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Mobilizing Knowledge in Frontline Work: A Conceptual Framework and Empirical Exploration

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Frontline workers bring different forms of knowledge to bear on decisions and actions. Even so, knowledge has so far received limited attention in the street-level literature. This article develops a nuanced understanding of what constitutes knowledge in frontline work and shows how different forms of knowledge are mobilized on the ground. Taking a practice-based and abductive approach, the article draws on qualitative data from a multi-sited organizational ethnography in three Danish child welfare agencies as well as insights from a broad range of literature to build a conceptual framework for studying knowledge mobilization in frontline work. The framework delineates three interdependent forms of knowledge-knowledge-that, knowledge-how, and knowledge-by-acquaintance-that are all essential in frontline work. Knowledge-that is explicit and includes research evidence. Knowledge-how is rooted in experience and acquired through practice. Knowledge-by-acquaintance is rooted in encounters and denotes frontline workers' "sense"of a case or situation. The empirical work shows how each form of knowledge is mobilized in practice. The findings yield important insights into the dynamics of knowledge mobilization at the frontlines, including the detrimental effects of rapid turnover, the conditions for realizing ideals such as evidence-based practice and data-driven decision-making, and the potential implications of digitalization and algorithmization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number023
JournalPerspectives on Public Management and Governance
Pages (from-to)50-62
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

    Research areas

  • frontline work, Knowledge, organizational ethnography, street-level bureaucracy, child welfare, professionalism

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