As governmental tasks are decentralised (transferred from central government to administrative agencies and local governments), inspectorates are expected to strengthen their regulatory role and tackle social problems. This is difficult, however, when they must assess complex, uncertain or ambiguous situations in which the pre-defined assessment criteria that inspectorates normally use are either unavailable or contested by the actors involved. In this article, we explore the challenges faced by a partnership of five Dutch inspectorates that carried out a joint inspection on tackling the consequences of youth poverty. This is based on a 20-month ethnographic study, conducted between June 2009 and March 2011. To analyse the data, we applied a theoretical framework based on characterisation and governance of risks. Our study shows that, like many other social problems, poverty among children was associated with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity. Complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity were tolerated to some degree, for example, during stakeholder participation to provide diverse options for improvement. However, inspectors often did not persist with such participatory processes. The pressure to act that was associated with a strict regulatory role and the regulatory context led the inspectorates to hide the lack of certainty by constructing poverty as a simple problem. As a result, little benefit was derived from increasing participation. We highlight how meeting the two expectations - strengthening the regulatory role and tackling social problems - posed important dilemmas for the inspectorates, especially in situations where knowledge was not available and roles were unclear. © 2013 Copyright

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Keywords ambiguity, complexity, health care, inspectorates, poverty, risk, risk governance, uncertainty
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Journal Health, Risk and Society
Rutz, S.I, Adams, S.A, Buitendijk, S.E, Robben, P.B.M, & de Bont, A.A. (2013). Hiding complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity: how inspectorates simplify issues to create enforceable action. Health, Risk and Society, 15(4), 363–379. doi:10.1080/13698575.2013.796343