Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Social Work on the Whiteboard: Governing by Comparing Performance

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Abstract:  This article explores a number-based comparative logic unfolding around a particular kind of meeting in a social work setting: a daily and short gathering referred to as a “pulse meeting”. At such meetings, staff gather around a whiteboard visualizing individual statistics in terms of the number of client meetings performed or assistance decisions made. The statistics function as a basis for further division of work tasks. As such, it is a particular way of representing what social workers do at work. Ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the social services revealed how such openly exposed individual performance and the related number-based comparative logic can trump alternative logics ranging from the overall collective performance, competing views on clients’ needs and efficiency, and the social worker’s sense of professionalism. When participants of the study compared themselves to each other and in relation to standards and goals, certain conclusions were drawn about what should be done by whom and in what order. Such conclusions became embedded in an objectivity status difficult for anyone to argue against. Finally, the number-based logic also found its way into the counter-practices formulated by social workers unsatisfied with what was visualized on the whiteboard.

Keywords:  attention displacement; comparative performance; performance measurements; social work



© Teres Hjärpe. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.