Document Type


Publication Date




Advanced welfare states are under pressure to customize services, promptly enough to prevent a cascade of harms.With these goals, the Netherlands in 2015 decentralized social care services to municipalities, and within municipalities to neighborhood teams in continuing contact with clients. The overall results have been disappointing. But the experience of Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth-largest city, has been strikingly different. By using hard-to-resolve cases to signal conflicts in rules, obstructive jurisdictional boundaries, and the shortcomings of private service providers, Utrecht is learning to customize and speed delivery of social care through incremental steps. This article explains how Utrecht’s success addresses apparently intractable limits to the adaptability of the rule-bound welfare state, such as the problem of low-level discretion or street-level bureaucracy and the division of services into silos, in the process bridging, and perhaps effacing, the gap between the Habermasian life world and the system world of formal rules.


Law | Social Welfare Law

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License