Implementing digitalization in the public sector. Technologies, agency, and governance

Published date01 April 2023
Date01 April 2023
Subject MatterArticles
digitalization in the
public sector.
Technologies, agency, and
Marco Di Giulio
Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche, Universita
`di Genova, Italy
Giancarlo Vecchi
Politecnico di Milano - School of Management, Department
of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering -
Policy Analysis Team, Italy
Technological transformations are currently reshaping the structure and strategies of
public administrations and are expected to foster efficiency and policy integration.
However, the literature on digital government has demonstrated that the introduction
of technology is far from a smooth process, as it is often associated with conflict and
negative feedback. This paper departs from James Thompson’s notion of technology,
understood as one of the most effective devices for organizational integration to con-
ceptualise the context of digital innovations in the public sphere. ICTs are not all the
same; they differ in their impact on intra- and inter-organizational interdependencies
that are required for them to work properly in their domain. This paper introduces a
typology of ICT-driven governance structures and advances hypotheses regarding the
causal mechanisms underpinning successful implementation. Each type of governance
structure is exemplified by an original case study of a programme of e-government
reform in the Italian public sector. The empirical evidence is used to explore some
implications concerning the strategies by which the programmes have been imple-
mented and their transferability to other contexts.
Corresponding author:
Marco Di Giulio, Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche, Universita
`di Genova, Piazzale E. Brignole, 3 A, 16124
Genova GE, Italy.
Public Policy and Administration
!The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/09520767211023283
2023, Vol. 38(2) 133–158
134 Public Policy and Administration 38(2)
Governance, ICT, implementation, organizational capacity
The social sciences have traditionally paid attention to the impact of technology on
organizations; however, the field currently acknowledges that this impact is also
constantly mediated by human agency (Bolgherini, 2007; Contini and Lanzara,
2008; Dunleavy et al., 2006; Heeks, 2007; Kallinikos et al., 2013; Pollitt, 2011;
Rogge et al., 2017). As far as public sector digitalisation is considered as a
policy domain, it is easy to observe how public administrations must cooperate
with one other and engage societal actors – experts, firms, citizens – in redesigning
structures and processes by which public services are delivered (Clarke and Craft,
2019). For instance, the creation of a national information system for a given
sector (health, education, etc.) implies a fairly high level of integration among
organizations that, for various reasons, are part of the network: national and
regional bureaucracies, local authorities, agencies, as well as the organizations
that manage the technology itself. This means that policy entrepreneurs have to
cope with actors who may not comply or can strategically use technological leg-
acies to jeopardize a project involving a radical transformation (see Margetts and
Naumann, 2017).
In this perspective, this paper aims to frame the interaction of technology and
governance in public administration changes, establishing a dialogue between the
literature on digital government and the debate on the determinants of success in
cases in which policymakers have to manage technological change. Hence, two
main claims are advanced.
The first builds on the idea that Information and Communication Technologies
(ICTs) are ordering forces, as they restructure power and authority when intro-
duced in a system of relations (Kallinikos, 2005; Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2017: 7).
Yet, the paper argues that ICTs are not all the same and artifacts of different kind
push policymakers to activate specific strategies for the implementation of proper
governance structures. Hence, it is argued that ICTs influence on the distribution
of power and knowledge both within and across the organizations of a given policy
field mostly depend on their operational characteristics.
The second claim is that, although technologies shape the governance structure
of relevant processes, policy actors—individuals and organizations—have to learn
how to govern them (Challies et al., 2017; Dunlop, 2015) in order to exploit their
potential and make them operate with the expected effectiveness.
Adopting a perspective inspired by Thompson’s notion of organizational inter-
dependencies, we argue that some operational characteristics of a given ICT influ-
ence the structure of specific governance settings, which are typified in section two.
In turn, depending on the nature of the interdependencies posed by the chosen

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT