Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Activation Work: Policy Programme Administration or Professional Service Provision?

  • RIK VAN BERKEL (a1) and PAUL VAN DER AA (a2)

Abstract

This article focuses on the design of frontline work in public agencies involved in the delivery of activation programmes and services. More specifically, it raises the following questions: should we think of activation work as an administrative function or as a form of professional service provision? And does the design of activation work matter in terms of the effectiveness of activation services? In answering these questions, the article provides a meta-analysis of two strands of literature. First, we analyse the available literature reporting on studies of activation frontline work and its organisation and management in public agencies responsible for delivering activation programmes. Secondly, we look at those studies of the effectiveness of activation that focus on the impact of characteristics of frontline work and its organisation and management on activation policy outcomes. We conclude that although the desirability of a professional design of activation work meets relatively wide support among scholars, the feasibility of this professionalisation project is highly contested. In addition, the debate on the nature of the activation profession has only just started. Finally, evaluation studies show that activation work characteristics do affect the outcomes of activation programmes. Against this background, we conclude that a more prominent place of activation work on the research agenda of social policy scholars is recommendable.

Copyright

Corresponding author

References

Hide All
Adler, M. (forthcoming), ‘Conditionality, sanctions and the effective absence of redress in the British New Deal Programmes’, in Brodkin, E. and Marston, G. (eds.), Work and the Welfare State: The Politics and Management of Policy Change, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Ashworth, A., Cebulla, A., Greenberg, D. and Walker, R. (2004), ‘Meta-evaluation: discovering what works best in welfare provision’, Evaluation, 10: 2, 193216.
Behncke, S., Frölich, M. and Lechner, M. (2007a), Public Employment Services and Employers: How Important Are Networks with Firms? IZA discussion paper, Bonn: IZA.
Behncke, S., Frölich, M. and Lechner, M. (2007b), Targeting Labour Market Programmes: Results from a Randomized Experiment, Bonn: IZA.
Behncke, S., Frölich, M. and Lechner, M. (2007c), Unemployed and Their Caseworkers: Should They Be Friends or Foes? Bonn: IZA.
Betzelt, S. and Bothfeld, S. (eds.) (2011), Activation and Labour Market Reforms in Europe: Challenges to Social Citizenship, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Bloom, H., Hill, C. and Riccio, J. (2003), ‘Linking program implementation and effectiveness: lessons from a pooled sample of welfare-to-work experiments’, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 22: 4, 551–75.
Brodkin, E. (2007), ‘Bureaucracy redux: management reformism and the welfare state’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 17: 1, 117.
Brodkin, E. (2011), ‘Policy work: street-level organizations under new managerialism’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21: 1, i25377.
Burgess, S., Propper, C., Ratto, M. and Tominey, E. (2004), Incentives in the Public Sector: Evidence from a Government Agency, CMPO Working paper, Bristol: CMPO.
Considine, M. (2000), ‘Selling the unemployed: the performance of bureaucracies, firms and non-profits in the new Australian “market” for Unemployment Assistance’, Social Policy and Administration, 34: 3, 274–95.
Courty, P. and Marschke, G. (2004), ‘An empirical investigation of gaming responses to explicit performance incentives’, Journal of Labor Economics, 22: 1, 2356.
Fletcher, D. R. (2011), ‘Welfare reform, Jobcentre Plus and the street-level bureaucracy: towards inconsistent and discriminatory welfare for severely disadvantaged groups?’, Social Policy and Society, 10: 4, 445–58.
Freidson, E. (2001), Professionalism: The Third Logic, Cambridge: Polity.
Handler, J. (2004), Social Citizenship and Workfare in the United States and Western Europe: The Paradox of Inclusion, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Handler, J. (2006), ‘“Ending welfare as we know it”: welfare reforms in the US’, in Henman, P. and Fenger, M. (eds.), Administering Welfare Reform: International Transformation in Welfare Governance, Bristol: Policy Press.
Hasenfeld, Y. (1983), Human Service Organizations, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
Hasenfeld, Y. (1999), ‘Social services and welfare-to-work: prospects for the social work profession’, Administration in Social Work, 23: 3, 185–99.
Henman, P. and Fenger, M. (eds.) (2006), Administering Welfare Reform: International Transformation in Welfare Governance, Bristol: Policy Press.
Hill, C. (2006), ‘Casework job design and client outcomes in welfare-to-work offices’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 16: 2, 263–88.
Holzner, C., Munz, S. and Büttner, T. (2009), ‘Evaluating the organisational performance of local job centers’, http://www.socialpolitik.ovgu.de/sozialpolitik_media/papers/Holzner_Christian_uid141_pid102.pdf (accessed 4 March 2011).
Howard, C. (2006), ‘The new governance of Australian welfare: street-level contingencies’, in Henman, P. and Fenger, M. (eds.), Administering Welfare Reform: International Transformation in Welfare Governance, Bristol: Policy Press.
