Social Work on the Whiteboard: Governing by Comparing Performance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article explores a number-based comparative logic unfolding around a particular kind of meeting in a social work setting: a daily and short gathering referred to as a “pulse meeting”. At such meetings, staff gather around a whiteboard visualizing individual statistics in terms of the number of client meetings performed or assistance decisions made. The statistics function as a basis for further division of work tasks. As such, it is a particular way of representing what social workers do at work. Ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the social services revealed how such openly exposed individ- ual performance and the related number-based comparative logic can trump alternative logics ranging from the overall collective performance, competing views on clients’ needs and efficiency, and the social worker’s sense of professional- ism. When participants of the study compared themselves to each other and in relation to standards and goals, certain conclusions were drawn about what should be done by whom and in what order. Such conclusions became embedded in an objectivity status difficult for anyone to argue against. Finally, the number-based logic also found its way into the counter-practices formulated by social workers unsatisfied with what was visualized on the whiteboard.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Work


  • attention displacement, comparative performance, performance measurements, social work
Translated title of the contributionSocialt arbete på vita tavlan: styra genom att jämföra prestationer
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-195
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Inclusion
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Feb 28
Publication categoryResearch

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