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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
AA (2013a). VerBIS Arbeitshilfe: Kundenabmeldung und Statuswechsel. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
AA (2013b). VerBIS Arbeitshilfe: Abgleich von Nachfrage- und Angebotsseite im Vermittlungsprozess. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
AA (2016). Maßnahmen zur Aktivierung und beruflichen Eingliederung (MAbE) nach § 16 Abs. 1 SGB II i. V. m. § 45 SGB III. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
AA (2017). Merkblatt 3 - Vermittlungsdienste und Leistungen. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
AA (2018a). Merkblatt 1 – 2018, Merkblatt für Arbeitslose. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
AA (2018b). VerBIS Arbeitshilfe: Bearbeiten von Bewerberdaten durch Träger. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
AA (2018c). Das leisten wir täglich - Bundesagentur für Arbeit. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
Baldauf, Daniel Claus (2016). Beratungs- und Vermittlungsprozess in der Arbeitsverwaltung SGB II. Rechtliche und fachliche Grundlagen. Arbeitsmarkt und Sozialstaat, vol. 5.
Bezanson, Birdie J. (2004). The application of solution-focused work in employment counseling. Journal of Employment Counseling, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 183–191.
Böhringer, Daniela (2015). Editorial: Labour Market Policy at Street Level. Social Work and Society, vol. 13, no. 1.
Boockmann, Bernhard; Michael Stops; Christopher Osiander; and Hans Verbeek (2013). Effekte von Vermittlerhandeln und Vermittlerstrategien im SGB II und SGB III (Pilotstudie), pp. 147.
Bossen, Claus; Yunan Chen; and Kathleen H. Pine (2019). The emergence of new data work occupations in healthcare: The case of medical scribes. International Journal of Medical Informatics, vol. 123, pp. 76–83.
Boulus-Rødje, Nina (2018). In Search for the Perfect Pathway: Supporting Knowledge Work of Welfare Workers. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 841–874.
Bovens, Mark; and Stavros Zouridis (2002). From Street-Level to System-Level Bureaucracies: How Information and Communication Technology is Transforming Administrative Discretion and Constitutional Control. Public Administration Review, vol. 62, no. 2, pp. 174–184.
Bratteteig, Tone; and Guri Verne (2012). Conditions for Autonomy in the Information Society: Disentangling as a public service. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 51-78.
Buffat, Aurélien (2015). Street-Level Bureaucracy and E-Government. Public Management Review, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 149–161.
Campbell, John; Byron Keating; Carla Wilkin; and Stephen Moore (2013). Multi-level IT Project Alignment in Government Services: Contracted Employment Services. In AMCIS'13. Proceedings of Americas Conference on Information Systems, Chicago, Illinois, 15–17 August 2013. Atlanta, USA: AIS.
Cooper, Donald R. (2014). Business research methods. Twelfth edition. New York, USA: McGraw-Hill.
Dolata, Mateusz; Doris Agotai; Simon Schubiger; and Gerhard Schwabe (2019). Pen-and-paper Rituals in Service Interaction: Combining High-touch and High-tech in Financial Advisory Encounters. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 3, no. CSCW, pp. 224:1–224:24.
Dolata, Mateusz; Tino Comes; Birgit Schenk; and Gerhard Schwabe (2016). Persuasive practices: learning from home security advisory services. In PERSUASIVE’16. Proceedings of the 11thInternational Conference on Persuasive Technology, Salzburg, Austria, 5–7 April 2016. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, pp. 176–188.
Dolata, Mateusz; and Gerhard Schwabe (2017a). Tuning in to More Interactivity – Learning from IT Support for Advisory Service Encounters. i-com: Journal of Interactive Media, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 23–33.
Dolata, Mateusz; and Gerhard Schwabe (2017b). Paper Practices in Institutional Talk: How Financial Advisors Impress their Clients. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 26, no. December 2017, pp. 769–805.
Dolata, Mateusz; and Gerhard Schwabe (2018). Don’t be afraid! Persuasive Practices in the Wild. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 27, no. December 2018, pp. 427-462.
