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When the System Does Not Fit: Coping Strategies of Employment Consultants

Abstract

Case and knowledge management systems are spread at the frontline across public agencies. However, such systems are dedicated for the collaboration within the agency rather than for the face-to-face interaction with the clients. If used as a collaborative resource at the frontline, case and knowledge management systems might disturb the service provision by displaying unfiltered internal information, disclosing private data of other clients, or revealing the limits of frontline employees’ competence (if they cannot explain something) or their authority (if they cannot override something). Observation in the German Public Employment Agency shows that employment consultants make use of various coping strategies during face-to-face consultations to extend existing boundaries set by the case and knowledge management systems and by the rules considering their usage. The analysis of these coping strategies unveils the forces that shape the conduct of employment consultants during their contacts with clients: the consultants’ own understanding of work, the actual and the perceived needs of the clients, and the political mission as well as the internal rules of the employment agency. The findings form a twofold contribution: First, they contribute to the discourse on work in employment agencies by illustrating how the complexities of social welfare apparatus demonstrate themselves in singular behavioural patterns. Second, they contribute to the discourse on screen-level bureaucracy by depicting the consultants as active and conscious mediators rather than passive interfaces between the system and the client.

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Acknowledgments

We want to express our gratitude to the branches of AA that were involved, as well as to the advisors who, in spite of initial concerns, provided the field researchers with valuable insights into their daily work. We also thank the many clients, who accepted the presence of the researchers during their consultations and who participated in the interviews. Our best thanks go to the anonymous reviewer team and to the program editors, whose comments motivated us to improve this manuscript.

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Dolata, M., Schenk, B., Fuhrer, J. et al. When the System Does Not Fit: Coping Strategies of Employment Consultants. Comput Supported Coop Work 29, 657–696 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-020-09377-x

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Keywords

  • Advisory service
  • Case and knowledge management system
  • Coping strategy
  • Practices
  • Public employment agency
  • Screen-level bureaucracy
  • Street-level bureaucracy
  • Employment consultation