Uforutsigbare relasjoner. Brukererfaringer, Nav-reformen og levd liv
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This Ph.D. dissertation is a study of the experiences users have with the Norwegian employment and welfare administration in the context of a major reform process. The Nav reform is the largest reform in the recent history of Norwegian public administration. The concern for the needs of the users played a central part in how the Nav reform was legitimated, and the reform was intended to “put the user in the center.” The reform goal was to get more people off welfare and into work or activation, to give better and more user friendly services, and to make the employment and welfare administration more efficient. The overarching goal of my project has been – through the experiences of the users – to explore the nature of the user/Nav relation. While there is a relatively extensive body of research on the reform implementation process in itself, as well as on the employees of the organization, there has been a lack of thorough studies of the group the intentions of the reform was aimed at – the users. The study is based on qualitative interviews with 29 users receiving long term sick leave benefits, long term unemployment benefits or rehabilitation allowances. The data is analyzed to locate and describe the problems in people’s lives that lead them to approach Nav for help, and the impressions they have with their experiences with the Nav system. It also explores the users’ agency in their relation to Nav, and the relationship between the interviewees’ work ethic and the range of opportunity and limitation they face with regards to e.g. employment. As complimentary data, I use field observations from the lobby of a local Nav office to analyze interaction in this setting. The interview data is approached and analyzed as accounts of users’ experiences. The analysis is given direction through a wide scope of theoretical influences, but I have especially made use of the institutional ethnography developed by Dorothy Smith. The study is also anchored in Norwegian and international research on welfare, public administration, “bureaucratic encounters,” and the relationship between the state and its citizens. The study finds that the handling and outcome of a request for help from Nav concerning the kind of issues that the group in question have, are complex, and interwoven in different contexts such as health care systems, working environment issues and labor market relations. People value work highly, but when their health is weakened they need to find ways to balance work with their overall life situation. Nav comes across to the interviewees as a large and fragmented administration. They meet, and must relate to, a lot of different Nav employees and organizational units. They thus get to know a set of different (and sometimes contradictory) ways of doing things. Often, the users have to attempt to control and coordinate the different units and levels of Nav themselves, which often leads to diverging and/or belated outcomes. Users develop strategies for dealing with Nav, and some lean on their personal abilities or bureaucratic competencies which they can mobilize in their relation with the system. The user/Nav relation is characterized by a tension between help and control. It is important to note that for the users these are emotional and important relations, as they determine their opportunities for income security (and the extent of this), as well as how they will be made to or able to spend their time. It is also an issue of categorization and diagnose – and thus about their own identity. The local Nav office was meant to be at the core of the Nav reform, and was fronted as a “one stop shop.” In my analysis of users’ experiences, a different image emerges. The local Nav office is a street level bureaucracy, but the other parts of Nav that the users’ need to deal with, such as case work units, on-line solutions and private service contractors providing services to Nav, follow different logics. The study indicates that the fragmented system the users are experiencing seems to stand in opposition to an efficient activation policy as well as a user friendly system. Given all the agents involved, and the unpredictability of the relations, this will put the Norwegian welfare system to new tests.