Bridging Uncertainty through Standardized Discussion Methods

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Stefanie BUECHNER , Organizational and Administrative Sociology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany

Social care professionals dealing with “their cases” are routinely exposed to multiple uncertainties. As frontline-workers, they are not only occupied with sorting the relevant problems but also with building and maintaining the fragile alliances to their individual clients. An additional difficulty in the case of social workers in youth welfare offices lies in the “packet-challenge” of reaching the child via working as cooperatively as possible with the parent.

This paper explores how standardized case discussion methods can serve as “save paths” and thus a bridging mechanism to bushwhack through the uncertainties of casework. Accordingly, I shed light on the effects and functions of standardized case discussion methods on interactional processes. It can be shown that the acceptance of this method varies depending on the deep norms of the professional experts using it.  Therefore, I draw on the findings of my qualitative in-depth case study comparing three youth welfare offices. The method under examination regulates who is allowed to talk and prescribes permitted forms of participation at certain stages of the discussion (question, callback, suggestion, etc.).

It can be shown that the redistribution of speech rights by sticking strictly to the case discussion method bridges uncertainty in three ways. First, it creates a temporal “clearing” of the “normal confusion” of casework by offering expectable openings and closures of complexity. In terms of the garbage can model, it temporarily cleans up the streams of decision making. Second, it allows experts to explicitly deal with uncertainty by enfolding ambiguities, risks and chances in the presence of superiors without the need for early oversimplification. Third, it allows the tacit scanning of how strictly formal organizational rules are applied when the care plan needs to be approved, creating an ‘informal reliability’ for all participants.