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The Relation Between Digital Technology and Values: Thinking Through Multiple Technologies
Mid Sweden University, Faculty of Science, Technology and Media, Department of Information Systems and Technology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1337-0479
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis addresses two topics: technology and values. More specifically, the studied technology is an ensemble of digital technologies that is often referred to as “digitalization,” and the values are gathered from empirical material from the Swedish (digital) government. The purpose of the thesis is to generate an enhanced understanding of the relation between digital technology and values. The study is motivated by, a) a need to theorize digital government research, b) a need to establish a link between narratives of technology and research on values, and c) a need to disclose how investments in digital technology are legitimized. The research question of this thesis is, “how can we understand the relation between digital technology and values?” To answer this question, theoretical concepts that are rooted in philosophy of technology are used: polytechnics and monotechnics, externalism, and internalism. Moreover, a theory of four value positions, namely professionalism, efficiency, service, and engagement is used. The thesis revolves around five papers, and its methodological approach is characterized by pragmatism. Data were gathered from relevant literature and document studies, an analysis of expert groups, and survey results from national and local government entities. The findings from the papers were subject to a narrative analysis. This analysis generated three conclusions, which constitute the theoretical contribution of the thesis. The relation between digital technology and values can be understood from these three key conclusions:

The first regards convergence, and incorporates two narratives of digital technology: as a polytechnic tool, and as a monotechnic force: a machine. Digital technology is pluralistic in the sense that it may enable several values through multiple technological frames. In parallel, it relies on uniformity and standardization. The technology is therefore subject to several tensions. The story of the machine tends to become dominant through calls for action: it emphasizes the need for rapid adaptation of both individuals and society. In digital government, such adjustment would include an uncertain transformation of professionalism values. The legitimacy of this transformation is highly dependent on which story of technology it is based on.

The second conclusion concerns technology as a paradigm. The digital paradigm, as studied in this thesis, is characterized by a story about a technological society for everyone. However, this story stems from a narrow range of actors with respect to educational and geographical context. A broadened view of digital technology and values would require a more symmetrical range of norms, since how values manifest themselves is dependent on the properties of the paradigm.

The third and final conclusion regards congruence and divergence. The relation between digital technology and values is shifting between value congruence, and value divergence. When digital technology becomes associated with a narrative of progress that suggests that its value lies in the future while the present is ”transformative,” it can develop in a seemingly self-augmented and autonomous manner. Contrasting stories of value divergence can be found in evaluations from practice. However, this divergent narrative is repositioned as a story of “barriers”, which tells us that values can be realized if society adapts. The interplay between these narratives has implications for how we perceive value realization.

The thesis concludes with the following summarizing contributions. Theoretically, it produces an enhanced understanding of the relation between digital technology and values, as described above. Through this theoretical understanding, a link between narratives of technology and values is established empirically. By doing so, this thesis has revealed how values are legitimized, manifested and perceived, depending on what technology ”is”. Finally, a societal need is fulfilled by suggestions for policy making. Democratization of the norms associated with digital technology would improve governance in the sense that policy makers would have to actively choose between incommensurable views. As a result of this, accountability would increase, together with transparency concerning the narratives that inform policy.

Abstract [sv]

Denna avhandling studerar relationen mellan digital teknik, ofta benämnd ”digitalisering”, och värden. Materialet tar sin utgångspunkt i historiska och aktuella utredningar och policys framtagna inom svensk offentlig sektor. Syftet att fördjupa förståelsen för hur olika tekniksyner i dessa påverkar värden såsom professionalitet, effektivitet, service och demokrati. Studiens motivation är att teoretisera forskning om digital förvaltning, skapa en länk mellan historier om teknik, och aktuell forskning om värden, och att förstå hur investeringar i digital teknik legitimeras. Avhandlingen hämtar teoretiska utgångspunkter från teknikfilosofi, och forskning om värden inom offentlig sektor. Resultaten från fem artiklar sammanfattades genom narrativ analys, och renderade följande slutsatser: relationen mellan teknik och värden kan förstås..:

 -Som en konvergens, där digital teknik assimilerat äldre tekniker. Två berättelser framträder i denna kontext: det flexibla verktyget, och den autonoma maskinen. Konvergens möjliggör realisering av flera värden med hjälp av tekniken, samtidigt som det ofta sker genom standardisering och uniformitet. Berättelsen om maskinen blir dominant eftersom den kommer med uppmaningar om att samhället och individen måste anpassas. I offentlig förvaltning innebär denna anpassning en transformation av professionella värden. Denna transformations legitimitet är i hög grad beroende på vilken tekniksyn den baseras på, då en autonom teknik påverkar värden som till exempel ansvarighet.