Dourish, Paul (2001). Where the action is: the foundations of embodied interaction. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Fischer, Joel E.; Andy Crabtree; James A. Colley; Tom Rodden; and Enrico Costanza (2017). Data work: how energy advisors and clients make IoT data accountable. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 26, no. 4–6, pp. 1–30.
Giesbrecht, Tobias; Tino Comes; and Gerhard Schwabe (2015). Back in sight, back in mind: picture-centric support for mobile counseling sessions. In CSCW’15. Proceedings of the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, Vancouver, Canada, 14–18 March 2015. New York, USA: ACM Press, pp. 486–495.
Giesbrecht, Tobias; Joachim Pfister; and Gerhard Schwabe (2013). Designing IT-support for citizen advisory services: a self-determination theory perspective. E-Service Journal, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 60–84.
Giesbrecht, Tobias; Birgit Schenk; and Gerhard Schwabe (2014). Learning with facilitation affordances: the case of citizens’ advice services. In ECIS’14. Proceedings of European Conference on Information Systems, Tel Aviv, Israel, 9–11 June 2014. Atlanta, USA: AIS.
Giesbrecht, Tobias; Hans Jochen Scholl; and Gerhard Schwabe (2016a). Smart advisors in the front office: Designing employee-empowering and citizen-centric services. Government Information Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 669–684.
Giesbrecht, Tobias; Gerhard Schwabe; and Birgit Schenk (2016b). Service encounter thinklets: how to empower service agents to put value co-creation into practice. Information Systems Journal, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 171–196.
Greatbatch, David; Christian Heath; Peter Campion; and Paul Luff (1995). How do desk-top computers affect the doctor-patient interaction. Family Practice, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 32–36.
Greatbatch, David; Paul Luff; Christian Heath; and Peter Campion (1993). Interpersonal communication and human-computer interaction: an examination of the use of computers in medical consultations. Interacting with Computers, vol. 5, no. 2., pp. 193–216.
Greenberg, Saul (1991). Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Groupware: An Introduction to the Special Edition. International Journal of Man Machine Studies, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 133–143.
Hadley, Gregory (2017). Grounded Theory in Applied Linguistics Research: A Practical Guide. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Hansen, Hans-Tore; Kjetil Lundberg; and Liv Johanne Syltevik (2018). Digitalization, Street-Level Bureaucracy and Welfare Users’ Experiences. Social Policy & Administration, vol. 52, no. 1, pp. 67–90.
Heath, Christian; and Paul Luff (2000). Technology in action. Cambridge, UK; New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Heinrich, Peter; Mehmet Kilic; and Gerhard Schwabe (2014). Microworlds as the locus of consumer education in financial advisory services. In ICIS'14. Proceedings of the International Conference on Information Systems - Building a Better World through Information Systems, Auckland, New Zealand, 14–17 December 2014. Atlanta, USA: AIS.
Holt, Charles C.; and George P. Huber (1969). A Computer Aided Approach to Employment Service Placement and Counseling. Management Science, vol. 15, no. 11, pp. 573–594.
Holten Møller, Naja L.; Geraldine Fitzpatrick; and Christopher A. Le Dantec (2019). Assembling the Case: Citizens’ Strategies for Exercising Authority and Personal Autonomy in Social Welfare. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 3, no. GROUP, pp. 244:1–244:21.
Hupe, Peter; and Aurélien Buffat (2014). A Public Service Gap: Capturing contexts in a comparative approach of street-level bureaucracy. Public Management Review, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 548–569.
Jorna, Frans; and Pieter Wagenaar (2007). The “iron cage” strengthened? Discretion and digital discipline. Public Administration, vol. 85, no. 1, pp. 189–214.
Karusala, Naveena; Jennifer Wilson; Phebe Vayanos; and Eric Rice (2019). Street-Level Realities of Data Practices in Homeless Services Provision. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 3, no. CSCW, pp. 184:1–184:23.
Kilic, Mehmet; Mateusz Dolata; and Gerhard Schwabe (2016). How IT-Artifacts Disturb Advice Giving – Insights from Analyzing Implicit Communication. In HICSS 2016. Proceedings of the 49th Hawaii international conference on system sciences, Koloa, Hawaii, USA, 5 January - 8 January 2016. New Jersey, USA: IEEE, pp. 878–887.
