Discretion and accountability in social work : a study of a professional bureaucracy
A literature review showed that social services departments use the traditional bureaucratic methods of formalisation and centralisation to control their social workers, and that social workers report this as a source of dissatisfaction. Organisation theorists identify the professional bureaucracy as an alternative organisational model, but there is no study of a social services department operating in this way. A department was found where the social workers stated that there were few rules or procedures governing their practice, and where they expressed satisfaction with their decision making powers. A research programme was designed in order to examine the department's organisation in more detail. Interviews were conducted with 27 social workers and 23 managers, up to and including the director. Detailed transcriptions were prepared and validated by the respondents as an accurate record of their views about their practice and the workings of the department. Analysis of these transcriptions revealed that the department was a variant of the professional bureaucracy model. The thesis explores the practice of the social workers and managers in detail. Whilst the social workers expressed considerable satisfaction with their freedom from rules and procedures and with their decision making powers, a number of concerns about the model are highlighted and discussed. The thesis also examines how a department organised on these professional lines dealt with the issue of accountability, and shows that there is no inevitable conflict between professional discretion and the need for accountability.