 -Som ett paradigm, där manifesteringen av värden påverkas av normerna inom detta paradigm. Det digitala paradigmet i det studerade materialet, är karaktäriserat av en berättelse om ett teknologiskt samhälle för alla. Denna berättelse berättas dock av aktörer från en smal kontext vad gäller utbildningsbakgrund och geografisk hemvist. I och med att direktiv om digital förvaltning ofta har som mål att bredda användningen av digital teknik, borde en förutsättning för denna bredd vara att bredda normerna som beskriver det digitala samhället.

 -I termer av kongruens och divergens. Relationen mellan digital teknik och värden skiftar mellan värdekongruens, och värdedivergens. Samspelet mellan dessa berättelser påverkar hur realisering av värden uppfattas. Berättelsen om ett epokskifte karaktäriserat av teknologiska och ekonomiska framsteg tenderar att generera en syn på tekniken som något autonomt, vars värde ligger i framtiden. Nutiden är alltid transformativ. Denna berättelse står i kontrast mot utvärderingar från praktiken, där värden divergerar. Divergensen positioneras som en berättelse om ”hinder” för fortsatt utveckling.

Avhandlingen konkluderas med att föreslå en breddning av de normer som informerar politik och beslutsfattare. Om dessa beslutsfattare aktivt skulle behöva navigera och välja mellan inkommensurabla tekniksyner skulle det ha positiva konsekvenser för legitimitet, ansvarighet och transparens.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sundsvall: Mid Sweden University , 2019. , p. 82
Series
Mid Sweden University doctoral thesis, ISSN 1652-893X ; 308
Keywords [en]
digitalization, digital government, technique, technics, technology, philosophy of technology, paradigms, megamachines, polytechnics, monotechnics
National Category
Other Social Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-37724ISBN: 978-91-88947-26-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:miun-37724DiVA, id: diva2:1371237
Public defence
2019-12-13, L111, Holmgatan 10, Sundsvall, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

Vid tidpunkten för disputationen var följande delarbete opublicerat: delarbete 2 (manuskript).

At the time of the doctoral defence the following paper was unpublished: paper 2 (manuscript).

Available from: 2019-11-20 Created: 2019-11-19 Last updated: 2019-11-20Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Digitalization: Rise of the (Mega)machines
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Digitalization: Rise of the (Mega)machines
2019 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Drawing upon the work of Lewis Mumford, this paper discusses the use of digital technology in terms of polytechnics and monotechnics. The research is conducted by performing a study of prior literature on the history of digital technology in Sweden together with an analysis of Swedish government documents on digitalization. The findings reveal how digital technology was developed for military and scientific needs and then implemented in the public sector, supported by a bureaucratic structure in the 1960s. After a period of pessimism and decentralization in the 1970s and 1980s, digital technology was subject to increased expectations through renewed leadership and additional networked capabilities in the 1990s. After a setback following the dot-com crash, the terminology shifted again: through digital agendas in 2010–2011, digitalization became a dominant term for the use of digital technology in government documents. This paper concludes by presenting five contrast pairs (decentralization and centralization, pluralism and convergence, tool and force, democracy and efficiency, and a serving technology versus a technology that demands adaptation), which can be utilized to analyze what views on technology that become dominant in policies, and practice.

Keywords
digitalization, digital government, polytechnics, monotechnics, megamachines, Lewis Mumford
National Category
Other Social Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-37722 (URN)
Conference
The 2019 IEEE International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management (IEEM), Macau, China.
Available from: 2019-11-19 Created: 2019-11-19 Last updated: 2019-12-07
2. Undisclosed Practices of Digitalization - A critical analysis of representational practice and power
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Undisclosed Practices of Digitalization - A critical analysis of representational practice and power
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this paper is to study governmental expert advisory groups on digitalization in order to see if there are some common characteristics inside the group and some relevant characteristics left out that would significantly influence the shared understandings’ and translations of digitalization. The underpinnings are that it is important to study digital representational practices at all levels and that this level often escapes scrutiny. Furthermore, we need to stay close to material performances in order to open up a discussion whether, as a consequence, some translations might come to dominate others, if meanings converge and the technological frame is stabilized, or maybe even closed. The chosen analytical framework stretches from a link in between historical contextuality and technological culture (as in how and where myths and symbolic narratives are constructed), the focus on the process of interpretation (as in the flexibility in how digitalization could be translated and attached to different political goals and values) and a dimension of professional identities and communities of practice when addressing historical contextuality (as in using education and professional experiences and position to explore dominance and power aspects). The results show a homogeneity that is problematic and raises questions of the frames for interpreting what digitalization could and should be and do. We argue that the strong placing of digitalization in the knowledge base disclosed in this study hinders digitalization to be more knowledgeably translated. 

Keywords
digitalization, technology
National Category
Other Social Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-37723 (URN)
Note

Manuskript publicerat i Diva som delarbete i doktorsavhandling.

