Client-information systems have been part of social workers’ daily work for quite some time. These systems are expected to support work tasks in direct client-work practice but also to provide aggregated information for organizational and societal needs. Evidence as to how recording and use of information in a client information system (CIS) are integrated into social workers’ work tasks is still very scarce, however.
The objective of the thesis is to explore interconnections among social workers, client information, and CIS solutions in child-protection work. The main research question is this: How do social workers record and use information in client-information systems in child-protection work? The question is answered through analysis of three relationships in this setting: user–system, user–information, and information–system.
Data were collected in three Finnish municipal social-service organizations providing in-home services in child protection in 2008. The datasets comprise two types of qualitative data. Firstly, semi-structured interviews were conducted with social workers (n = 23), social-work managers (n = 7), and system administrators (n = 3). Secondly, observation sessions coupled with verbal accounts (n = 12) were realized with social workers through a think-aloud method while they used a CIS in their actual work tasks. Analysis was carried out separately for each of four subsidiary studies (I–IV) in the thesis project, each supported by a framing conceptualization involving client process, temporal trajectory, workarounds, and recording process.
The findings indicated that information was recorded and used in various forms and for various purposes in the course of a client process. The social workers were active agents in their relations to information and the CIS. They recorded information selectively, on the basis of intentional and unintentional choices made as the recording process progressed from oral encounter to CIS entries. The information was also used selectively, with social workers employing various distinct kinds of reading tactics. The social workers used workarounds within and outside the CIS to facilitate more effective information interaction: the CIS did not provide an adequate overview of a client case, because of insufficiently developed technical properties but also since information was recorded as time-sliced bits and pieces. The study suggests that social workers’ work performance, information, and CIS use are highly dependent on each other.
The thesis makes several general contributions to understanding of task-based information interaction and information behavior as a process. The work also led to practical suggestions for rectification of CIS shortcomings.