Top scholars discuss public sector digital transformation

Top scholars discuss public sector digital transformation

Five recorded presentations on innovation, AI, digital governance, ethics and more from Hertie School-Bocconi PhD series are available online.


How can governments offer high-quality public services or achieve social outcomes through innovation – in particular through digital transformation? A virtual lunchtime series in fall 2020, organised by the Hertie School’s Centre for Digital Governance and Bocconi University’s Department of Social and Political Sciences, brought international experts together with PhD researchers in the CIVICA network to explore topics like artificial intelligence (AI), digital governance, and ethics in public sector innovation.

The series offered a forum for sharing research and evidence and for interacting with a network of scholars in Europe and the Americas. In each session, a renowned scholar presented their current work on a topic, followed by a short Q&A. PhD researchers then led a discussion on a related published paper.

Recordings of the series are now available to the public.

In the first session on 27 October, Gianluca Misuraca, Former Senior Scientist on Digital Governance and Social Innovation at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, spoke on “Shaping Digital Europe 2040 – Artificial Intelligence & Public Sector Innovation in a Data-Driven Society”.

Misuraca noted in his talk that today there is “limited robust empirical evidence on the effects of digital government transformation, especially on less measurable impacts such as inclusion, legitimacy and participation.”

Discussion paper: Kuziemski, M. & Misuraca, G., (2020). AI Governance in the Public Sector: Three Tales from the Frontiers of Automated Decision-making in Democratic Settings, Telecommunications Policy, Vol. 44, Issue 6, July 2020,

Read more: Power A(I) symmetries: The public sector’s double bind with regards to AI governance

On 17 November, Albert Meijer, Professor of Public Innovation at Utrecht University spoke on “The Legitimacy of Algorithmic Governance,” discussing in particular the need for algorithmic governance in “predictive policing”. According to Meijer,

“We really need to work on the legitimacy of algorithmic government. I think there is a real danger of ending up in a technocratic state... This requires that we understand the dynamics of algorithmic government and we take actions that ensure it’s a democratic form of government.”

Discussion paper: Meijer, A. & Grimmelikhuijsen, SA. (forthcoming). Responsible and Accountable Algorithmization: How to Generate Citizen Trust in Governmental Usage of Algorithms. In: R. Peeters & M. Schuilenburg (eds.), The Algorithmic Society. London: Routledge.

Read more:Let’s talk about values – Responsible algorithmisation in government

In the third session on 24 November, Mary Feeney, Professor and Lincoln Professor of Ethics in Public Affairs at Arizona State University, spoke on“E-government in the US“. Feeney presented research she has worked on for the last decade on technology use in the US government.

“When we think about the US, we often have this idea that it’s leading in innovation and technology. In reality, the federal government has branches that are very advanced, but there is not a lot of deeply embedded innovation throughout government, in particular when you move down to the state or local levels.”

Feeney said her research has shown that “…we need a much deeper engagement in the social and political construction of technologies in public administration research.”

Discussion Paper: Fusi, F., & Feeney, M. K. (2018). Social media in the workplace: Information exchange, productivity, or waste? The American Review of Public Administration, 48(5), 395-412

Read more: Doing more with less? The role of public managers in adopting social media

In the fourth session on 26 November, Marijn Janssen, Head of the Information and Communication Technology at Delft University of Technology spoke on “Trustworthy Digital Government”.

Discussion Paper: Janssen, M., Brous, P., Estevez, E., Barbosa, L. S., & Janowski, T. (2020). Data governance: Organizing data for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. Government Information Quarterly, 37(3), 101493.

No video is available for this seminar. Read a blog post for further information: Trustworthy AI starts with trustworthy data: Governing automation in the public sector

On 3 December, Elsa Estevez, Independent Researcher at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) in Argentina spoke on “Ethics in Digital Public Services”. Estevez presented findings from her research on the ethical challenges associated with digital services in public administration, outlined principles needed to underpin the design of digital services, and offered high-level policy recommendations.

“Digital technologies are deeply rooted in many daily activities. They open significant opportunities to humankind… but on the other side they raise unprecedented ethical challenges – among them, privacy violations due to surveillance of individual behavior and misuse of personal data.”

Discussion Paper: Alarabiat, A., Soares, D., & Estevez, E. (2020). Determinants of citizens' intention to engage in government-led electronic participation initiatives through Facebook. Government Information Quarterly, 101537,

Read more: A matter of context: Local, national, and global considerations for digital transformation governance

On 14 December, Helen Margetts, Professor of Society and the Internet and Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, spoke on “Data Intensive, Digital Governance in Times of Crisis: Reconsidering Resilience with Data Science and Artificial Intelligence“. Margetts said her research currently focuses on the contribution of “data-intensive technologies” for governance and policymaking. Looking at the COVID-19 crisis, Margetts said,

“In many countries, it seems that the policymaking system has revealed a lack of resilience, which we might have hoped could be tackled using the latest generation of technologies, but which doesn’t seem to have happened.”

In her video, she outlines why this did not occur and offers possible remedies for the future.

Discussion Paper: Margetts, Helen & Dorobantu, Cosmina. (2019). Rethink government with AI. Nature. 568. 163-165. Link:

Read more: Efficiency or Ethics? The case for resilient policymaking in the age of AI