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Publication

Het analyseren van verantwoordingspraktijken vanuit een micro-institutionele en relationele lens. Een cross-nationale casestudie naar verantwoordingspraktijken in het sociaal werk.

Book - Dissertation

Based on a review of the social work literature, we identified three gaps in research onaccountability:1. The conceptualisation of accountability is one-sidedly framed in new publicmanagement theory. This is problematic in two ways. Firstly, new public managementdoes not provide a solution for accountability of social work practice. It underminesthe professionalism of social workers and is a bad fit with the relational and complexnature of practice. Secondly, this biased conceptualisation disregards the fact thataccountability is more than an element of new public management.2. Current studies mainly explore accountability practices at the organisational level.Because of this organisational focus, social workers' agency in the accountabilityprocess is not taken into account. How social workers give meaning to the differentaccountability relations in their daily work and how they deal with the dilemmas andtensions that arise from multiple and conflicting perspectives are questions thatremain unanswered.3. Current research is mainly conducted in Anglo-Saxon contexts. Because of the lack ofcomparative research, little is known about how divergent institutional configurationsinteract with accountability practices of social workers (M ller, 2019; Pollit &Bouckaert, 2011). In other words, the complex interplay between the street andinstitutional levels remains a black box.We address these gaps by broadening the conceptualisation of accountability, exploring howsocial workers give meaning to the three types of accountabilities and moral dilemmas inpractice, and by applying a comparative, micro-institutional research approach.We broadened the conceptualisation by defining accountability as a central feature ofprofessionalism and an important precondition for institutional democracy, and developing arelational conceptualisation that reflects the multiple accountability relations in social work.By exploring the accountability actions and beliefs of social workers in a public organisationand social workers in a private organisation across three cases, we provide insight into howsocial workers give meaning to the three types of accountability relations, as well as into their moral agency in relation to the moral dilemmas they are confronted with as a result ofconflicting expectations.We deployed a comparative, micro-institutional research design to systematically capturemacro level institutions, such as social workers' professional identity and organisationalcharacteristics, that frame and/or restrict social workers' actions and beliefs and are shapedby social workers' agency. This helped us open the black box of the interplay between streetlevelagency and institutions. By comparing three cross-national cases, we included a varietyof social-political contexts in our analysis, and by using Rice's micro-institutional model wewere able to build a conceptual bridge between the accountability practices of social workers(micro-level) and institutions at meso (organisational policy and culture) and macro levels(social policy).6.2 Research aim and questionsThe central aim of the study is to open up the debate about accountability in social work andcontribute to the theory development on accountability practices in social work. In pursuingthis aim, the study has two research objectives. The first objective is to explore how socialworkers give meaning to the three types of accountabilities across practical contexts. By'meaning', we mean social workers' actions and beliefs (Fairclouth, 2003), and how socialworkers manage the different perspectives of these accountability relations and the tensionsthat arise from them. The second objective is to explore how these actions and beliefs interactwith the institutional context in which social workers are embedded, which we referred toearlier as the micro-macro relationship. To realise this aim, we formulated the following threeresearch questions.Research question 1:Which accountability relations are studied between 2007-2017, and what do thesestudies conclude about the way social workers account for their work in theserelations?Research question 2:How do social workers across different practical contexts account for their work onthe three types of accountability relations?Research question 3:Which micro-institutional attributes can be identified that interact with theaccountability practices of social workers?To address the research questions formulated above, we conducted four research projects.Table 2 at the next page summarizes the main characteristics of these four projects. Eachproject was designed around one of the three types of accountability relations and arounddistinct features of the institutional context, which enabled us to empirically examine themicro-macro relationship.The first project addresses the first and the second research questions. In this project, weconducted a scoping review of empirical studies in nine social work journals, publishedbetween 2007 and 2017. The aim was to scope research findings on the three types ofaccountabilities. We reviewed which types of mechanisms were studied and how they areused by social workers in practice. We also included descriptive information on the types ofmethodology used in the studies and the country in which the studies were conducted.The second, third and fourth research projects addressed the second and third researchquestions with through a cross-national case studies in which we zoomed in on the three typesof accountability relations and specific mechanisms in institutional contexts. In the secondresearch project, we explored the accountability relation between the government-fundedshelter facility, as an example of political-administrative accountability. By building onresource dependence theory, we explored how social workers accounted for their work to thegovernment, and how this was affected by social policy institutions.In the third research project, we explored social workers' accountability relationship withprofessional peers and professional standards, as an example of professional accountability.We used Maynard-Moody & Musheno's (2013) theory of 'citizen and state narratives' toexamine how the social workers of a local welfare organisation navigated between bothnarratives, and how this was affected by organisational institutions.In the fourth research project, we explored social workers' accountability relationship withcitizens and service users, as an example of participative-democratic accountability. We usedDzur's (2019) theory of democratic professionalism to explore the theoretical validity andpractical usefulness of democratic professionalism for social work. We searched for empiricalexamples of democratic professionalism in our cross-national case study data. Morespecifically, we searched for examples that show how democratic professionals can bridge thegap between citizens and social institutions. We also explored how these democratic practicesare affected by distinct features of the policy environment (macro-level).
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