Linda Blaasvær, Tore Gulden and Frederick Steier
The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) | Oslo Metropolitan University | University of South Florida
This article introduces an understanding of double-bind communication based on cybernetic theory. It describes how a synthesised model of logical paradoxes can serve as a means for the system analysis of the double-bind communication inherent in the relationship between clients and service providers in public services. The study is positioned in the context of the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV). A double bind can be described as communication that is paradoxical in contexts where, for example, the client (in this study, the citizen seeking help in difficult life situations) encounters the dimensions of being disciplined and helped as two facets of a conversation with the service provider (in this study, a public servant representing a welfare provider).
We have explored communication sequences in citizen–public servant conversations in relation to cybernetic theory and the work of G. Bateson (1972) to illustrate the research on double-bind communication. The communication examined in this ongoing study is limited to a few standardised letters created by NAV and sent to clients when support for sick leave is about to cease. Thus, the study is concerned with how to recognise and understand double-bind communication in welfare services and service design in general and, as an extension, with how this understanding can inform the process of designing a mutually trustworthy communication and the relationship between the citizen and welfare provider. It is suggested that the model of logical paradoxes synthesised in this research can be introduced to design students. This will enable a wider understanding of double-bind functioning and, thereby, create a method to design for situations where double-bind communication is detected or unavoidable.
KEYWORDS: systemic design, cybernetic theory, double bind, design method, public services, sustainable welfare system