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SOcietal Needs aNalysis and Emerging Technologies in the public Sector

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How to turn the public sector into a technology leader

An EU-funded project is showing how the public sector can use new technologies to launch innovative new services or deliver the same ones better to meet social needs.

Digital Economy

When you think of the public sector, innovation and technology are maybe not the first words that come to mind. But a team of EU-funded researchers aimed to transform the public sector from a technological laggard into a leading force in using technology to meet the needs of citizens. The outputs of the SONNETS include a list which identifies 23 technologies which could have a big impact on the public sector. Yet this is not a project about technology, it is about establishing the link between technology and making people’s lives better, says project expert Yannis Charalabidis, associate professor of eGovernance at Greece’s University of the Aegean. SONNETS began by working with individuals, businesses and people from government in Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain to define what they need from the public sector. This was pared down to the top 12, with others further down the list. Disruptive technologies A second output is a seven-step methodological framework, including templates for assessing feasibility and impact, to guide the choice of technologies. It includes an analysis of trends in 23 emerging technologies which are currently disrupting the private sector. “For each one, you would need ten PhD students to identify the further uses and issues,” says Dr Charalabidis. “If you compare the public sector to the private, in terms of management and service delivery the private sector typically directs 10–25 % of its efforts to finding and designing new products, but in the public sector no one does that job,” he says, “only in a few countries have they realised that you need people devoted to that on a daily basis.” The third output is a series of roadmaps which assign each societal need to one or more emerging ICTs. They describe what needs to be done to take this technology from its current state to a fully implemented version adapted to the public sector and are complemented by research recommendations for policymakers, ICT experts and public sector officials. Fast pace of change The rapid pace of change means the SONNETS technology list will quickly become obsolete. But the SONNET framework can equip people in the public sector to take those decisions for themselves by helping ‘finding their way in this sea of technology’, according to Dr Charalabidis. Above all, it aims to facilitate decision making based on evidence over ideology. “It is a very different ball game to take important decisions in a society where citizens are very well-connected; you cannot take decisions without taking the evidence systematically into account,” says Dr Charalabidis. He believes that technologies such as artificial intelligence and policymaking 2.0 have big potential for enabling new services in the public sector. Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, could remove the need for the authorities to act as trusted third parties for selling a house, storing driving licences or keeping a municipal census. But a lot depends on how they are used. Ordinary people may fear that artificial intelligence, for instance, could take their jobs and or end up concentrating wealth in fewer hands. “No one could say that this period in human history is lacking in innovation, but the issue here is how innovation can provide a better life in the long term for citizens?” concludes Dr Charalabidis.


SONNETS, public sector, service delivery, emerging technologies, societal needs, evidence-based decision making

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