1 Department of Political Science, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University2 Department of Political Science, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University
Active social policy is an example of New Public Management, which contains a set of policy tools directly affecting the various professions working in the welfare sector (Harrits & Møller 2011). The legitimization of the policy is based in a need to strengthen control with public expenditures and to restore public support for redistributive social benefits such as early retirement pension. Yet, New Public Management and professional norms are typically seen as two distinct rationalities, as reflected in the conflicting aims of the political system (retrenchment) and the ‘street-level bureaucrats’ (accountability)(Lipsky 1980, Friedson 2001). The gap between actual welfare practices and the policy intentions is often explained with reference to professional norms in general or with reference to information asymmetry between welfare professions (Roberts & Dietrich 1999). However, this paper offers an alternative perspective on how to interpret what happens when policy tools meet the practice of different welfare professions. Using interviews the interface between doctors and social workers in Denmark, the clash emerges as the concrete meeting between New Public Management and different professional norms. Among other things, the analysis illustrates that the social system has great difficulties when using the new policy tools in getting sick and unemployed citizens back on the labor market. There seems to be a fundamental incomparability between the social worker’s comprehensive focus on client capacities and the doctor’s specialized focus on physical deviations. As such, the paper is an empirically informed contribution to understanding what happens when new forms of New Public Management meet front-line workers such as social workers and doctors who use both rules and professional norms in their daily routine of discretion-making.