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Social Workers’ Experiences of Bureaucracy: A Systematic Synthesis of Qualitative Studies

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posted on 2022-07-05, 09:49 authored by Katheryn Margaret Pascoe, Bethany Waterhouse-Bradley, Tony McGinn

 Since the 1990s managerialism has spread across the public sector, implementing pri-vate sector practices targeting greater efficiency in public services. Consequently,reforms focusing on risk management, standardisation, fragmentation and account-ability have increased demands for paperwork and procedure compliance from street-level bureaucrats (SLBs). Focusing specifically on the impact on social work, this paperpresents the findings of a systematic literature review synthesising social workers ex-perience of bureaucracy across thirty-nine published qualitative studies. Despite warn-ings being voiced about the risks associated with enforcing highly bureaucratic andmanagerial cultures in social work, evidence reinforces the consequences predictedover two decades prior. Major themes from the systematic synthesis include negativeeffects on social workers and service users, social workers’ resistance to bureaucraticstructures and the coping strategies they employed. Although the review found somepositive perspectives, this was sporadic and only reported in a minority of studies. AsSLBs, social workers face an important question: What should be prioritised in the de-livery of social services? Managing procedures, administration and documentation orpursuing sustainable change through meaningful engagement with service users? 


Published in

British Journal of Social Work


Oxford University Press and The British Association of Social Workers


  • VoR (Version of Record)


Pascoe, K. M., Waterhouse-Bradley, B., & McGinn, T. (2022). Social Workers’ Experiences of Bureaucracy: A Systematic Synthesis of Qualitative Studies. The British Journal of Social Work. DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcac106

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy

Cardiff Met Authors

Katheryn Margaret Pascoe

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  • © The Authors


  • en

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