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Opportunities and challenges of digitized discretionary practices: a public service worker perspective

Government Information Quarterly 35 (2018) 547–556


Peter Andrè Busch, Helle Aagard Zinner Henriksen, Øystein Sæbø


Public service workers exercise discretionary power during policy implementation. Due to an immense diffusion of information and communications technology (ICT) in public service provision, they are increasingly exposed to reforms aiming at more efficient and fair decision-making. Whereas extant literature has found that ICT can both enable and constrain public service workers' ability to exercise discretion, we know less about underlying explanations for these inconclusive findings. This paper addresses this research gap by exploring how and why public service workers react to digitized discretionary practices. We draw upon institutional logics to show the underlying considerations of public service workers when they are faced with multiple conflicting demands from market-oriented goals of digitization and professional norms. To identify their reactions and underlying considerations, we have conducted a multiple case analysis of two Norwegian organizations; a district court and a tax administration office. We conclude that public service workers are positive to digitization when it promotes professional aspects of their work and that professional discretion is considered necessary to accomplish tasks of greater complexity.