Value positions in the implementation of automated decision-making in social assistance

Automated decision-making (ADM) has been introduced into the public sector in many countries, including for decisions made regarding the provision of economic support to people in need. This article analyses the value positions (the ‘desired intentions’) for using ADM to determine such decisions in four Swedish municipalities. The value positions related to efficiency of the application process, its result and the improved service that ensues, including more time for helping people to become self-supporting. The core issue of helping people in need and the mundanisation of activities when discussed as ‘services’ is of paramount importance. Meanwhile, the value position of professionalism relates to providing well-designed technology to preserve the quality of decisions. The results also showed differences between municipalities regarding aspects of professionalism that influence the (digital and otherwise) discretion of caseworkers: user participation in design, length of experiences and so on. Divergences between instances of value positions were detected, such as the need to increase the use of information and communications technology as a part of service values, whereas a lack of trust in citizens may exist among caseworkers. Through the framework of value positions, this article contributes to the discourse on the use of theory in social work research.