This paper examines how digital reforms affect the relationship between frontline workers and citizens in Danish public sector institutions. Using ethnographic research in two branches of public administration, the study highlights how frontline workers act in accordance with seemingly contradictory modes of ordering. Their acts problematize linear conceptualizations of change that often prevail in digital reforms.
The paper is based on a comparative ethnographic study of frontline workers in the Danish tax and customs administration and municipal citizen service centers. The concept of modes of ordering is used to highlight new tensions that arise as frontline workers adapt to make digital reforms work.
Frontline workers act according to two different modes of ordering based on the separation between helping citizens help themselves and helping citizens directly. National policies and strategies promote the underlying rationale of the first mode but, as this paper shows, this mode is sustained by a second mode, which involves the intervention of professionals when citizens cannot be helped to help themselves.
The paper, which contributes to our understanding of how digitalization is changing public administrations and the relationship between frontline workers and citizens, challenges applying a linear, technocratic focus in discourses on public sector digitalization and highlights the contradictory practices of frontline work. It demonstrates the necessity of going beyond policy narratives and calls for increased attention to how frontline workers adapt to make reforms work.
This work was supported by Velux Fonden [Grant: 12823 (Data as Relation: Governance in the Age of Big Data)].
Jørgensen, B. and Schou, J. (2020), "Helping or intervening? Modes of ordering in public sector digitalization", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOE-02-2019-0015Download as .RIS
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