Kompetenzzentrum für Public Management (KPM)


The Role of Governance in Public Sector Digitalization (RoGoDi)

Point of departure

This research aims to investigate how public organizations can steer digitalization initiatives towards better outcomes, such as improved performance and increased public value. This is important as, for more than a decade, digitalization has defined changes in public administration (Filgueiras & Almeida, 2021) and, as such, represents the key post-New Public Management reform (Torfing et al., 2020). Significant public resources have been dedicated to a variety of digitalization initiatives ranging from scanning documents to using artificial intelligence to automate service delivery (Neumann et al., 2022; Gartner, 2021; Mergel et al., 2019). Despite this, digitalization initiatives frequently result in failure (Goh & Arenas, 2020; Neumann et al., 2019). 

The baseline for this research is the omnipresent argument that attributes of digitalization initiatives (such as the scope of an initiative or a type of utilized technology) define the outcomes: e.g., large-scale initiatives utilizing cut-edge technology almost always founder (Wiewiora & Desouza, 2022; Yaraghi, 2015; Gingnell et al., 2014; Holgeid & Thompson, 2013). The proposed solution for reaching better outcomes has been to prioritize small-scale initiatives utilizing mature technology (OECD, 2001). However, this is not always possible. Our research aims to investigate whether the forms of governance in public sector digitalization matter, being the key element in the process from designing a digitalization initiative to ensuring it delivers the expected outcomes, and whether some governance configurations are better in this respect than others.

Research questions

This proposal develops an exploration into how public governance contributes to governmental outcomes in  the era of public sector digitalization (Schou & Hjelholt, 2018) based on the following overarching research questions:

  1. Which governance configurations do public organizations adopt to govern digitalization initiatives? 
  2. Does governance matter to the outcomes of digitalization initiatives? How does it make a difference or why does it not?

Research design

Given that governance of public sector digitalization is strongly contextualized (OECD, 2021), we focus on one country to limit the number of contextual factors at play. As a result of its politico-administrative structure, strong reform efforts for digitalization at all state levels combined with lively discussions on the role of governance in this endeavor (e.g. eID or e-voting initiatives), as well as a high permeability of knowledge and experience between the private and public sector in a position-based public sector employment regime, Switzerland presents a variety of governance configurations, digitalization initiatives and the outcomes thereof.

The research follows a mixed-methods research design, starting with a quantitative part in the form of an original survey of stakeholders involved in the governance of public sector digitalization in Switzerland, followed by a qualitative part in the form of a multiple-case study utilizing stakeholder interviews. The quantitative part of the research will establish whether governance makes a difference, while the qualitative part will investigate how governance makes a difference, or why it does not.

Anticipated findings

This research represents both a science-driven and a use-inspired approach, as its findings will inform both the theory and the practice of digitalization in the public sector. The empirical evidence about whether governance matters to the outcomes of digitalization might enlighten future decisions on how digitalization should be governed. The findings will contribute to avoiding undesirable outcomes in future digitalization of the public sector and facilitate the design of better governance structures across organizations and state levels by proposing standards and guidance on the governance of digitalization in the public sector.


This research is conducted in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Oliver Neumann, Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) of the Faculty of Law, Criminal Justice and Public Administration at the University of Lausanne and Dr. Iuliia Spycher, post-doc at the KPM, University of Bern. This research project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.