Institutional Transformation: The Impact of Performance Measurement on Professional Practice in Social Work

Catherine McDonald

Abstract

Performance measurement represents one example of a range of processes operating within the discursive formation of New Public Management, all of which are destabilising (or at least have the potential to destabilise) modernist professional social work. In this article I argue that the changes represented by such processes operate in insidious yet powerful ways, with significant consequences for those professions drawn into the calculus of performativity (Lyotard, 1984). My primary thesis is that the use of performance measurement in the reconfiguration of service delivery systems provides a revealing example of mezzo and micro processes of institutional change. By this I mean that in drawing its rationality from the macro level of neo-liberal ideology and politics and implemented at the organisational (mezzo) level, performance measurement has the capacity to transform the way social workers undertake their work. In the process, the professional identity projected by social work may also be radically transformed. I suggest that this last claim is as yet just that – a claim - which awaits empirical investigation.

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