Employment services in an age of e-government

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The increasing use of information and communications technologies among government departments and non-government agencies has fundamentally changed the implementation of employment services policy in Australia. The administrative arrangements for governing unemployment and unemployed people are now constituted by a complex contractual interplay between government departments as 'purchasers' and a range of small and large private organizations as 'providers'. Assessing, tracking and monitoring the activities of unemployed people through the various parts of the employment services system has been made possible by developments in information technology and tailored computer programs. Consequently, the discretionary capacity that is traditionally associated with 'street-level bureaucracy' has been partly transformed into more prescriptive forms of 'screen-level bureaucracy'. The knowledge embedded in these new computer-based technologies is considered superior because it is based on 'objective calculations', rather than subjective assessments of individual employees. The relationship between the sociopolitical context of unemployment policy and emerging forms of e-government is explored using illustrative findings from a qualitative pilot study undertaken in two Australian sites. The findings suggest that some of the new technologies in the employment services system are welcomed, while other applications are experienced as contradictory to the aims of delivering a personalized and respectful service.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Employment services
  • Governmentality
  • Information and communications technology
  • Surveillance

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