Constructing Social Procurement: An Institutional Perspective on Working with Employment Requirements

Abstract: Private and public organisations are increasingly using their purchasing power to mitigate societal issues and create social value. This is called social procurement. Due to problems such as segregation, unemployment, and social exclusion, social procurement in Sweden has focused on employment requirements. This is a type of criterion within social procurement that is used to create employment opportunities for marginalised long-term unemployed people, such as immigrants, youths and/or people with disabilities. These target groups often live in segregated neighbourhoods in run-down housing. This situation has led organisations in the Swedish construction and real estate sector to implement employment requirements in the procurement of their building and refurbishment projects and also in the facilities maintenance of the buildings, often hiring their own tenants. By hiring unemployed people to work with refurbishing their run-down housing, and supplying more labour to the construction sector, employment requirements have the potential to create social value for individuals, organisations, and for society. However, it is unclear how social procurement and employment requirements unfold in practice and what it means for the daily work of individual and organisational actors. Working with employment requirements can spur new ways of thinking and organising; create new roles, actors and responsibilities; create new practices, knowledge and coordination needs; and create new business opportunities. These new ways of thinking and organising, requires closer empirical, theoretical and conceptual examination. Therefore, this thesis aims to analyse how individual and organisational actors work with social procurement and how this work brings about institutional change processes that affect the everyday work of these actors. This thesis builds on a qualitative research design, mainly using interviews, where the practice-oriented theoretical perspectives of institutional work and institutional logics are applied to analyse how practices, roles, identities and norms change as a result of working with social procurement. The findings in this thesis make several contributions to both theory and practice. For social procurement research, in the context of the construction and real estate sector, this thesis adds rich details about what employment requirements mean for individual actors, and their professional roles, identities and daily work practices. The research also provides details on what enablers, drivers and barriers there are for working with employment requirements, as well as a discussion on which type of actors that are affected by these enablers, drivers and barriers. For the theoretical perspectives of institutional logics and work, this research adds insight and an empirical example of how a conflicting and disruptive institutional logic collide and mesh in a tightly regulated and institutionalised environment, and how a sustainable concept may become institutionalised despite considerable inertia, through the use of creative institutional work. Moreover, the research illustrates how actors differ in terms of the type of institutional work they conduct, and how these different kinds of ‘institutional workmanship’ interact. It also calls into question the role of intentionality in institutional work. For practitioners, the findings highlight what works well and less well when actors work with employment requirements. The identified barriers constitute a concrete list of areas in which adjustments can be made to enable an effective and efficient creation and dissemination of employment requirements and associated practices. For those already working with employment requirements today, the findings acknowledge the struggles that individual actors face when working with employment requirements, which can help legitimise their roles and practices and, by extension, the use of employment requirements.