Kilic, Mehmet; Mateusz Dolata; and Gerhard Schwabe (2017). Why do you ask all those questions? Supporting client profiling in financial service encounters. In HICSS-50. Proceedings of the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa Beach, HI, USA, 4–7 January 2017. New Jersey, USA: IEEE, pp. 4695–4704.
Kilic, Mehmet; Peter Heinrich; and Gerhard Schwabe (2015). Coercing into completeness in financial advisory service encounters. In CSCW 2015. Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, Vancouver, Canada, 14–18 March 2015. New York, USA: ACM Press, pp. 1324–1335.
Kirk, James J. (2000). Web-Assisted Career Counseling. Journal of Employment Counseling, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 146–159.
Kupka, Peter; and Christopher Osiander (2017). 6 Activation ‘Made in Germany.’ In Rik Van Berkel, Dorte Caswell, Peter Kupka, and Flemming Larsen (eds.): Frontline Delivery of Welfare-to-Work Policies in Europe, pp. 19. New York, USA: Routledge.
Lamnek, Siegfried; and Claudia Krell (2016). Qualitative Sozialforschung. 6., überarbeitete Auflage. Weinheim Basel, Switzerland: Beltz.
Landsbergen, David (2004). Screen level bureaucracy: Databases as public records. Government Information Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 24–50.
Letch, Nick; and Jennie Carroll (2007). Integrated e-government systems: unintended impacts for those at the margins. In ECIS’07. Proceedings of the European Conference on Information Systems, St. Gallen, Switzerland, 7–9 June 2007. Atlanta, USA: AIS, pp. 108–120.
Lipsky, Michael (2010). Street-level bureaucracy: dilemmas of the individual in public services - Updated edition. 30th anniversary expanded ed. New York, USA: Russell Sage Foundation.
Luff, Paul; Jon Hindmarsh; and Christian Heath, ed. (2000). Workplace studies: recovering work practice and informing system design. Cambridge, UK ; New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Marston, Greg (2006). Employment services in an age of e-government. Information, Communication & Society, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 83–103.
McAfee, Andrew; and Erik Brynjolfsson (2017). Machine, platform, crowd: harnessing our digital future. First edition. New York, USA: W.W. Norton & Company.
Mørck, Peter; Tue Odd Langhoff; Mads Christophersen; Anne Kirstine Møller; and Pernille Bjørn (2018). Variations in Oncology Consultations: How Dictation allows Variations to be Documented in Standardized Ways. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 26, no. December 2018, pp. 539-568.
Nardi, Bonnie A. (1996). Studying context: A comparison of activity theory, situated action models, and distributed cognition. In B. A. Nardi (ed.): Context and consciousness: Activity theory and human–computer interaction, pp. 69-102. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press.
Nardi, Bonnie A.; and Vicki O’Day (1999). Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press.
Norman, Donald A. (1988). The design of everyday things. 1st Ed. New York: Currency Doubleday.
OECD (2015). The World of Public Employment Services Challenges, capacity and outlook for public employment services in the new world of work. Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); World Association of Public Employment Services (WAPES); Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Orlikowski, Wanda; and Stephen Barley (2001). Technology and Institutions: What Can Research on Information Technology and Research on Organizations Learn from Each Other? Management Information Systems Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 145-165.
Orlikowski, Wanda J. (2008). Using Technology and Constituting Structures: A Practice Lens for Studying Technology in Organizations. In Resources, Co-Evolution and Artifacts, pp. 255–305. Springer, London.
Osiander, Christopher; and Joß Steinke (2011). Street-level bureaucrats in der Arbeitsverwaltung: Dienstleis-tungsprozesse und reformierte Arbeitsvermittlung aus Sicht der Vermittler. Zeitschrift für Sozialreform, vol. 57, no. 2, pp. 149-174.
Pearce, Christopher; Michael Arnold; Christine B. Phillips; Stephen Trumble; and Kathryn Dwan (2012). The many faces of the computer: An analysis of clinical software in the primary care consultation. International Journal of Medical Informatics, vol. 81, no. 7, pp. 475–484.
