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

Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten


People / People who need people /
Are the luckiest people in the world..

-People, as sung by Barbra Streisand     

For a people-oriented person, research can be, as I found, about the loneliest job in the world, except perhaps for being a Maytag repairman. In what seems like at least a half-century of academic endeavors, there was somehow a "people" element always present. Classes were shared with other students; studying for examinations was done with friends; even writing papers was a process shared with others.

Research, however, is different; it is essentially a one-person job. Research topics make scant conversation pieces at a cocktail party; methodology discussions add little to dinner, and the fact that one's latest startling new "finding" could not be of less interest to friends and workmates is depressing.

In a different sense, research may not be much farther removed from people than are most jobs. Colleagues used to smile when, in being asked about my research, I would tell them that "my people" were all there sitting on the shelves. That is the way I used to think about the three feet or so of ethnographic site protocols where "my people" waited patiently for me to get to them.

This study undoubtedly reflects my people-orientation. It is about people -- the staff of the projects -- many of whom I came to know as individual personalities. Their separate hopes and fears; their worries, concerns, interests, and needs constitute the real substance of this work. One or two were outstanding people I would like to know better. Occasionally, there was a character who seemed to have a touch of larceny in his soul. Most, however, were ordinary, every-day street-level bureaucrats, harried by the system and struggling to as good a job as possible in jobs that could not be done.

In reality, I am impressed at just how many people were really interested in this work, and at how much I owe. In roughly chronological order, I would like to acknowledge some of my major debts. First, I thank my late mother, Dorothy VanderPutten, who smilingly neglected to teach me that women are somehow supposed to be an inferior species, and my father, J. Richard VanderPutten, who was always excited by new ideas; Emerson Elliott, with whom I worked at the Institute for Educational Leadership and later at NIE on the Congressionally mandated School Finance Study, for patiently introducing me to the "real world" of public policy, and for agreeing to serve as a reader for this work; Dr. Robert Taggart, former Director of Youth Programs at the Department of Labor, who listened to my basic research idea one day at lunch, and suggested I use some data he had collected: Gregory Wurtzbert, Youthwork's Director of Research, who went to great lengths to provide me with, not only copies of the case studies, but with every other assistance possible; and Dr. Ray C. Rist, the principal investigator who directed the collection of the Cornell University/Youthwork site protocols upon which this work is based, and who, despite a certain philosophical skepticism about quantifying qualitative data, agreed to serve as a reader for this work.

Dr. Carl J. Lange, Professor of Psychology and Vice President for Research at The George Washington University; Dr. Jeffrey Henig, Assistant Professor of Political Science, also at The George Washington University; and Dr. Robert Leestma, of the National Institute of Education, deserve singular recognition. Dr. Lange's ideas, gentle guidance and continued support in directing this research will be long remembered and always appreciated. Dr. Henig served an invaluable, though what must often have seemed a thankless, role as intellectual gadfly and research watchdog. Little escaped his ever-watchful eye. Dr. Leestma graciously added an important dimension to this committee. After years developing and administering federal programs, his fundamental question, "Where are the kids -- the clients -- and how do they influence street-level decision-making ?" helped shape this work.

Finally, I would like to thank the scores of people at NIE and elsewhere, who, as colleagues and friends, generously reviewed drafts and chapters, suggested revisions, provided additional ideas and materials, and more. You are too numerous to identify individually; I hope, however, you will find yourselves here, and accept my sincere thanks. There are some I must mention: my stepson, Shannon, who spent hours copying numbers from the computer (one of my least favorite jobs); my husband, Brian, whose incessant nagging and unending support probably pushed me through a lot of mud holes where I might have otherwise gotten stuck; and my little friend, ZX81, whose lack of personality was vastly outweighed by her ever patient willingness to crunch another bunch of numbers.

For your help, I am grateful. Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten
March 3, 1983

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