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Public Administration and Technology

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PATECH (Public Administration and Technology)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2017-05-29 do 2019-05-28

Digital technologies are in the centre of the ongoing industrial revolution that is bound to change not only market organizations and activities, but also societies and governments. Ever-increasing computational power has led to automatization and transformation of human jobs and shift towards predictive governance and semi-autonomous services, whereas under the slogan of ‘smart cities’ the governments, private firms as well as citizens are expected to transform the way we organize the public sector, communities and built environment around us. Technological innovations are likely to radically shift the focus of public administration away from traditional activities towards public sector organisations as mediators between different and often conflicting interests of (technology) industry, other public organisations and citizens (activists and service consumers). At the same time, the public sector can be expected to remain an important enabler of technological change in markets. This provides governments with many challenges: they need to become better not only in utilizing digital technologies for economic growth and development, but also in providing more effective and efficient public services while creating more inclusive public governance systems. Central to these developments is the evolution of public sector technological capacities: an ability of public organizations to explore, develop and/or adapt new technological solutions in public service design, delivery and evaluation. The research objectives of the project are to: a) develop a coherent and novel conceptual framework on public sector technological capacities by merging public administration, organizational theory, and technological change literatures, and b) provide novel empirically grounded explanations on the co-evolutionary development mechanisms of public organizations and technology.
The theoretical work focused on developing further the concept of public sector technological capacities in relation to (1) the change in internal organizational processes and (2) external relationships with citizens, society and private organizations. For the former aspect, the developed conceptual framework made three specific contributions to the digital governance literature. First, the framework provided an analytical lenses for studying which managerial and organizational processes are behind the emerging technology-induced public management trajectories. Second, it offers an evolutionary rather than instrumental or static framework for understanding public sector technological change. Third, the framework shows how mapping the evolution of digitalization projects on organizational level might provide a useful empirical framework for understanding technological capacities.

As for the second theoretical focus, we first addressed the interlinkages between public sector technological capacities and citizen engagement. We summarized the existing evidence and revisited the key technological issues relevant for public service co-production and co-creation, and then developed an analytical framework that distinguishes between the impacts of different technologies (per functionality) on different elements of co-production and co-creation (interaction, motivation, resources and decision-making). Secondly, we addressed the interlinkages between public sector innovation/technological capacities and private firms. As a result, we demonstrated how public sector can induce technological innovations through public-private partnerships, and how this capacity can be seen as a key relational capability of technology-oriented public sector organizations.

Using the developed theoretical framework and insights, the empirical work focused on Estonia – as a leading digital governance case – and on a comparative study of four different countries. We used document analysis and interviews to gain new empirical insights. On Estonia, we first compared nine different Estonian public sector organizations with different levels of technological capacities. The results showed how idiosyncratic external selection environment causes uneven development of technological capacities in the public sector even in the allegedly supportive overall e-government context. We then analyzed more closely two Estonian case-studies (e-residency and VAT collection reform) to understand the relationship between the inter-organizational collaboration and public sector technological capacity. As a result, we showed that digital technology (machine-to-machine solutions) is not neutral, but it may act as a syntax of how public services evolve over time. Thirdly, we did an in-depth case study on the dynamic capacity of digital technologies as we explored the evolution of the Estonian tax authority from a post-Soviet public sector organization to a globally leading organization of its kind. As the main result, we showed which managerial and organizational processes were behind the emergence and evolution of the high-level technological capacities.

Comparatively, and in cooperation with project partners, we relied on the cases of tax authorities in Estonia, Singapore, New Zealand and Belgium to show 1) how public sector organizations develop new technological capabilities by combining internal and external sources of new knowledge, and 2) what kind of new administrative trajectories are emerging from these learning processes. We showed how public sector organizations set the organizational boundaries in terms of what knowledge (technological capacity) is being created inside organization and what is outsourced, and demonstrated how the ICT revolution is influencing the transformation of the public sector in terms of emerging public administration trajectories.
The project made important contributions to the state of the art. The concept of technological capacity as it was developed further, is an original contribution to the public administration literature as it combines the evolutionary, organizational and technological aspects from a novel perspective. The papers on the interlinkages between the public sector technological capacity and its external relationships provided new perspectives on how to understand the technology, innovation and engagement of citizens and private companies in public service delivery. The empirical papers on Estonia provided two main contributions: first, it showed that even in a country with significant e-government achievements, the organizational capabilities to harness new technologies can remain highly uneven due to idiosyncracies in the external selection environments; second, the research demonstrated which kind of long-term evolutionary mechanisms are behind digital transformation of public organizations. Finally, the comparative paper on tax authorities was a novel attempt in the public administration literature to merge the relational and internal learning capabilities perspectives in explaining the evolution of technological capacities and digital transformation in the public sector organizations.

As a result, the project offered valuable new insights into the dynamics of technological capacities of the public sector, which enables public sector leaders and policy-makers to develop more effective and sustainable digital-era public organizations, and more inclusive and effective relationships with citizens and private sector stakeholders.
PATECH project results presented at the annual EGPA conference in Lausanne, Switzerland