Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Documenting Practices in Human Service Organisations through Information Systems: When the Quest for Visibility Ends in Darkness

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Abstract:  Over the last decades, transparency about what is happening on the ground has become a hot topic in the field of social work. Despite the importance of transparent social work, the realisation in practice is far from obvious. In order to create this transparency for a diversity of stakeholders, legislative bodies and human services increasingly rely on so-called electronic information systems. However, it remains unclear how frontline managers make use of these systems to create this transparent practice and which obstacles they might experience in doing so. Based on empirical data collected in Flanders (Belgium), we argue that frontline managers as well as practitioners, when confronted with the obligation to use electronic information systems to document their actions and create transparency, find a beneficial element in using such a tool for the purpose of transparency. However, we also argue that the idea of transparency through documenting human service practices by the use of electronic information systems seems to be nuanced, as tension or ambiguity occurs in daily practice. Our data show that many aspects of the service user’s life story become invisible because the documenting system is unable to grasp its complexity, resulting in a lack of transparency.

Keywords:  electronic information systems; human services; participation; social work; transparency


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© Jochen Devlieghere, Rudi Roose. 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.