Available from: 2019-11-19 Created: 2019-11-19 Last updated: 2019-11-19Bibliographically approved
3. If Digitalization is the Solution, What is the Problem?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>If Digitalization is the Solution, What is the Problem?
2019 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

A range of policies on different levels of government (including EU, national, regional and local) concerns the use of digital technology. Drawing upon prior research that suggests that many e-Government policies contain myths and visionary images about technology, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the discourse on digitalization through an analysis of a Swedish digitalization policy. The research utilized a theoretical framework which describes four views on technology. The methodology used was interpretative, based on a "What’s the problem represented to be?" (WPR) approach. The findings suggest that the discourse on digitalization in the policy shifts between describing a serving, and a dictating technology. Digitalization is presented as a solution to external problems, based on the condition that we adapt to a future, data-driven society. The policy remains silent about groups and individuals that do not want take part in the digital society, since the proposed solution is that everyone should embrace the technology. The paper concludes with suggestions of alternative perspectives on technology. As such, this paper contributes to the current literature with critical reflections of how technology is represented in a digitalization policy.

National Category
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-37597 (URN)
Conference
The 19th European Conference on Digital Government, Nicosia, Northern Cyprus, 24-25 October, 2019
Available from: 2019-10-31 Created: 2019-10-31 Last updated: 2019-11-19Bibliographically approved
4. From Automatic Data Processing to Digitalization: What is Past is Prologue
Open this publication in new window or tab >>From Automatic Data Processing to Digitalization: What is Past is Prologue
2019 (English)In: Electronic Government: 18th IFIP WG 8.5 International Conference, EGOV 2019, San Benedetto Del Tronto, Italy, September 2–4, 2019, Proceedings / [ed] Ida Lindgren, Marijn Janssen, Habin Lee, Andrea Polini, Manuel Pedro, Rodríguez Bolívar, Hans Jochen Scholl, Efthimios Tambouris, 2019, p. 31-42Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Governments across the world are intensifying their use of digital technology. One way to generate an understanding of the effects of technology in the public sector is to study values. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how values in the Swedish national e-Government have developed over time. This research studies Swedish government documents between 1961 and 2018 during three periods of computerization: Automatic Data Processing, Information Technology, and Digitalization. A theoretical framework that consists of four value positions (i.e. professionalism, efficiency, service, and engagement) is utilized. The findings suggest that technological paradigms tend to generate value congruence in policy documents, followed by value divergence in evaluations. Currently, digitalization is perceived as the enabler of several values. While both IT and digitalization are referred to as tools or means, the development towards an information, knowledge, or data-driven society is also described as inevitable. The service ideal became dominant through the use of internet-based technology, while efficiency is often prioritized in large-scale projects. Engagement values are associated with a futuristic form of democracy in government documents, but rarely converted into practice. The role of professionalism is two-fold: it acts both as an enabler and as a constraint to the other values. The paper concludes with suggesting that the current development of adapting laws and regulations to enable digitalization might lead to an eroded bureaucracy, with uncertain value.

Keywords
e-Government, values, digitalization, automatic data processing, IT, digital government
National Category
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-36892 (URN)978-3-030-27325-5 (ISBN)
Conference
18th IFIP WG 8.5 International Conference, EGOV 2019, San Benedetto Del Tronto, Italy, September 2–4, 2019, Proceedings
Available from: 2019-08-19 Created: 2019-08-19 Last updated: 2019-11-19Bibliographically approved
5. Value Positions and Relationships in the Swedish Digital Government
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Value Positions and Relationships in the Swedish Digital Government
2019 (English)In: Administrative Sciences, ISSN 2076-3387, E-ISSN 2076-3387, Vol. 9, no 1, article id 24Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Governments across the world spend vast resources on implementing digital technology. Electronic, or digital, government is the use and study of Internet-based information and communication technology in the public sector. A point of departure in this study is that investments in technology are not value-free; they require allocation of limited resources and trade-offs between values. The purpose of this paper was to investigate how values are prioritized in the Swedish digital government. This research was conducted by using quantitative data from a survey administered to Swedish municipalities and national agencies. In addition, qualitative data from a database was used to exemplify value operationalization. The research utilized a theoretical framework based on four value positions: professionalism, efficiency, service, and engagement. The findings reveal that service and quality, and productivity and legality have a high priority, while engagement values are less prioritized. Differences based on organization type and size are also discussed. Moreover, the study suggests that professionalism and efficiency are distinct value positions, while service and engagement are closely related through citizen centricity. The qualitative material suggests that citizen centricity can manifest itself as a form of service logic, but also in the form of educational digital inclusion activities for vulnerable groups. The paper concludes by suggesting that future research should further refine the concept of citizen centricity in relation to digital government values, since its current meaning is ambiguous.

Keywords
digitalization, e-Government, public values
National Category
Computer and Information Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-35779 (URN)10.3390/admsci9010024 (DOI)000464109100001 ()
Available from: 2019-03-12 Created: 2019-03-12 Last updated: 2019-11-19Bibliographically approved

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