Unpacking the digitalisation of public services: Configuring work during automation in local government

Christopher Andersson, Anette Hallin, Chris Ivory

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)
    45 Downloads (Pure)


    The digitalisation of public services involves not only the transformation of the relationship between public service providers and clients, but also the transformation of public administration work. While most studies of digitalisation of the public sector have focused on the practical outcomes for the quality of public services and the quality of public administration work, none have unpacked, or theorised, how these changes actually come about in practice. This paper fills this gap by drawing on a study of the in-house adaptation of a digital automation tool (an RPA) by a Swedish local authority. In the article, we pay attention to what we, inspired by Donna Haraway and Lucy Suchman, call ‘configuring work’, i.e. the weaving together of the affordances of the technology, materials, discourses, roles and power structures. The contribution of the paper is two-fold. First, the paper demonstrates empirically how the digitalisation of a public service took place through an emergent, relational process that involved both the social and the material. Second, by adopting the the idea of ‘configuring work’ and paying attention to the effects of this, we show that the digitalisation process was successively shaped by the particular vested interests, ethics, discourses and the algorithmic materialities that comprised it. This helps us discuss the reason for why, in extant literature, digitalisation threatens the professional autonomy of the public administrators as well as why it may reduce service quality. Finally, we suggest how some of these issues may be addressed in future research.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number101662
    JournalGovernment Information Quarterly
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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