Vignettes in social research are defined as suggestions in the form of short, realistic descriptions or graphic representations upon which respondents are asked to simulate a decision-making process. In the Italian context, this technique is little known and such gap needs to be filled. Drawing upon evidence collected from the author’s PhD research on professional discretion exercised by Street-level Bureaucrats in homeless’ service centres, methodological implications related to the use of vignettes in qualitative research design are addressed here. As direct experience showed, vignettes offered the opportunity to strengthen the research design, analyse sensitive issues, compare respondents’ answers and encourage participants’ reflexivity. The use of sketched scenarios allowed going deeper into the study of the abstract concept of professional discretion, exploring how social workers from the same team interpreted the same dilemmatic situation in different ways, what some of the significant intervening factors were, where these differences stemmed from. Vignettes permitted to stress some significant individual and group dynamics, and enabled researchers to explore the different nuances of street bureaucrats’ conceptions of their professional mission.
Parole chiave: Vignettes, Applied Social Research, Reflexivity, Methodology, Professional Discretion