Jewell, C. (2007), Agents of the Welfare State: How Caseworkers Respond to Need in the United States, Germany and Sweden, New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.
Jewell, C. and Glaser, B. (2006), ‘Toward a general analytic framework: organizational settings, policy goals, and street-level behavior’, Administration and Society, 38: 3, 335–64.
Johnson Dias, J. and Maynard-Moody, S. (2007), ‘For-profit welfare: contracts, conflicts, and the performance paradox’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 17: 2, 189211.
Jørgensen, H., Nørup, I. and Baadsgaard, K. (2010), ‘Employment policy restructuring and the “de-professionalization” question – do recent Danish developments give an answer?’, Paper presented at the RESQ conference, Copenhagen, June.
Kazepov, Y. (ed.) (2010), Rescaling Social Policies: Towards Multilevel Governance in Europe, Farnham: Ashgate.
Kjørstad, M. (2005), ‘Between professional ethics and bureaucratic rationality: the challenging ethical position of social workers who are faced with implementing a workfare policy’, European Journal of Social Work, 8: 4, 381–98.
Kluve, J. (2010a), ‘The effectiveness of European active labor market programmes’, Labour Economics, 17: 904–18.
Kluve, J. (2010b), Active Labor Market Policies in Europe: Performance and Perspectives, Heidelberg: Springer.
Lechner, M. and Smith, J. (2007), ‘What is the value added by case-workers?’, Labour Economics, 14: 135–51.
Lipsky, M. (1980), Street-Level Bureaucracy, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Lurie, I. and Riccucci, N. (2003), ‘Changing the culture of welfare offices: from vision to the frontlines’, Administration and Society, 34: 6, 653–77.
Marston, G., Larsen, J. and McDonald, C. (2005), ‘The active subjects of welfare reform: a street-level comparison of employment services in Australia and Denmark’, Social Work and Society, 3: 2, 141–58.
McDonald, C. and Marston, G. (2006), ‘Room to move? Professional discretion at the frontline of welfare-to-work’, Australian Journal of Social Issues, 4: 2, 171–83.
Morgen, S. (2001), ‘The agency of welfare workers: negotiating devolution, privatization and the meaning of self sufficiency’, American Anthropologist, 103: 3, 747–61.
Noordegraaf, M. (2011), ‘Risky business: how professionals and professional fields (must) deal with organizational issues’, Organization Studies, 32: 10, 1349–71.
Nybom, J. (2011), ‘Activation in social work with social assistance claimants in four Swedish municipalities’, European Journal of Social Work, DOI:10.1080/13691457.2010.501021.
Pawson, R. and Tilley, N. (1997), Realistic Evaluation, London: Sage.
Peck, L. and Scott, R. (2005), ‘Can welfare case management increase employment? Evidence from a pilot program evaluation’, The Policy Studies Journal, 33: 4, 509–33.
Sainsbury, R. (2008), ‘Administrative justice, discretion and the “welfare to work” project’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 30: 4, 323–38.
Sandfort, J. (2000), ‘Moving beyond discretion and outcomes: examining public management from the front lines of the welfare system’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 10: 4, 729–56.
Scrivener, S. and Walter, J. (2001), Evaluating Two Approaches to Case Management: Implementation, Participation Patterns, Costs and Three-Years Impact of the Columbus Welfare-To-Work Program, New York: MDRC.
Soss, J., Fording, R. and Schram, S. (2011), ‘The organization of discipline: from performance management to perversity and punishment’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21: 1, i20332.
Thorén, K. (2008), ‘Activation Policy in Action’: A Street-level Study of Social Assistance in the Swedish Welfare State, Vaxjö: Vaxjö University Press.
Van Berkel, R. (2011), ‘The local and street-level production of social citizenship: the case of Dutch social assistance’, in Betzelt, S. and Bothfeld, S. (eds.), Activation and Labour Market Reforms in Europe: Challenges to Social Citizenship, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Van Berkel, R., van der Aa, P. and van Gestel, N. (2010), ‘Professionals without a profession? Redesigning case management in Dutch local welfare agencies’, European Journal of Social Work, 13: 4, 447–63.
Van Berkel, R., de Graaf, W. and Sirovatka, T. (eds.) (2011), The Governance of Active Welfare States in Europe, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Van der Aa, P. forthcoming, ‘De uitvoerder telt. Organisatie en gebruik van discretionaire ruimte bij de uitvoering van de activerende bijstand’ (working title), Ph.D. thesis, Utrecht University, Utrecht.
Vinzant, J. and Crothers, L. (1998), Street-Level Leadership: Discretion and Legitimacy in Front-Line Public Service, Georgetown: Georgetown University Press.
Wright, S. (2003), ‘Confronting unemployment in a street-level bureaucracy: jobcentre staff and client perspectives’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Stirling, Stirling.
Wright, S. (2006), ‘The administration of transformation: a case study of implementing welfare reform in the UK’, in Henman, P. and Fenger, M. (eds.), Administering Welfare Reform: International Transformation in Welfare Governance, Bristol: Policy Press.
Wright, S. (2011), ‘Steering with sticks, rowing for rewards: the new governance of activation in the UK’, in van Berkel, R., de Graaf, W. and Sirovatka, T. (eds.), The Governance of Active Welfare States in Europe, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed