Public digitalisation: Citizens' need for informal IT support will be studied in new research project
As a part of the digitalisation of the public sector, citizens are required to handle more tasks themselves in the contact with governmental institutions and authorities. This is not equally easy for everybody and many people need help. But where can they find that support? A new research project at the IT University of Copenhagen’s Center for Digital Welfare is going to investigate informal welfare work in the digitized state.
When Denmark get ranked as "world champion in public digitalisation", the media is full of praising words from the Danish government and industry. However, not all citizens feel that public digitalisation is an unconditional success. For instance, there are people who do not have the resources to use the digital public self-service systems and therefore struggle to obtain access to the welfare services to which they are entitled and often need. But what do these people actually do? Do they give up? Do they find help? And who helps them? This is what the recently launched research project SOS is going to examine.
The researchers will study digitally vulnerable citizens’ contact with the three welfare sectors in Denmark, Sweden and Norway - the social sector in Demark, the educational sector in Sweden and the health sector in Norway. The informal welfare work is characterised by being unpaid and the correlation between what public institutions require of citizens in terms of them being able to communicate digitally and citizens’ need to get unpaid help from their surroundings is interesting because the digitally vulnerable people constitute a group of citizens that we don’t know much about, explains Barbara Nino Carreras, who is a PhD student at the IT University’s Centre for Digital Welfare:
- We know that around ten per cent are in various ways finding it hard to communicate digitally with the public sector, but we’re lacking in knowledge of how self-service solutions, for instance, accommodate citizens’ different needs when they communicate online with authorities. Some citizens may be functionally impaired, and this influences their need for communicating; others find it difficult to understand the legislation that is relevant to them. We’re going to examine what kinds of problems that citizens have and what they then do. Do they get help in some other way? In a pioneer country such as Denmark it’s important to obtain more knowledge about this problem; otherwise we won’t know if we’re having success with digitalisation. If digitalisation means that the citizens who need our welfare services the most - for instance health care - don’t really have access to these services, then we risk hollowing out welfare through digitalisation, says Barbara Nino Carreras, who will be carrying out some of the ethnographic work in the project. Scandinavian partnership
The SOS project is financed by Nordforsk - an organisation under the Nordic Council - and includes Sweden and Norway, where the public sectors have also been digitalised to a large extent. The international research group has a total budget of 982,000 euros and will over the next three years create valuable knowledge about the many citizens who are rarely mentioned when the story about the Danish digitalisation success is told:
- It’s important that we generate more knowledge of, for instance, the self-service systems in the Scandinavian countries. There’s an enormous innovative potential in being able to design and integrate digital solutions that don’t just meet decision-makers’ immediate needs, but that also meet citizens’ needs. In terms of public IT systems the citizens are a very divergent group. Our research project involves, on the basis of our results, developing some design principles that we hope will contribute to the development of more sustainable IT solutions that take all citizen's forces and needs into account, explains Barbara Nino Carreras.
• IT University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
• University of Agder (Norway)
• University of Gothenburg (Sweden)
• Agency for Digitisation (Denmark)
• Aarhus Municipality (Denmark)
• Arendal Municipality (Norway)
• Grimstad Municipality (Norway)
• The Swedish teachers’ union, Lärarförbundet
• Implement Consulting Group
Learn more about the SOS project on Nordforsk's homepage