Welfare for citizens with complex problems

In this study we investigated how welfare services manage citizens with complex problems such as addiction to drugs or alcohol, mental illness and unemployment.

This project investigated the management of citizens, who at the same time are enrolled in drug treatment, psychiatric treatment and receive social security unemployment benefits. We focused on the relations between a range of overlapping and, and at times, conflicting policies, diverse services, local frameworks and professional values needed to accommodate the complex problems of these citizens. The aim of the project was to contribute new knowledge about how and why cases of such citizens are managed the way they are.


Some citizens experience a range of overlapping and even conflicting services resulting from the fact that they need help from various services simultaneously. Drug abuse, mental illness and unemployment necessitate different types of services, each with different administrative tools and professional approaches to help and different organizational set-ups. These services are also framed by different types of policies, such as national acts and guidelines, and organizational strategies, that articulate different ideas about how to assist a person in need of help. Taken together, these components constitute a complex web of welfare policies and practices, where citizens and professionals are entangled in complex webs of overlapping and potentially conflicting ways of managing cases. By identifying different policies and the social practices of professionals, we analysed how complex cases are nevertheless made to work in day-to-day bureaucratic practices.

The study

The study consisted of three parts:

  1. Analysis of documents (legislation, guidelines, strategies), which frame the services provided to citizens with complex problems.
  2. Observations within services targeting marginalized citizens as well as interviews with professionals and users of these services.
  3. An investigation of how citizens with complex problems and means to help them are represented by professionals in the records used in the three types of welfare systems.

The project lasted from June 1st 2015 to July 1st 2018 and was funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark