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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

Media impact in the public service sector: Changes in practices, processes and resource allocation in the government of welfare

Alternative title: Medienes innflytelse på offentlig sektor: Endringer i praksiser, prosesser og ressursallokering i velferdsstaten

Awarded: NOK 7.8 mill.

This project examines how a conflict-oriented, tabloid and personalized news logic influences public welfare policy and administrative practices. The Media impact in the public service sector (MIPS) project analyses media impact ranging from adaptations to the news rhythm and formats, to more fundamental changes in organizational practices and decision-making processes. In spite of the prominent role of the media in the debates over public welfare, the knowledge, both within media studies and in political science, is sparse regarding how the media affect the internal processes in ministries and agencies. The MIPS project is empirically grounded, theoretically ambitious and interdisciplinary. Based on a combination of ethnographic fieldwork (2015), interviews (2015-2018), document analysis (2015-2018) and surveys in Norwegian and Dutch ministries and agencies (2015-2016), we find: - How media affect civil servants in the public sector: Media considerations constitute a distinguishable value among public servants in Norwegian ministries and agencies. Media values have not replaced traditional bureaucratic values; they rather coexist and are closely related. Civil servants have in other words integrated media values into a more comprehensive 'portfolio' of relevant values. Media considerations are linked to experience with media-related work general perceptions of media?s role in society. In ministries, bureaucratic media values seem to be more evenly distributed across hierarchies than in the agencies, suggesting stronger mediatization throughout these organizations. - On the minister's tight leash? Ministers and public bureaucracies are increasingly subject to media scrutiny and public attention, but does media attention impact on ministers and agency autonomy? While some public agencies are formally autonomous, others are quasi-autonomous with various degrees of self-determination. Independent of tasks and sector we find that attention from ministers in times of crises decreases agency autonomy, while media exposure increases agency autonomy. This indicates that reputational threats and media pressure make the ministers tighten the leash on subordinate agencies, at the same time as media attention seems to increase the room of maneuver for visible agencies. - Serving the Media Ministers: Ministerial communication in Norway is strongly centred on the minister in both reactive media management and promotion of the minister and new policies. This personalization is driven both by demands from the media and the proactive strategies of political and administrative actors within ministries. Overall, the interplay between the logic of commercial news media, political ambitions, internal administrative ambitions, and changes in executive government shapes and reinforce the personalization of ministerial communication. - Balancing mediated agency, blame avoidance and institutional responsibility: Victims of failed government policies, raising claims for proper public services, represents a frequently used narrative in the media. For ministries, institutional constraints, the formal delegation of responsibility and strategic concerns, limit the ability to respond to this type of personal critical stories in the media. This results in a standard type of unconvincing media performance, where incumbents appear to evade direct personal responsibility in the media. - Media influence on agendas, resource allocation and decision-making. We find strong support for the notion that media can influence agendas, resource allocation and decision-making in ministries and agencies. Findings suggest that there are both push and pull forces involved when media influence public bureaucracies. When media pressure increases, changes in priorities in particular occur when the issues are deemed important by political actors themselves, who use the media agenda as a momentum for new initiatives. - Social bureaucracy? Integrating social media in government communication: Norwegian ministries struggle to integrate social media in daily routines, priorities and practices. There is shared understanding of the necessity of making active use of social media platforms. Yet, lack of resources, formal guidelines and dilemmas related to interactivity and privacy call for updated social media policies that take account of the particular responsibility and constraints of government communication. Social media campaigns and paid targeting. Social media platforms provide revolutionary tools for governments to gain information about social media users and to target messages to subgroups through sponsored posts. While current principles of government communication in encourage the use of new technology to reach out to people, this type of information campaigns pose dilemmas related to norms of transparency and completeness in all forms of information from the state.

This project examines how a conflict-oriented, tabloid and dramatic news logic influences public welfare policies and administrative practices. News stories related to health and welfare are often emotional and critical. Online journalism, social media and 24/7 news cycles have intensified media pressure, demanding instant responses from affected stakeholders and propelling the development of sophisticated media strategies within public organizations. In spite of the prominent role of the media in the debates over public welfare, the knowledge, both within media studies and in political science, is sparse regarding how the media affect the internal processes in ministries and agencies. Addressing this knowledge gap the project asks: 1) How does media coverage influence the allocation of public welfare resources? 2) How is the interplay between political leadership and public administration affected by a news logic? 3) How do civil servants experience media pressure on welfare issues and how can media-related practices improve? 4) How are fundamental values (fairness, solidarity and equality) of the welfare state challenged by the media and how can these processes be theorized? The project contributes to the international research front by linking mediatization theory with theories on changes in public administration and welfare policies. Through the combination of qualitative ethnographic methods with extensive survey studies, the MIPS project contributes to a broader and deeper understanding of what is at stake should the public service increasingly adapt their structures and processes to media pressure. Examining the normative implications and exploring alternatives to present media management, the MIPS team engages stakeholders within the public sector to critically evaluate the implications of current practices and propose alternative models for media management.

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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon