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Bridging Identity Gaps—Supporting Identity Performance in Citizen Service Encounters

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This paper explores in situ citizen service encounters in government offices. Drawing upon ethnographically informed fieldwork in Canada and Denmark, we discuss the challenges to supporting citizens in constructing and performing identities in public service settings. Our data suggests that citizens make use of at least three strategies in their attempts to perform the appropriate identities needed to “fit within the system” in specific encounters with government. There exists a strong correlation between citizens’ ability to perform identities that are compatible with the bureaucratic administrative processes and the quality and swiftness of the service they receive. As we bring to light in this paper, this “fitting in” with rigid bureaucratic procedures and IT systems interestingly requires a substantial collaborative effort between the receiver(s) of the service and a complex constellation of surrounding stakeholders and intermediaries. This collaboration and the performing of multiple identities raises challenges for the design of e-government systems aimed at supporting physical and digital citizen service provision, as well as issues regarding privacy, citizenship, and public service quality. Lastly, we turn to a discussion of how the established identity gaps can be addressed through design. Information and communication technologies as well as face-to-face encounters have an important role to play in the building of an interface to government. Here, it is paramount to consider the context in which people and systems must function in order to meet the need for dynamic identity performance.


Borchorst, Nikolaj Gandrup; McPhail, Brenda; Smith, Karen Louise; Ferenbok, Joseph; Clement, Andrew (2012): Bridging Identity Gaps—Supporting Identity Performance in Citizen Service Encounters. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 21, No. 6. DOI: 10.1007/s10606-012-9163-5. Springer. PISSN: 1573-7551. pp. 555-590