Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 555–590 | Cite as

Bridging Identity Gaps—Supporting Identity Performance in Citizen Service Encounters

  • Nikolaj Gandrup Borchorst
  • Brenda McPhail
  • Karen Louise Smith
  • Joseph Ferenbok
  • Andrew Clement


This paper explores in situ citizen service encounters in government offices. Drawing upon ethnographically informed fieldwork in Canada and Denmark, we discuss the challenges to supporting citizens in constructing and performing identities in public service settings. Our data suggests that citizens make use of at least three strategies in their attempts to perform the appropriate identities needed to “fit within the system” in specific encounters with government. There exists a strong correlation between citizens’ ability to perform identities that are compatible with the bureaucratic administrative processes and the quality and swiftness of the service they receive. As we bring to light in this paper, this “fitting in” with rigid bureaucratic procedures and IT systems interestingly requires a substantial collaborative effort between the receiver(s) of the service and a complex constellation of surrounding stakeholders and intermediaries. This collaboration and the performing of multiple identities raises challenges for the design of e-government systems aimed at supporting physical and digital citizen service provision, as well as issues regarding privacy, citizenship, and public service quality. Lastly, we turn to a discussion of how the established identity gaps can be addressed through design. Information and communication technologies as well as face-to-face encounters have an important role to play in the building of an interface to government. Here, it is paramount to consider the context in which people and systems must function in order to meet the need for dynamic identity performance.

Key words

citizen services collaboration identification identity privacy 



The authors would like to thank both Danish and Canadian participants, collaborators and sponsors. In Denmark, the municipalities in the eGov + project and the project group are kindly acknowledged for their contributions to the case studies. eGov + is financed by the Danish Strategic Research Council through the NABIIT program. We would also like to acknowledge the support provided to the Performing Identities project in Canada from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through a standard grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nikolaj Gandrup Borchorst
    • 1
  • Brenda McPhail
    • 2
  • Karen Louise Smith
    • 2
  • Joseph Ferenbok
    • 3
  • Andrew Clement
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Faculty of InformationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Institute of Communication, Culture & Information TechnologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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