Pearce, Christopher; Stephen Trumble; Michael Arnold; Kathryn Dwan; and Christine Phillips (2008). Computers in the new consultation: within the first minute. Family Practice, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 202–208.
Pine, Kathleen H.; Claus Bossen; Yunan Chen; Gunnar Ellingsen; Miria Grisot; Melissa Mazmanian; and Naja Holten Møller (2018). Data work in healthcare: challenges for patients, clinicians and administrators. In Companion CSCW’18. Companion of the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, Jersey City, NJ, USA, 3–7 November 2018, pp. 433–439. New York, USA: ACM Press.
Roman, Navina (2015). Organisational Practice in the job centre – Variance or Homogeneity? Social Work and Society, vol. 13, no. 1.
Sampson, James P.; and Robert C. Reardon (1998). Maximizing Staff Resources in Meeting the Needs of Job Seekers in One-Stop Centers. Journal of Employment Counseling, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 50–68.
Schmidt, Kjeld (2011). Cooperative Work and Coordinative Practices. London, UK: Springer London.
Schmidt, Kjeld (2014). The concept of ‘practice’: What’s the point? In COOP’14. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Design of Cooperative Systems, Nice (France), 27 May - 30 May 2014, pp. 427–444. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Schmidt, Kjeld (2018). “Practice theory”: A Critique. In Wulf et al (eds). Socio-informatics: A Practice-based Perspective on the Design and Use of IT Artifacts. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 105–137.
Schmitz, Markus (2013). Das arbeitnehmerorientierte Integrationskonzept der Bundesagentur für Arbeit (SGB II und SGB III) - Leitkonzept Arbeitsvermittlung und Vermittlung von schwerbehinderten Menschen (Nicht-Reha). Edited by Bundesagentur für Arbeit. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
Scollon, Ronald (2001). Mediated discourse: the nexus of practice. London, UK; New York, USA: Routledge.
Scott, Murray (2004). A Click and Bricks Strategy for eGovernment. In BLED’04. Proceedings of the Bled eCommerce Conference, Bled, Slovenia, 21 June - 24 June 2004. Kranj, Slovenia: Moderna Organizacjia.
Shore, Jennifer; and Jale Tosun (2017). Assessing youth labour market services: Young people’s perceptions and evaluations of service delivery in Germany. Public Policy and Administration, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 22-41.
Snellen, Ignace (2002). Electronic Governance: Implications for Citizens, Politicians and Public Servants. International Review of Administrative Sciences, vol. 68, no. 2, pp. 183–198.
Suchman, Lucy (2016). Making work visible. In The New Production of Users, pp. 143–153. Albingdon, UK: Routledge.
Toerien, Merran; Roy Sainsbury; Paul Drew; and Annie Irvine (2015). Understanding Interactions between Social Security Claimants and Frontline Employment Advisers – Public and Private Provision in the UK. Social Work and Society, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 1-21.
Van Berkel, Rik; Dorte Caswell; Peter Kupka; and Flemming Larsen, ed. (2017). Frontline Delivery of Welfare-to-Work Policies in Europe. New York, USA: Routledge.
Weilenmann, Alexandra; and Gustav Lymer (2014). Incidental and Essential Objects in Interaction. Interacting with Objects: Language, Materiality, and Social Activity, Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 319–337.
Weller, Jean-Marc (2006). II faut sauver l’agriculteur Poulard de la télédétection: le souci du public à l’épreuve du travail administratif. Politiques et management public, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 109–122.
Wulf, Volker; Markus Rohde; Volkmar Pipek; and Gunnar Stevens (2011). Engaging with practices: design case studies as a research framework in CSCW. In CSCW 2011. Proceedings of the Conference on computer supported cooperative work, Hangzhou, China, 19–23 March 2011, pp. 505–512. New York, USA: ACM Press.
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.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Advisory service
- Case and knowledge management system
- Coping strategy
- Public employment agency
- Screen-level bureaucracy
- Street-level bureaucracy
- Employment consultation