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Computerizing the welfare state

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Although computer technology is central to the operation of the modern welfare state, there has been little analysis of its role or of the factors shaping the way in which it is used. Using data generated by expert informants from 13 OECD countries, this paper provides an indicative comparison of the aims of computerization in national social security systems over a 15-year period from 1985 to 2000. The paper seeks to identify and explain patterns in the data and outlines and examines four hypotheses. Building on social constructivist accounts of technology, the first three hypotheses attribute variations in the aims of computerization to different welfare state regimes, forms of capitalism, and structures of public administration. The fourth hypothesis, which plays down the importance of social factors, assumes that computerization is adopted as a means of improving operational efficiency and generating expenditure savings. The findings suggest that, in all 13 countries, computerization was adopted in the expectation that it would lead to increased productivity and higher standards of performance, thus providing most support for the fourth hypothesis. However, variations between countries suggest that the sociopolitical values associated with different welfare state regimes have also had some effect in shaping the ways in which computer technology has been used in national social security systems.
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Keywords: computerization; forms of capitalism; public administration regimes; social security; social shaping of technology; welfare regimes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Adam Ferguson Building, George Square, Edinburgh, EH9 8LL, UK 2: School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia

Publication date: September 1, 2005

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