Call for Papers: Digitalization that matters.

Feminine gender person using smartphone & laptop, face out of frame

How does public sector digitalization impact happiness and subjective wellbeing?


Scholars interested in public administration, organization, and management have always had an interest in studying the benefits of administrative reforms and innovations; this is especially true in the context of digital government. Previous research has explored how the digital transformation of the public sector can lead to improved service quality, time savings for citizens, cost savings for governments, amongst many others. Yet, what is often missing from digital government research is engagement with an important and fundamental philosophical question: how does digitalization of the public impact the happiness, wellbeing, or life satisfaction of its users?

While there is a growing body of research that addresses questions of the tangentially related topic of public value (Alford & O’Flynn, 2009; Moore, 1995), and how can digital technologies create it in the public sector, the literature on digitalization and happiness is under theorized (for some examples of existing research see: Meynhardt et al., 2015; Montgomery, 2013; Moynihan et al., 2015; Welby, 2019). This is unfortunate and somewhat of a surprise given that the earliest scholars and philosophers of government and the state – from Aristotle to Mencius – viewed creating and sustaining happiness as a key aim of the government.

 Acknowledging the important role of government in fostering and promoting happiness and wellbeing, governments around the world have started to act. Bhutan has created and uses “Gross National Happiness” as a development indicator, New Zealand has created a wellbeing index and an attached wellbeing budget, Wales has passed a wellbeing act, and Finland has committed to developing an economy of wellbeing. Several of these countries have formed the “Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership” to provide an international forum for developing and sharing policy and best practices relating to wellbeing economics, and international organizations such as the OEC have devoted resources to the creation of a “better life index”.

 The common thread throughout is the idea that new policies, investments, and innovations by governments should improve wellbeing and happiness at the societal level – these are important metrics that must be measured and addressed. Yet, in many instances, such initiatives do not look directly at digitalization of the public sector. 

There is decades of academic research that could be drawn on to inform further inquiry into public sector digitalization, happiness, and subjective wellbeing. For example, economists in the subfield of “happiness economics” (Clark, 2018; Clark et al., 2018; Easterlin, 2004) have placed an emphasis on using wellbeing and happiness as key metrics for measuring the success of a government or its policies (Forgeard et al., 2011; Frijters et al., 2020). They have, over the past decades, developed the necessary tools, theories, frameworks, and methods for studying happiness and wellbeing at the societal level. 

Psychologists have similarly engaged in rigorous research to better define and outline the concept of happiness: both hedonic and eudaimonic (Diener et al., 1999, 2009; Ryan & Deci, 2001). The former acknowledges the importance of pleasure and enjoyment whereas the latter views happiness as emerging from “the actualization of human potentials” (Ryan & Deci, 2001). Subjective wellbeing, meanwhile “refers to how people experience and evaluate their lives and specific domains and activities in their lives” (Stone et al., 2013). While there is a large amount of research that explores the relationship between digital technologies and subjective wellbeing and happiness (Orben & Przybylski, 2019; Twenge, Jean, 2019), this research rarely focuses on technologies utilized by the public sector. 

A situation has emerged where there is a clear overlap between emerging governmental interests in wellbeing and happiness on the one hand, digitalization on the other, and a dearth of literature that addresses this important topic. Developing a conceptual and theoretical understanding of digital government, happiness, and wellbeing is essential. Doing so will allow for the emergence of a new academic area of inquiry that can answer questions such as whether digitalization actually makes life better or which digital innovations have the highest positive or negative impact on happiness and wellbeing? Importantly, this topic provides ample opportunity to explore non-western public administration traditions (Drechsler, 2013, 2020; Ongaro, 2021) and how they approach concepts of administration and happiness. Ultimately, the results of this new and emergent research in the area having the potential to have far-reaching societally relevant contributions.

