Indications of Quality or Quality as a Matter of Fact? “Open Comparisons” within the Social Work Sector

  • Katarina Jacobsson
  • Elisabeth Carlstedt


Improving quality by auditing, ranking, and measuring the public sector is now a well-established practice. Quality measurements within social work are no exception, despite professionals’ initial concerns. The aim of this paper is to analyze how quality is measured within the social services and how the measurement tool Open Comparisons (OC) is received by professionals. The material primarily consists of documents and interviews with managers and quality developers. In particular, this paper contributes to our understanding of the process in which indications of quality become established measures of quality, reified into documents, plans, and tables. Practitioners can use the OC results as guidance or rhetorical props or for displaying their organization in a “shop window.” Because of the transparency of the results, the prospect of pride – and the risk of shame for being one of the few municipalities that withholds information – may explain the great readiness to voluntarily provide the data necessary for OC. Nevertheless, questions are raised by practitioners about whether OC measures “quality that matters.”