Digital transformation has become a pervasive term, especially in the realm of public administration and management. However, the intricacies of what constitutes transformational change and how incremental and transformative processes intersect remain unclear. Addressing this gap, Nathalie Haug, Sorin Dan, and Ines Mergel contribute a systematic literature review using the PRISMA method, aiming to bring structure to the evolving discourse surrounding digitally-induced change in the public sector, in their research article ‘Digitally-induced change in the public sector: a systematic review and research agenda’.
The systematic review delves into 164 studies on digitally-induced change, shedding light on the drivers, implementation processes, and outcomes. A distinguishing factor emerges as the authors categorise the changes into two types: incremental and transformative. The goal is to not only understand how these changes are discussed and implemented but also to identify the factors influencing these distinct trajectories.
Incremental vs. Transformative Change
The authors emphasise the need for a nuanced understanding of digital transformation by distinguishing between incremental and transformative change. Incremental changes focus on adopting digital technologies in public administrations, while transformative changes extend beyond, targeting organisational structures as a whole. Interestingly, the literature review highlights a significant gap in analysing the sustainability of these transformative efforts, challenging the assumption that digital transformation is already an established reality across the public sector.
Challenges in Conceptualisation
The authors address the prevalent issue of poor conceptualisation of the term “digital transformation” within academic literature. They point out that the term is often used interchangeably with government digitisation and digitalisation, rather than signifying true digital transformation. This aligns with previous observations and adds weight to the argument through an extensive analysis of published public administration research.
Implications for Future Research
The findings of this review not only contribute to reinforcing existing evidence but also emphasize the need for further theoretical and empirical research in the field of digital transformation in public administration. By providing a structured overview of the current discourse, the article serves as a catalyst for future investigations.
In navigating the evolving landscape of digital transformation, Haug, Dan, and Mergel’s systematic review acts as a compass, offering insights into the intricacies of incremental and transformative change in the public sector. As the term “digital transformation” continues to evolve, this research prompts scholars and practitioners alike to critically examine and refine their conceptualisation of this dynamic process.