Smart Services: public administration, healthcare, innovative education and training needs for students and professionals in the digital world

Track 4. Smart Services: public administration, healthcare, innovative education and training needs for students and professionals in the digital world


The dynamic nature of social and economic contexts is a phenomenon which scholars in business-related disciplines, including those investigating public administrations (PA), have always had to take into consideration when developing their theories. For those who study the economy of PAs, this “condition” has a double and fundamental value. This system of public agencies is, on the one hand, asked to face and possibly get ahead of change through innovative response in terms of volumes of services and increased efficiency; on the other hand, they are meant to contribute meaningfully to the change itself (determining it, directing it, facilitating it, slowing it down, accelerating it, etc.). In fact, the exercise of public functions – especially those involving regulation and penalties – makes a decisive contribution to the definition of the structural and value characteristics of the social and economic context in which all companies (including PA agencies) live and work; that is, the environment in which innovation takes shape and finds concerted expression. This demands an even more difficult commitment from PAs than they faced in past decades: one of the most significant variables generating and accelerating current economic and social change is technological innovation. Information and communication technology (ICT) and the Internet have changed our personal and professional habits forever and continue to do so relentlessly, in a direction that is far from clear. Regardless of the “territorial space” that is to be governed and regulated – local, national, supranational or international – or the public function under which the classes of needs are umbrellaed (health, education, transport, security, environment, justice, social, welfare, etc.), governments and PAs can no longer rely on existing processes and established practices when it comes to implementing their functions and providing the services required of them by the community. The challenge facing PAs is therefore not limited to the need to use information technology to more efficiently meet the increasingly diversified and growing needs with of limited financial resources, or even in conditions of real fiscal crisis. The goal is much more ambitious and arduous. If they fail to innovate technologically, PAs run the real risk of permanently losing contact and therefore legitimacy and credibility with citizens, especially with the younger generations (millennials), who are the main users of information technologies and already show little interest in the res publica, whose rationale and operation they do not understand. Contemporary society is so imbued and influenced by ICT that it is no longer enough for PAs to adopt reactive, opportunistic or fortuitous technological innovation. Very often the literature has reported attempts – even successful ones – at “fragmentary” technological innovation, thanks to which specific initiatives have been taken with good performance and small areas of skill in public organisational contexts. These, however, have been isolated cases at both intra-organisational and inter-organisational level. “Success stories”, “best practices” and innovation awards are now insufficient to provide an effective and lasting response to stakeholders’ demand for innovation, which inexorably comes stems from technological change. To facilitate technological change in the PA system, it is necessary to develop its capacities systemically, systematically and in capillary manner. To achieve this, PAs should first become systems that are truly open, capable of learning, accepting of the driving forces of innovation and ready to facilitate its balanced development. The strategic that many governments are now taking, especially at local level, is to use ICT to achieve collaborative governance, where all stakeholders, starting with citizens, are considered as peers and prosumers, rather than mere users. Open Innovation, Crowdsourcing, Co-creation, Co-production, Smart Services and Smart Cities are all expressions that have now part of the jargon of even theoretical debate on the subject of ICT in PAs. Albeit used in approximate terms, these expressions emphasise the usefulness of new technologies for the increasingly wider involvement of communities and stakeholders in all phases of the public management process: from the choice of objectives and the allocation of financial resources, to the design and production of services, and the measurement and reporting of results.

As stated by the EU in its eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020, the digital transformation of government is a key element to the success of the digital single market. The development of an ICT-enabled public sector has been recognised as a societal challenge in Horizon 2020, the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

Given the complexity of the scenario summarised and considering the high “stakes” at play for PAs, it is very important, including in financial and business terms, to promote research that rigorously investigates the conditions enabling technological innovation in PA, the incentives that might encourage the adoption of technological change, the organisational and cultural obstacles preventing the institutionalisation of such change, the potential risks of making superficial and/or blind-faith choices or ones based on the slavish and uncritical imitation of experiences seen in the profit sector. Business administration studies can certainly help to build a theory of technological innovation in PAs, including qualitative and quantitative surveys, to explain what conditions need to be met in order to increase the likelihood of technological innovation becoming systemic. On the other hand, our research cannot overlook the fact that technological change has a profound impact on the relationship between State and citizens, and this relates not so much to the methods of interrelations, but above all to the content of this relationship and, probably, to the ethics and values that underlie them. Although unstoppable, technological progress, especially in the context of public management, raises important questions about the values that corporate research cannot fail to consider. Inclusion, equal opportunities, legality, transparency, participation, trust, confidentiality and, last but not least, democracy have equal dignity in the public context alongside efficiency, effectiveness and economy.

At the same time, social media and platforms also influence the activities of teachers and trainers and/or the users of training/education, by overhauling traditional teaching and learning practices at a global level. Thanks to their interactive and multidimensional features, social networks like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can contribute to the learning process through systems such as m-learning and e-learning, enabling greater interactivity and cooperation between students and between teachers and students.

This track aims to stimulate exchange between business management scholars specifically interested in the effects of technological innovation on the concrete functioning and operation of PAs.

The aim of this call for papers is to encourage the business science community to put forward theoretical-methodological studies aimed at better understanding the enabling conditions, effects, limits and risks of technological innovation in public agencies, as well as case studies based on national and international experiences of the concrete application of technological innovation at any stage of the public management process, provided they are rigorously analysed within specific theoretical frameworks.

Although studies relating to any level of government and any kind of PA or public service are welcome, the main target of the call is contributions focusing on the following macro-themes:

  • Technological innovation and management of public health agencies
  • Smart cities
  • Co-design, Co-production of public services and disruptive technologies
  • E-learning, internationalisation of curricula, student engagement and training
  • Measurement and assessment of the effects of technological innovation
  • Ethical implications of technological innovation in public administrations.

Publication of contributions

The best contributions presented at the conference may be fast-tracked to the following journals, subject to the ordinary refereeing process:

  • Azienda Pubblica (Editor in Chief: Riccardo Mussari)
  • Journal of public budgeting, accounting and financial management (Editor in Chief: Giuseppe Grossi)
  • Mecosan (Editor in Chief: Elio Borgonovi)