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Standardisation—the end of professional discretion?

  • Lina Ponnert
  • Kerstin Svensson
Publishing year: 2016
Language: English
Pages: 586-599
Publication/Series: European Journal of Social Work
Volume: 19
Issue: 3/4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Routledge Taylor & Francis
Additional info: First Published online: 27 Aug 2015

Abstract english

This article analyses and discusses standardisation in human service organisations and its implications for professionals and for professionalism in social work. The theoretical framework derives from neo-institutional theory and theories regarding professionalism. By highlighting the role of professionals within a field influenced by organisational demands and market endeavour, this article contributes to the understanding of increased standardisation as a way to reduce uncertainty and enhance legitimacy for human service organisations, but at the expense of traditional professional discretion. This development has been interpreted as de-professionalisation and as an adjustment to organisational demands. It could also be seen as a professional strategy to strengthen professional trust and provide a sense of certainty for professionals. It can also lead to professional uncertainty about how to handle the discretion in the light of standardised tools. This development might, depending on the organisational context and the individual professional’s choices, result in a manual-mental specialised professionalism as well as a strictly mechanical form of work. Standardisation thus puts high demands on professionals and how they use the professional discretion, since professionalism requires professionals capable of handling a mix of logics without totally yielding discretionary power and making professional judgement.


  • Social Work
  • discretion
  • uncertainty
  • standardisation
  • professionalism
  • human service organisations
  • manual-based work


  • ISSN: 1369-1457
Kerstin Svensson
E-mail: kerstin [dot] svensson [at] soch [dot] lu [dot] se


School of Social Work

+46 46 222 04 61


School of Social Work
Lund University
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