Practices of frontline interactions in the Swedish Social Insurance Agency

Research project
Active research
Project period
2016 - 2020
Project owner
Department of Journalism, Media and Communication

Short description

A study of how goals and rules are shaped and handled in conversations between officials and citizens in the public sector.

Conversations with clients are central activities of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. Officials answer requests, give advice, seek solutions to client’s problems, make assessments and inform about decisions. Conflicting demands and dilemmas are sometimes handled. The quality of the Agency’s work – in treatment, service, fairness, efficiency – is dependent on how conversations are performed. As in other agencies digital self-services are developed, but personal conversations are still important.

This study investigates practices of frontline interactions and has three main objectives: (1) to provide knowledge of how policy, rules and goals are shaped and applied in the conversations; (2) to compare with previous studies in order to develop the knowledge of general conversational practices as well as differences between institutional contexts; (3) to develop the methods of applied conversation in workshops within the Agency.

The study is based on theories developed in three research areas: (1) the micro sociological analysis of institutional interaction; (2) the research on policy implementation and professional discretion in frontline work and interaction; (3) the research on institutional frameworks and policy changes in the public sector. The study integrates the analyses of institutional contexts (policy, rules and routines) and detailed analyses of recorded conversations. The empirical study includes contacts between officials and clients at three local offices and within specific “Insurance areas”. The main focus is on personal meetings and phone calls, but the study also includes other forms of contacts used. The institutional contexts are studied through interviews and documents.

The project makes an important contribution in applying methods for detailed conversation analyses to explore frontline activities of significant importance for the policy and legitimacy of the agency, the professionalism and roles of the officials and the rights of the clients.


Mats Ekström, University of Gothenburg

Anders Bruhn, University of Örebro

Elin Thunman, University of Uppsala