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Externalizing an ‘Asset Model’ of Activation: Creative Institutional Work by Frontline Workers in the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Service

Abstract

The past two decades have brought significant shifts in Norwegian activation policy towards a joined‐up and employability‐enhancing approach to labour market inclusion in order to promote return‐to‐work despite health problems or disabilities. Utilizing a concept from health promotion, we term this approach an ‘asset model’ of activation. The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Service (NAV) and its local offices are the main agents implementing the new policy. This article aims to investigate the strategies that the frontline workers of NAV engage in, in order to externalize an ‘asset model’ in the adjacent medical field and to the general practitioners (GPs) in particular. We analyze these strategies as forms of creative institutional work – the purposive actions undertaken to change existing presumptions and opinions among relevant actors. We argue that although the new activation policy is not theirs to develop, in order to bring about changes in practice, ‘creating’ institutional work by the frontline workers is required. Our findings show that the frontline workers develop strategies in order to externalize an asset model to the GPs, as part of operationalizing an ‘activation’ reform into practice. We identify four forms of ‘creating’ institutional work undertaken by the frontline workers: ‘defining’ – enacting legislation and regulation in relation to GPs; ‘constructing normative networks’ – creating a more collaborative relationship with the GPs; ‘educating’ – teaching the GPs about the rules and regulations, and the opportunities and assistive measures they can offer to the injured; and thereby also ‘changing normative associations’ of GPs towards the activation policy.

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