The changing roles of frontline bureaucrats in the digital welfare state: The case of a data dashboard in Rotterdam’s Work and Income department

Margot Kersing*, Liesbet van Zoonen, Kim Putters, Lieke Oldenhof

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The welfare state is currently undergoing a transition toward data-driven policies, management, and execution. This
has important repercussions for frontline bureaucrats in such a “digital welfare state.” So far, impact of data-driven
tools on frontline bureaucrats is primarily described in terms of curtailing or enlarging their discretionary space to
make decisions. It is unclear, however, how daily work practices and role identities of frontline bureaucrats change in
situ and which norms they develop to work with new data tools. In this article, we present an empirical study about the
impact of a data dashboard in the Work and Income department of the municipality of Rotterdam. We answer the
following research question: Which role identities, work practices, and norms of appropriate behavior of frontline
bureaucrats in the social domain are reshaped by the introduction of a data dashboard? We use a multiple methods
design consisting of semi-structured interviews, ethnographic observations, and document analysis. Our results
reveal two role identities among frontline bureaucrats: (a) the client coach, and (b) the caseload manager. We show
that the implementation of the dashboard stimulates a shift from a client coach role identity toward a caseload manager
role identity. This shift is contested as it leads to role identity conflicts among frontline bureaucrats with a client coach
role. Furthermore, we establish that the accommodation of the institutional void in which the introduction of the
dashboard takes place, is centered around three themes of contestation: (a) data quality, (b) quality of service
provision, and (c) data representations.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere24
JournalData & Policy
Volume4
Issue numberE24
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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