Bureaucratic routines and error management in algorithmic systems


  • Juho Pääkkönen Helsingin yliopisto


automated decision-making, decision-making error, irreflexivity, bureaucracy, routine dynamics


This article discusses how an analogy between algorithms and bureaucratic decision-making could help conceptualize error management in algorithmic systems. It argues that a view of algorithms as irreflexive bureaucratic processes is insufficient as an account of errors in complex public sector contexts, where algorithms operate jointly with other organizational work practices. To conceptualize such contexts, the article proposes that algorithms could be viewed as analogous to more traditional work routines in bureaucratic organizations. Doing so helps clarify that algorithmic irreflexivity becomes problematic when the coordination of routine work around automation fails. Thus, also the challenges of error management come to concern the wider context of organized work. This argument is illustrated using known examples from the critical literature on algorithms. Finally, drawing on recent studies in routine dynamics, the article formulates empirical research directions on error management in algorithmic systems.