KU Leuven, Belgium

Wim Van Lancker

TOPIC: Automation is not the Enemy: How Digitalization Can Make for Better Social Work?


Wim Van Lancker is an associate professor of social work and social policy at the Centre for Sociological Research, KU Leuven, in Belgium. He heads the research institute for Social Policy, Social Work, Family and Population Dynamics (ReSPOND). His research agenda is focused on social policies, their design and implementation through institutions and social interventions by social workers as well as their social legitimacy. Recent work appeared in the American Sociological Review, Socio-Economic Review, Journal of Social Policy and Journal of European Social Policy. More information at www.respond-research.eu and www.wimvanlancker.be.


Within social work research and practice, digitalization is usually regarded in a negative fashion. It is well known how an increasing reliance on automated process risk increasing social inequalities, that many social workers are concerned of becoming screen-level bureaucrats which would jeopardize their professional capacity, and that algorithmic decision-making processes are increasingly replacing the human factor in modern bureaucracies which will in particular affect the most vulnerable people seeking support. While these concerns are important and warrant, in this keynote lecture I will discuss how and under what circumstances digitalization and the fourth industrial revolution increases the potential of social work to improve the living conditions of those at risk. Drawing on recent, on-going research, I will focus on outreaching practice, social assistance benefits, and the non-take up of social rights to demonstrate the potential of digitalization for social work.