Vincent Homburg, Professor of E-Governance, talks about the intertwining of politics and technology in his inaugural lecture
On Thursday, 6 April at 16:15, Vincent Homburg, Professor of E-Governance at the University of Tartu, will give his inaugural lecture "The Politics of E-Governance" in the university's assembly hall.
There is no shortage of enthusiastic claims about how, in Estonia and elsewhere, information technologies revolutionise public service delivery and transform the ways in which governments and citizens interact. "Estonia has shown the world how a truly digital society could look like. Hopefully it can, in the near future, also show the world how responsible innovation will look like," said Professor Vincent Homburg.
A more critical reflection on these claims reveals that technologies are not necessarily neutral means to desirable ends: artificial intelligence applications may develop discriminatory behaviours in deciding what citizens are likely to commit fraud, decision support systems in welfare benefits administration may intentionally or unintentionally reduce street-level bureaucrats’ capacity to help out citizens facing emergencies, and on social media platforms political communication increasingly takes place in a way that fuels polarisation.
According to Homburg, we nowadays have high hopes of using social media for enabling new forms of interaction between politicians and citizens. "Social media platforms, in all fairness, were never designed to be used as platforms for political participation and deliberation, with polarisation of discussions being a consequence."
In other words: the development, implementation and use of technology in public governance (also referred to as ‘e-governance’) is likely to be more political than is apparent at first sight. "For far too long, technology and politics have been positioned in separate domains. With the advent of risk-scoring algorithms in social benefits fraud detection, and the uses of AI to assess recidivism risks, it has become painfully clear how ‘political’ technology can be," added Professor Homburg.
In his inaugural lecture, Vincent Homburg will discuss how politics are entangled with technologies in government, and why political science is needed to study e-governance. References to his empirical research will be used to unpack and illustrate this argument, which will serve as the foundation for the development of future research directions in the field of e-governance and digital public service delivery.
"Digital public service delivery is not only about making public services available through websites and apps. It is also about providing intelligent decision support to public officials serving citizens. Whether and how the tasks of these officials change, and with that, whether and how the human face of bureaucracies changes, will become a major theme in the study of e-governance in the upcoming years," added Homburg
Vincent Homburg is Professor of E-Governance and holder of the ERA Chair of e-governance and digital public services at the University of Tartu. Together with Victor Bekkers, he co-edited The Information Ecology of E-Government (IOS Press, 2005) and with the late Christopher Pollitt and Sandra van Thiel, he edited The New Public Management in Europe (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007). His monograph Understanding E-Government (2008) was published with Taylor and Francis. Homburg’s recent articles have been published in academic journals such as International Review of Administrative Sciences, Local Government Studies, The Information Society, Journal of Behavior and Information Technology, the International Journal of Public Administration and AI & Law.
Everyone is welcome!
The lecture can also be viewed from the video portal UTTV.