Accepted Paper:

Welfare policy, grassroots bureaucrats, and organisational complexity: The Norwegian welfare state seen from within  
Halvard Vike (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

The Norwegian welfare state, perhaps the most expansive version of 'The Scandinavian Model', is characterised by its emphasis on universal ambitions. I take a closer look at the implications of this, one of which is a major overload problem. How do grassroots bureaucrats deal with this problem?

Paper long abstract:

The Norwegian welfare state, perhaps the most expansive version of "The Scandinavian Model", is characterized by its emphasis on universal ambitions. One of the consequences of its great ambitions, as defined and implemented by the central state, is that overload problems have become quite significant - at municipal the level. Grassroots bureaucrats find themselves caught between ever greater, and often contradictory ambitions, New Public Management - reforms seeking efficiency and economically "healthy" organizational units, and traditional professional ethics emphasizing loyalty towards clients. They are caught in serious double-bind situations, and find themselves as the "victims" of a process which I have called "the decentralization of dilemma". My research has for several years concentrated on documenting how such dilemmas are created at different levels of political and bureaucratic hierarchies, on how they are shaped and changed as they "travel" downwards, and how these dilemmas affect the identities and practical strategies of professionals. In Norway, such processes seem to have a tendency to accumulate and give rise to serious "disorder" in municipalities, which constitute the backbone of the welfare system. In my contribution to the session, I would like to present some analytical ideas as how to understand the complexity of the municipal organisation, and on how it influences the grassroots bureaucrats' ideas of what they are doing, and how - with special reference to how organizational boundaries and limitations to professional responsibility are established.

Panel W047
Understanding welfare and well-being in a globalised world