Bureaucracy as a Lens for Analyzing and Designing Algorithmic Systems

Juho Pääkkönen, Matti Nelimarkka, Jesse Haapoja, Airi Lampinen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Scholarship on algorithms has drawn on the analogy between algorithmic systems and bureaucracies to diagnose shortcomings in algorithmic decision-making. We extend the analogy further by drawing on Michel Crozier’s theory of bureaucratic organizations to analyze the relationship between algorithmic and human decision-making power. We present algorithms as analogous to impartial bureaucratic rules for controlling action, and argue that discretionary decision-making power in algorithmic systems accumulates at locations where uncertainty about the operation of algorithms persists. This key point of our essay connects with Alkhatib and Bernstein’s theory of ’street-level algorithms’, and highlights that the role of human discretion in algorithmic systems is to accommodate uncertain situations which inflexible algorithms cannot handle. We conclude by discussing how the analysis and design of algorithmic systems could seek to identify and cultivate important sources of uncertainty, to enable the human discretionary work that enhances systemic resilience in the face of algorithmic errors.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCHI 2020 - Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
PublisherACM SIGCOMM, ACM Digital library
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)978-1-4503-6708-0
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2020
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventACM SIGCHI Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Honolulu, United States
Duration: 26 Apr 202030 Apr 2020


ConferenceACM SIGCHI Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Abbreviated titleACM CHI
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Bureaucracy as a Lens for Analyzing and Designing Algorithmic Systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this