Automated decision-making, discretion and public values: a case study of two municipalities and their case management of social assistance

Our aim is to increase knowledge about discretion and automated decision-making (ADM) in social work based on an approach that brings forward the role of humans and technologies and the resulting public values. This approach is applied to a case study of two Swedish municipalities and their social assistance case management. Our research questions are twofold: (1) How do humans and technologies appear in decisions about social assistance? and (2) How do they influence digital discretion and the resulting public values? A case management process with human actors (caseworkers and clients) and non-human actors (case management systems, e-applications, robotic process automation and algorithms) is used, influencing the digital discretion of caseworkers and the resulting ethical, democratic and professional values. Digital discretion is not dichotomous but, rather, related to a repertoire of technologies, their design and their use in a routine that ADM is a part of. The interaction with clients may be considered an important rationale for ADM itself. There is a necessary difference in weight between public values related to more straightforward (an ‘improved’ process enabling professional values) and complicating factors (distrust between caseworkers and the unwanted use of information technology).