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date: 26 June 2022

Information Processing and Digitalization in Bureaucracieslocked

Information Processing and Digitalization in Bureaucracieslocked

  • Tero ErkkiläTero ErkkiläDepartment of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki

Summary

Bureaucracies and their processing of information have evolved along with the formation of states, from absolutist to welfare state and beyond. Digitalization has both reflected and expedited these changes, but it is important to keep in mind that digital-era governance is also conditioned by existing information resources as well as institutional practices and administrative culture. To understand the digital transformations of states, one needs to engage in contextual analysis of the actual changes that might show even paradoxical and unintended effects. Initially, the studies on the effects of information systems on bureaucracies focused on single organizations. But the focus has since shifted toward digitally enhanced interaction with the society in terms of service provision, responsiveness, participatory governance, and deliberation, as well as economic exploitation of public data. Indeed, the history of digitalization in bureaucracies also reads as an account of its opening. But there are also contradictory developments concerning the use of big data, learning systems, and digital surveillance technologies that have created new confidential or secretive domains of information processing in bureaucracies. Another pressing topic is automation of decision making, which can range from rules-based decisions to learning systems. This has created new demands for control, both in terms of citizen information rights as well as accountability systems. While one should be cautious about claims of revolutionary changes, the increasing tempo and interconnectedness characterizing digitalization of bureaucratic activities pose major challenges for public accountability. The historical roots of state information are important in understanding changes of information processing in public administration through digitalization, highlighting the transformations of states and new stakeholders and forms of collaboration, as well as the emerging questions of accountability. But instead of readily assuming structural changes, one should engage in contextualized analysis of the actual effects of digitalization to fully understand them.

Subjects

  • Governance/Political Change
  • Policy, Administration, and Bureaucracy
  • Political Economy

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