The accidental caseworker: How digital self-service influences citizens' administrative burden

Christian Østergaard Madsen, Ida Lindgren, Ulf Melin

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Following a large worldwide uptake of digital public services, several countries have turned to mandatory digitization, whereby citizens or companies must use digital self-service applications to apply for public services. However, previous research on the adoption of digital public services has predominantly focused on simple, or even hypothetical, services and situations. We identify a knowledge gap concerning citizens' experience of actual interactions with digital self-service for more complicated social services and benefits. Therefore, we explore
digital self-service from the perspective of citizens using the concept of administrative burden as a theoretical lens. Specifically, we analyze data from in-depth empirical studies encompassing observations, interviews, and focus group discussions with single mothers who have applied for public benefits following divorce or family separation. We present a descriptive process model for citizens' application for public benefits. Next, we illustrate how digital self-service influences citizens' administrative burden throughout this process. An important
contribution reveals that citizens' administrative burden increases—they must learn how to complete tasks that professional caseworkers previously conducted and comply with government demands concerning digital selfservice applications and specific data formats. However, digital self-service can also reduce citizens' administrative burden through the online provision of information and automatic data transfers. Further, digital selfservice offers an anonymous application process that may reduce the psychological costs and stigma associated with receiving public benefits. Finally, our research contributes new insights at the theoretical level, linking the concept of administrative burden to complex digital self-service use from a citizen perspective.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGovernment Information Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2021


  • Administrative burden
  • Citizens
  • Digital self-service
  • Social service and benefits
  • Udbetaling Danmark


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