The use of big data by frontline bureaucrats in the social domain

The welfare state is currently undergoing a transition toward data-driven policies, management, and execution. This has important consequences for frontline bureaucrats in such a 'digital welfare state'. Until now, the impact of data-driven tools on frontline officials has been mainly described in terms of limiting or increasing their discretionary room to make decisions. However, it is unclear how frontline bureaucrats' day-to-day work practices and role identities are changing, and what norms they are developing to work with new data tools. 

The first research within this broader research theme focusses on the use of a data dashboard at the Work & Income department of the Municipality of Rotterdam.  

Kersing looked at the role of the work coaches (frontline bureaucrats) in the implementation of this dashboard. What influence does the dashboard have on the work of the work coaches and how does the work of the work coaches influence the effectiveness of the dashboard? The research showed that there are two role identities among frontline bureaucrats: (a) the ‘client coach’, and (b) the ‘caseload manager’. The implementation of the dashboard stimulates a shift from a ‘client coach’ role identity toward a ‘caseload manager’ role identity. For client coaches, the implementation of the dashboard creates problems because the use of the dashboard conflicts with how they see their work.

In addition, the dashboard also influences the relational dynamics within the organization. Due to the introduction of new functions and roles, the mutual relationships between professionals such as team managers, quality assurance staff and work coaches are changing. Proponents and opponents of data-driven working interpret their work in their own way, which changes the relationships within the organization. The dashboard not only influences working practices and working relationships between professionals at an individual level, but also at a policy and political level as a professionalization tool. 

Follow-up research will focus, amongst other things, on the perspective and experiences of citizens with the data-driven working of municipalities, and on other areas within the social domain.  



Kersing, M., van Zoonen, L., Putters, K. and Oldenhof, L. (2022) “The changing roles of frontline bureaucrats in the digital welfare state: The case of a data dashboard in Rotterdam’s Work and Income department,” Data & Policy. Cambridge University Press, 4, p. e24. doi: 10.1017/dap.2022.16.