared to have been relatively unconcerned about “career advancement,” and, at the same time, most with very few exceptions felt they were doing a good job helping project youths. Consequently, these two subgoals are omitted.

3. Subgoals Subject to Threat

First, it should be noted that, in general, staff members across all sites seemed to feel relatively secure in terms of personal safety, job security and fair treatment on the job. In short, few staff members at any site appeared to feel very threatened. This may indicate only that, (1) despite popular opinion, schools are probably pretty safe places to work, (2) school people are not very worried about loosing their jobs, and (3) projects rewarded staff members at a levels generally consistent with what the individuals expected. In any event, 100 percent of the staff members at four sites and 90 percent at another four gave no indication that they were concerned at all about personal safety. More over, 100 percent of staff personnel at four sites and 80 percent at a fifth project gave similar indications with regard to economic security. The sites involved in both cases included projects in all three slippage groups.

The second point to be made is not so mundane, however, and may be the most important and revealing finding yet in this research. Whenever a strong sense of threat to “personal safety,” “economic security,” or fair treatment was perceived by a project’s staff members, outputs on almost all services were below the level called for by the project.

The most striking but by no means the only illustration of this is Site F, where a high level of concern for personal safety was shown by all staff members, without exception. One staff member went to the extent of getting herself transferred from the project to another school because of her fear. More telling, perhaps, is the fact that the project’s first ethnographer, a trained urban anthropologist, quit her job in midyear because of her fears of personal violence.

One example may serve to illustrate the perceived conditions at the site. The occasion was a Thanksgiving dinner prepared by the staff and a few students for project enrollees. When a very large cake was being served, the staff discovered that three knives, which were to be used to cut the cake, were missing. Fear was immediate. A few minutes later, a fight broke out between two students. Sheer panic hit. Teachers and students alike grabbed chairs to protect themselves. Others dove under tables. Some fled the building in terror.

As it turned out, the fight was stopped without serious injury to anyone. The missing knives were recovered, unused, and the dinner was resumed and concluded, albeit with caution, but without further incident.

4. Subgoals Subject to Reward

Certain personal subgoals seem more sensitive to rewards and the withholding of rewards than to direct threats. Among these, two appeared particularly important. One is a sense of ownership in the project. Because this was discussed in the previous chapter, little need to be added at this point, except to suggest that what seems to have been involved with project staff was a kind of “threshold.” There seems to have been a point on the scale of perceived ownership which marked the line of demarcation between disenfranchisement and ownership. Whether an individual or group of individuals at a site felt a high or low level of ownership seemed to have had little bearing on service outputs, just so long as the individuals did not cross the threshold into perceived disenfranchisement.

A sense of participating in personally needed and rewarding activities seems to be another personal subgoal susceptible to fulfillment. For a learning coordinator at Site H this meant teaching American history to her students so they could get academic credit. To a “mentor” in Project B, personal fulfillment meant being able to do the carpentry work in restoring and maintaining the host organization’s buildings. For a staff member at Site I, happiness was being able to conduct a teacher training workshop on sex role destereotyping in jobs.

What seems to have been involved generally was that either the project provided individuals with an opportunity to pursue their own personally rewarding activities or that the individual found the requirements of the job to be so demanding and time consuming that he or she did not have time to pursue personally rewarding interests. Often, the problem seemed to center around the paperwork requirements of the Youthwork “knowledge development” thrust. Time was limited and time spent on a nonfulfilling activity, such as “research,” was time taken from more rewarding endeavors.

The net effects here were less dramatic than where personal subgoals were threatened, but nevertheless they were still debilitating to out puts. In general, there is a sense that, where individual staff members were able to pursue their personal interests, things tended to go more smoothly, energy levels were higher, overall interest was keener and maintained longer, and output levels more closely approximated those called for by the project. Conversely, when individuals seemed to feel they were prevented or preempt from pursuing personal interests, energy levels seemed to dissipate, interest diminished, a feeling of “burn out” a phrase used by more than one staff member set in, and problems seemed to multiply.


1. Seven Tentative Findings

In this chapter, an analysis of the relationships between each of three sets of individually held subgoals and outputs of project services has been made. Essentially, the data appear to support Herbert Simon’s hypothesis that: (1) individual subgoals do exist, (2) that such subgoals fall into three categories, and (3) that they do influence the behaviors of streetlevel bureaucrats in loosely coupled systems. If, for example, subgoals did not exist or if they did not influence the behaviors of frontline service providers, the consistent patterns of relationships found in this study would not be expected. Because of the essentially qualitative nature of the original data, no attempt was made to claim “conclusiveness” on any point or of “generalizability” beyond this study; rather, a set of tentative findings have been suggested. They are identified briefly below.

Tentative Finding One. Service outputs appear to follow more closely after the professional subgoals of a project’s staff than they do after the levels specified by the project.

Tentative Finding Two. A project’s staff appears to give strong consideration to the project’s top rated subgoals in developing their own professional subgoals. One result seems to be that project outputs tended to be highest on those subgoals rated highest by the project. Staff seemed to pay little attention to those subgoals that the project rated as being of lesser importance, with a very important caveat: where a staff rated a given service as being among their own to top rated professional subgoals they were likely to devote considerable time and effort to that service.

Tentative Finding Three. The extent to which a project was able to focus its activities, as well as the narrowness or breadth with which the staff interpreted the project’s subgoals, seem to influence both quantity and quality of service outputs. This is illustrated in the pattern within subgoal clusters at high and low-slippage sites suggested in Table 5.4.

Tentative Finding Four. Staff whose energy levels seem to have been highest and whose overall professional subgoals were highest (as indicated by the cumulative weight of their professional subgoals) consistently had the highest level of overall service outputs. It is possible that instead of measuring “energy,” the study might actually have been measuring competency.

Tentative Finding Five. Where a project’s subgoals were inconsistent with or irrelevant to community needs and attitudes or where the project’s staff was insensitive to community values, lack of community interest and support was likely. In turn, the lack of such support seems to have had a negative impact on the professional subgoals of staff members, with one frequent result being a diminishing of service outputs.

Tentative Finding Six. Except in cases where individually held organizational subgoals were perceived by staff members as being in strong conflict with those of the project, such organizational subgoals seem to have had little relationship to project outputs.

Tentative Finding Seven. Whenever individually held personal sub goals became dominant, project service outputs diminished.

2. Unanswered Questions

This chapter has sought to explore some of the relationships among three sets of individually held subgoals and service outputs at various sites. The evidence presented suggests that such relationships do exist and that they are important elements in accounting for slippage. One of the important questions remaining concern the mechanisms by which such subgoals operate and the relationships they have with various external factors and service outputs at the sites. This is the subject of the following chapter.


151-1See Appendix C for additional data and technical notes.


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