Changing Occupational Roles in Audit Society—The Case of Swedish Student Aid Officials
Keywords:Learning & compentencies, Identity, meaning & culture, Organization & management
AbstractThis article is about occupational change concerning a non-professional group of Street Level Bureaucrats—student aid officials at the Swedish Board for Study Support (SBSS). The aim is to describe and analyze changes in their occupational role—their discretional space and working conditions under the impact of changed ways to manage public service organizations and new information and communication technology. The SBSS is the sole administrator of student financial aid in Sweden. Its officials investigate and take decisions about students’ applications and repayment of loans. This work includes interacting with clients via telephone and computer. These officials have to have a certain amount of discretion to interpret and apply rules and regulations on specific circumstances in individual cases. How are their working conditions affected by organizational and policy changes in the authority? How is their ability to exercise influence and control over their own work performance affected? The analysis highlights how officials suffer from decreased discretion and an increasing routinization in their work. This is a result of a regulatory framework continuously growing in detail together with increasing management control based on new information and communication technology. What remains of discretion is a kind of ‘task’ discretion, the ability to do minor technical manipulations of rules in individual cases. Even today’s top management seems critical of this development. Besides further automatization and reduction of staff an ongoing process of organizational change is therefore also aiming to develop officials’ competence and working conditions toward what may be seen as organizational professionalism, a development of specific occupational skills and a discretion adjusted and subordinated to managerial means and ends. The analysis rests on data from a research project (2011 to 2014) about Institutional Talk. Data sources are qualitative interviews, audio-taped speech sequences, observational field notes, and official documents.
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