Bloody Paperwork

Algorithmic Governance and Control in UK Integrated Health and Social Care Settings


  • Guro Huby Høgskolen i Østfold
  • John Harries University of Edinburgh



algorithmic governance, datafication, alienation, Actor Network Theory, integrated health, social care public services


This article is about paperwork: the work staff in UK integrated health and social care teams did to transform small transactions of everyday care work into big data, which in turn enabled the governance of complex service arrangements. This data-driven approach to governance, algorithmic governance, raises issues of agency and transparency. We address these issues by paying close attention to how care staff articulated their own understandings and apprehensions of the process. The article draws on a study of work roles in UK integrated health and social care teams providing support and follow up for older people and people with mental health problems. Digitised tools were used for the coordination and management of these teams. Staff described how the digitised documentation of care practices produced standardised representations of their work which poorly reflected the complexity of their everyday interactions with colleagues and clients/patients. There was a double-ness to these representations: on the one hand, they were malleable and open to negotiation, on the other they produced tangible consequences hardwired into the system of governance, transforming the work of care into an object outside of itself. In order to bring out the complexities in staff’s accounts about paperwork, the article brings the Marxist analytic of alienation into conversation with Actor Network Theory (ANT) to suggest that overstating the hegemonic power of digital technologies risks itself becoming hegemonic. We advocate a nuanced and situated analysis of what digitised documentary practices consist of and what they do in different circumstances.