HSE University Hosts ‘Public Sector Development and Data-driven Government’ Conference

HSE University Hosts ‘Public Sector Development and Data-driven Government’ Conference

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How can the metaverse help to improve public administration? Can gamification change attitudes to data? And how can governments create ethical data policies? On June 29–30 2022, the International Laboratory for Digital Transformation in Public Administration held an online conference dedicated to these questions and more. The conference was organised and moderated by Laboratory Head Evgeny Styrin and Leading Research Fellow Anna Sanina.

Over the last decade, experts have highlighted the value of data use and encouraged governments to prioritise data when implementing digital transformation. Data-driven public sector development treats data as an asset and an important part of policy-making, service delivery, organisational management and innovation. Data-driven approaches have become a major trend and had a positive impact on public administration.

The conference was an international forum for researchers and practitioners to discuss current trends and cutting-edge technologies for the development of the public sector and public policy. During the two-day event, 19 speakers from the Netherlands, Israel, Brazil, China, Mexico, and Russia discussed topics such as AI, digital platforms in public administration, data-based public management, machine learning and digital government.

Prof. Rodrigo Sandoval Almazan from Autonomous University of Mexico State, Prof. Eran Vigoda-Gadot from University of Haifa, Israel, Dr Anna Sanina, and Dr Evgeny Styrin gave talks on the conceptual foundations of digital governance and the challenges posed by the ‘metaverse’ for contemporary public administration.

Prof. Almazan said that the ‘metaverse’, which is characterised by online presence, interoperability, e-standardisation and a business focus, provides new challenges and perspectives for governments around the world.

The creation of a ‘public-verse’ environment for public administration could provide opportunities to meet avatars of public officials, resolve problems, receive consultations and access public services.

However, metaverse interaction creates enormous challenges for the public sector, including state surveillance, regulation of the metaverse economy, moderation and content creation, virtual bureaucracy and others. According to Prof. Almazan, the question of how governments will regulate the metaverse remains open.

Prof. Vigoda-Gadot reported on his conceptual analysis of the terminology of digital transformation. He outlined ‘digitised public management’ (DPM) using the concept of a ‘digital government footprint’ (DGF) and its evolution, and proposed a comprehensive model of the impact of DPM on individuals’ reactions to the digitalisation of the public environment. The model focuses on the socio-psychological impact of social transformation on individuals. He said that the new concepts of DPM and DGF could play a central role in shaping the future structure of public values, citizenship and democratic forms. 

Dr Sanina and Dr Styrin presented their laboratory’s theory-based project on the conceptual foundations of digital governance and digital transformation. While ‘digital government transformation’ (DGT) is a widely used term, it still lacks a clear conceptual definition in academic literature. The study is focused on defining various aspects of DGT through expert surveys and interviews. The researchers found that DGT is a nebulous concept, while terms such as ‘digitisation’ and ‘digitalisation’ have more concrete and practical meanings. The empirical research underlying this study was developed in collaboration with the head of the Internal Research and Monitoring Center, Evgenia Kutergina from ITMO University.

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Anna Semenova, Research Assistant at the HSE International Laboratory for Digital Transformation in Public Administration, noted that the rapid expansion of digital transformation studies in recent years provides major opportunities for bibliometric analysis and visualisation techniques for reviewing research in this field. Semenova’s study focuses on a bibliometric approach for studying digital transformation.

She found that the number of publications in the field of digital transformation doubles every three years on average, and that the most-cited works were mostly theoretical studies. 

Prof. Tao Chen and Dr Liang Zhehao from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China; Prof. Edgar Alejandro Ruvalcaba-Gomez from the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, Victor Hugo Garcia-Benitez from iLab, Mexico; as well as Anastasiia Popova and Yana Rybushkina from HSE University gave presentations on various aspects of AI and machine learning tools in contemporary government.

Prof. Chen and Dr Liang’s presentation was devoted to the potential impact of government AI failures on citizens’ attitudes. Despite the growing prevalence of decision-making algorithms, people are reluctant to accept algorithmic recommendations. The research examines this ‘algorithm aversion’ through peoples’ attitudes towards mistakes made by AIs and humans in forecasting. The results show that people tend to over-trust algorithms, but react more sensitively to AI mistakes than human ones. The speakers provided possible explanations for ‘algorithm aversion’ and discussed future research design.

Prof. Alejandro Ruvalcaba-Gomez and Victor Hugo Garcia-Benitez analysed the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy in Mexico from an ethics and human rights perspective.

They found that the adoption of technologies such as AI generates a variety of social, ethical, and legal conflicts.

While Mexico’s national AI strategy considers ethics and human rights to be guiding principles, these guidelines are poorly connected to practical implementation and need further elaboration.

Anastasiia Popova and Yana Rybushkina gave a presentation on how machine learning can improve the effects of ‘nudging’ in public administration. They presented a machine-learning-based model to predict when nudging is effective at solving problems and making management decisions.

A separate branch of discussion was devoted to data-driven policy making solutions, digital platforms and Open Government Data.

Thiago José Tavares Ávila, strategist in Digital Transformation and researcher in Transparency and Open Government, São Paulo, Brazil, talked about Brazilian subnational government experiences of data use to support public policy decision-making. For example, the state of Alagoas has an official open data platform that accumulates socioeconomic data from the state government. The portal provides geospatial data, economic and social statistics that can be used to compare quality of life in Brazil’s states.

Digital transformation could become a tool to improve a state's performance in quality-of-life rankings.

The speaker presented examples of how data-driven government can create new conditions for the development of public services.

Dr Fernando Kleiman from Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, presented a study on attitudes to the distribution of data in government agencies and willingness to share and apply it. He tested whether gamification can change civil servants’ attitudes to open data. More than 100 officials were involved in the game-playing process. The results showed that the game could have a significant impact on attitudes towards the use of open data, meaning that such interventions can have a positive impact on government openness.

Viktoriya Kazanskaya from Biocad, Russia, and Mariia Vinokurova from HSE University presented a study on social innovation, future economic and social challenges, and new and innovative solutions to complex social problems. Their study focused on digital platforms as innovative forms of interaction between social policy actors and featured case studies demonstrating the potential of digital platforms to drive social change. The key advantage of such tools is the potential to transform social life technologically and by building new social interactions and institutions.

Evgeny Styrin presented an ongoing joint research project with Evgeny Rylskikh and Natalia Dmitrieva (HSE University) on the influence of digital platforms on public value systems. The study examines how the sharing economy is a transformative agent for the public sector and enables collaboration between the government and other stakeholders.

Digital platforms provide opportunities for value creation and more effective interactions. Driven by the private sector, digital platforms evolve and promote change in governments’ operations.

The study was based on a large-scale online survey that found that digital platforms create public value and build a trust system for stakeholder interactions. Digital platforms are becoming an independent management field and states must adapt more quickly to the new perspectives and challenges of the collaborative consumption economy.

Dr Beatriz Barreto Brasileiro Lanza, IDB Consultant and Scientific-Technical Leader of the Brazilian States and Federal District Transformation Group in Brazil, spoke about how digital transformation can improve public administration and public services in many governments. While the Brazilian government is accelerating digital transformation, the country faces subnational challenges due to its territorial features and the need for aligned actions. She highlighted the lack of federal coordination in implementing digital transformation and the need to ensure digital inclusion throughout the country.

The conference was a successful platform for sharing experience and research ideas and establishing contacts for further cooperation in various academic fields.