Different Strategies of Street-level Practitioners

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Maria Mejer Larsen
  • Line Hviid Appel Johannsen
4. term, Social Work, Master (Master Programme)
Danish employment legislation and the common perception of unemployment has undergone a shift in paradigms since the early 90’s. This change contains a transition from welfare to workfare with a dominant focus on returning the unemployed to the labor market as quickly as possible and rebalancing the relationship between rights and obligations. This change in paradigms has taken place simultaneously with the introduction and implementation of a new way of managing the public sector, New Public Management, containing management instruments such as performance management and measurement. This has introduced market conditions into the field of social work, with elements of comparison, contest and a strive to fulfill the fiscal goals of the politicians and managers. These market elements have presumably influenced the discretion of the street-level practitioners.
Drawing on survey, observation of a focus group and in-depth interviews, this thesis examines how practitioners are influenced by performance management and measurement in their work in municipal employment centers in Denmark. The research has been conducted among 55 street-level practitioners and an 8-people focus group among 5 different municipalities in Denmark. We furthermore conducted 4 in-depth interviews among the 55 participants.
The analytical frame of the thesis is mainly from Brodkin, Winter and May. Some concepts from these researchers have been an inspiration prior to collecting our data. Others have been applied to our data subsequent to help systematize, categorize and give meaning to our findings.
By investigating the reflections of the street-level practitioners on their work under performance management and measurement, the analysis reveals, that they exercise routine discretion and employ different adaptive strategies to cope with the pressure and rigidity of the legislation and at the same time meet the numbers. Our findings indicate, that the practitioners are very focused on the financial limitations of their work and they strive to be efficient because this is the main issue of the managers and politicians, who make the practitioners accountable for creating results. Other findings indicate, that some practitioners offer resistance to this managerial pressure by creatively and indirectly going against the rules and the legislation of their organization, while simultaneously meeting the numbers and creating results. The resistance is either expressed through an empowerment of the unemployed or through the street-level practitioner’s own modification or bending of the rules.
By examining differences in the dispositions and thinking patterns of the street-level practitioners, we discover that different dispositions, which are more or less stringent and formalistic in their style of practice, definitely occur in our dataset. However we do not succeed in linking the different dispositions to any specific background variables.
The most important contribution of our examination is the finding of resistance and creativity among the practitioners. We perceive this finding as an addition to Brodkin’s adaptive strategies, as this is a dimension, which Brodkin has not yet had an eye for in her studies. Some of the other theoretical concepts we have used as analytical instruments throughout the thesis have also undergone some modifications and additions.

Publication dateAug 2016
Number of pages114
ID: 237889313