Labour, professions and services research

Scandinavian traditions, imported solutions and local adaptation

This focus area aims to increase knowledge about the connections between new forms of organisation, work organisation, working conditions and service quality. Many studies have shown that the goals and intentions that new forms of organisation aim to achieve do not necessarily mean that their work is organised in accordance with those same goals and intentions. Information about the relationships outlined show that new organisational concepts can have many different consequences. Goals and intentions may be realised, but unintended consequences can have a negative effect on working conditions and service quality, or there may be no discernible changes in these factors. Precisely because there is no unequivocal connection between these factors, empirical studies are needed to provide a better knowledge base regarding change processes in the Norwegian labour market – in our case, in the public sector in particular.
Within the framework of our focus area, we wish to focus on the connection between the introduction of new forms of management in the public sector and the resulting consequences. Our research will primarily focus on two labour market areas: higher education and health and welfare services.

Health and welfare services

The health and welfare sector (comprising somatic and mental health services, social services, child welfare services and labour market agencies) is undergoing major changes as a result of a process of continuous government reform. Many of these changes are specific to certain parts of the sector and relate to health and welfare policy challenges that change how work is organised, (professional) work and service provision in defined areas. Some issues are relevant across areas and are linked to general management and organisational concepts that the sector is now seeking to implement. The main purpose is threefold: cost efficiency, quality development and user participation. We will claim that the most important organisational move being introduced relates to process approaches, which are in some contexts described as a 'new' paradigm in management and organisation of work, based on standardisation of work processes. This is specifically linked to the establishment of treatment pathways, patient pathways, standardised pathways in the health sector and new principles for case processing in the welfare sector – not least in the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV). We want to study the knowledge base for and design of models based on process perspectives. We are also concerned with the consequences that the implementation of such models has on professional work and its organisation and on the quality of service provision in different parts of the sector. Examples of such consequences include changes in the degree of autonomy in professional work, the extent to which there is further intensification of work, and whether quality measurements contribute to improving quality in service provision. The effect of quality measuresments is particularly important in relation to the dilemmas that arise when a relatively uniform design or model for standardised work processes is applied to health and welfare work with both what is known as 'tame problems' and 'wicked problems'.

Higher education

Over the past decades, Norwegian universities and university colleges have undergone extensive changes that have had major impacts on both employees and students. Some of the changes have been mere adjustments in relation to former educational regimes, while others have been of a radical and more transformative nature. The 2003 Quality Reform and the 2015 white paper on structure reform in the university and university college sector are examples of the latter.

The Quality Reform contributed to intensification and increased use of incentives in higher education. For example, internal resources are now allocated based on the study programmes offered, and the students' choices and interests determine the fate of different subject areas and disciplines to a greater extent than before. In addition, good student throughput is rewarded to a much greater extent than before the reform. Research is rewarded on the basis of the number of books and articles it results in and the status of the publisher or international journals that publish them. More quantitative indicators have been introduced in more areas than before, which has further reinforced the instrumental nature of higher education.

The point of departure for the white paper on structure reform in the university and university college sector was that it is necessary to consolidate resources in fewer and stronger institutions in order to improve the quality of education and research. This has resulted in many mergers and proposed mergers, among other things.

It is clear that more research is necessary to understand how and in what way these changes affect academic life. The reforms were introduced for the purpose of improving quality, efficiency and flexibility in higher education. Our research looks at whether or not these intentions have been realised, and on what impact the changes have had on staff. We will pay particular attention to the following questions: What effect has the changes in organisation structures had on staff working conditions? How have the reforms influenced staff members' possibility to decide the content of their teaching and research? How do staff relate to the indicators that are now linked to teaching and research? What are the consequences of mergers between institutions of higher education?