During the current economic recession the management of the public spending on the welfare services has been changed from soft to hard budget constraint. Consequently, the public managers have been confronted with a policy shift from soft to hard budget constraint. At the same time the professionals in the public sector at the street-level such as social-workers, teachers, doctors, and other professionals have maintained autonomy regarding the provision, production and delivery of the specific core welfare services to the citizens as end users. By definition hard budget constraint and professionals´ autonomy do not fit well. To explore both theoretically and empirically the conflicts between hard budget constraint and professionals´ autonomy, the professionals´ provision, production and delivery of the services to the citizens with disability and socially disadvantaged people and the public management of the public spending on the services in Denmark is used as a case. Surprisingly, we find that the managers have been able to resolve the conflicts between the hard budget constraint and the professionals´ autonomy to a rather high degree. The managers have integrated the street-level professionals into the public management during the economic crisis. The managers have done this by turning the professionals into organizational employees with the help of the ‘challenging dialogue’ which goes beyond ‘talk’. The Danish case in this paper is considered critical case. Therefore, the conclusions in the paper can be generalized with cautions.
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Seventeenth Annual Conference of the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM XVII), 2013