Managing for results in social services: key professionals lived experience Essay

Measuring for results in social service organisations is a controversial subject (Lindgren, 2014). Currently, the discussions in terms of obtaining quality results in social work are primarily focused on hard data, such as indicators, metrics, numbers and costs (Lindgren, 2014). Soft values are primarily purely human transformation processes, which are the results that social workers achieve when vulnerable people move from being vulnerable to being able to cope independently. These sorts of values are not spoken about as frequently in this context (Lindgren, 2014). Measuring social work is complex and the results are not always easy to translate into numbers and statistics. According to Modell (2005), it is therefore not entirely unproblematic to introduce methods of management and governance that focus on performance measurement and measuring results in public organisations. As stated by Lindgren (2014), this approach is especially problematic in social services as it can lead to a state where measurements are what control and define social services. What professionals define as satisfactory results may lose meaning and this may affect the professional negative (Lindgren, 2014). When New Public Management (NPM) was first introduced in public organisations in Sweden there was no real performance culture. Agerberg (2014) states that mixing social work with economic and industrial logics has led to fragmentation, micromanagement and over reporting. Van Berkel and Knies (2016) remarks that NPM as a concept is defined by a rather vague term that covers a number of ways to manage for results. As stated by Model (2005)NPM has its origin in a common belief that public organisations are less effective compared with the growing number of private entrepreneurs contracted in the public sector. NPM focuses on economic indicators, which means it has a very limited focus on improved results for those who applied for support and help from the social services (Modell, 2005). Oh, and Blanchard Bush (2015) state that measuring results has led to an attempt to capture citizens’ perception through the use of purely factual information and quantitative variables. As mentioned by, Oh and Blanchard Bush (2015), is naive to assume that everything within a governmental organisation can be measured; doing so would likely cause the loss of qualitative aspects, and this could produce sub-optimised results. Van Berkel and Knies (2016) indicate that the introduction of performance management could be seen as a way to discourage professionals from becoming too independent in their professional practice and Ammons and Rivenbark (2008) mean that there is many , uncertainties regarding how one can and should make use of performance management in public organisations. Although measuring result has been a reality in various degrees within the public sector for many years, Ammons and Rivenbark (2008) note that organisational results have been used to a lesser extent than expected as a basis for quality work and improvements. At the same time recent research by Mik-Meyer (2018) shows that being a social worker can be a balancing act between the more relationship-oriented work with the client and the work that requires accountability for the results in the organization as a whole. Results management in social services focuses on measures that are quantitative (Arnek et al., 2013). Poertner, Moore, and McDonald (2008) state that a variety of indicators are available and a voluminous amount of data is collected both locally and nationally. Despite this, there is still a lack of guidelines and support to clarify how the collected data should be used within the organisation. Consequently, it becomes difficult for key people such as managers, investigators, analysts and controllers to use the aggregate data in ways that benefit the organisation (Poertner et al., 2008). According to Van Berkel and Knies (2016), there is a risk that values and factors that are highly valuable to the organisation are not measured; therefore, it is difficult to know how and if these aspects can be measured at all. Measuring results can, in other words, affect qualitative aspects negatively, which means that the care and support provided by social services to customers do not provide the expected results (Van Berkel and Knies, 2016). Research is still limited in the area of measuring results in social services, and the research which has been conducted only addresses NPM as a strategy for managing for results in public service organisations (Arnaboldi et al., 2015; Verbeeten and Speklé, 2015). There seems to be a lack of scientific studies regarding the effects of NPM in the social services according to Verbeeten and Speklé (2015), although they have been present as a way of controlling public organisations for nearly 35 years. The lived experience of key professionals working with measuring results in social service organisations is also limited. This knowledge is important to acquire in order to develop management approaches within complex social service organisations from a fragmented one to a more holistic and effective one which is easy to adapt and apply without encroaching on humanistic values (Feilzer, 2010; Poertner et al., 2008). Knowledge is also important in order to broaden understanding about measuring values within the social services. Does measurement in its current form provide the expected benefits? Is measurement used in a manner that is adapted to the conditions prevailing in human service organisations? There is probably not only a solution to the difficulty of measuring the effectiveness and results of social work. Rather, it is about daring to see and talk about identified problems and be curious about how it will be for those who work in the gap between the relational work with the clients to create change and the requirement to measure results and efficiency based on the organization's needs to justify their existence. As specified by Mapp (2008), only those that have experienced NPM in practice in social work can tell the outside world about what is happening and what has happened

How to cite this essay: