Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore if and how a professional identity can be formed in the wake of the foundation of a new public service. In the article we focus on how different forces, regulative and emergent, interact and contribute to a development of a coherent understanding of a professional identity in a decentralized service. The case of local authority energy and climate consultancy is an illustrative example of a nascent service occupation in Sweden where the individuals holding the job title are geographically dispersed.
Design/methodology/approach: This paper has a qualitative approach and relies on three different data sources: participatory observations, written documents, and in-depth interviews with energy and climate advisers working in a particular region in Sweden. The study covers the years 2005 to 2010.
Findings: Our findings suggest that identity formation among geographically dispersed individuals in a nascent service occupation is possible. The development of collective understanding of the professional identity is influenced both by regulative and emergent forces, where regulative and autonomous forces seem to concur.
Research limitations/implications: This paper is limited to one particular service occupation in Sweden from which generalizations are limited.
Practical implications: The findings may serve as useful input for management in order to understand facilitation of identity building among professionals in decentralized functions.
Originality/value: The value of this study lies in the comprehensive approach of how different pertinent forces interact with each other in order for a cohesive understanding of a work-related identity to develop in newly established service occupations.