Scope of the Special issue

This special issue will be transdisciplinary in nature, acknowledging the breadth of knowledge and insight needed to untangle the overarching theme of the special issue. It is expected that submitted papers will draw on expertise from public administration, economics, sociology, psychology, information systems, and philosophy, amongst others. We welcome submissions from any discipline, theoretical, or philosophical perspective and especially encourage authors and papers from underrepresented communities and geographic locations. Manuscripts can be theoretical or empirical in nature, but must be methodologically rigorous and contribute into our understanding of the relationship between public sector digitalization and happiness, wellbeing, or life satisfaction. Published manuscripts are expected to be approximately 8,000 words in length and address questions like the below: 

  • What effect, if any, does digital government have on subjective wellbeing and happiness? 
  • How and under which conditions can digitalization reduce wellbeing or happiness? 
  • How do citizens feel that digital government developments impact their happiness or subjective wellbeing? 
  • How can governments use happiness or subjective wellbeing as a measurement indicator in their digitalization strategies? 
  • What digital government developments have the largest impact on happiness (positively or negatively)?
  • How can we integrate happiness and wellbeing into broader theories and frameworks related to digital government?
  • Are certain administrative practices or traditions more aligned with happiness or wellbeing-oriented metrics? 
  • How can traditions of non-western public administration inform the discussion of digitalization and happiness?

Important dates for the publication of this special issue are as follows:
Call for abstracts: September 1st 2023
Deadline abstract submission: January 10th 2024
Invitation to submit full paper: January 20th 2024
Deadline submission full manuscript: May 10th 2024
Review process: June ’24-Sep ‘24
Final decision on manuscripts: Jan 2025
Anticipated publication: Summer 2025

Abstracts should initially be sent to Keegan McBride keegan.mcbride@oii.ox.ac.uk. Abstracts should be up to 750 words and include the names of all authors and their institutional affiliations.

Abstracts will be reviewed by the Guest Editors of the Special Issue. This review will focus on the fit with the special issue theme, feasibility, and potential contribution to knowledge. The authors of accepted abstracts will be invited to submit full manuscripts. Full manuscripts will be double-blind peer reviewed. Please note that initial acceptance of an abstract does not guarantee acceptance and publication of the final manuscript.

Final manuscripts have to be submitted directly through Information Polity’s submission system and needs to adhere to the journals submission guidelines: https://www.informationpolity.com/guidelines

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Keegan McBride, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, United Kingdom keegan.mcbride@oii.ox.ac.uk. Dr. McBride is a lecturer in AI, Government, and Policy at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. His research explores how new and emerging disruptive technologies are transforming our understanding of the state, government, and power. 

Prof. Dr. Greta Nasi, Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management, Bocconi University, Italy greta.nasi@unibocconi.it. Greta Nasi is an Associate Professor at the Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management at Università Bocconi and Director of the Master of Science in Cyber Risk Stategy and Governance at Università Bocconi and Politecnico di Milano. Her research activities focus on the following topics: innovation and change management in the public sector, digital transformation in public services, cybersecurity policies and in the healthcare sector, service and city management and competitiveness.

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Hammerschmid, Centre for Digital Government, Hertie School, Germany hammerschmid@hertie-school.org. Dr. Hammerschmid is a Professor of Public and Financial Management and Director of the Centre for Digital Governance at the Hertie School. His research focuses on public management reform, comparative public administration, public sector performance management and how digitalisation is affecting government. 

Author Instructions

Instructions for authors for manuscript format and citation requirements can be found at: https://www.informationpolity.com/guidelines


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Clark, A. (2018). Four Decades of the Economics of Happiness: Where Next? Review of Income and Wealth, 64(2), 245–269. https://doi.org/10.1111/roiw.12369
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Montgomery, C. (2013). Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. Penguin Books Limited. 
Moore, M. H. (1995). Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government. Harvard University Press.
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Ongaro, E. (2021). Non-Western philosophies and public administration. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration, 43(1), 6–10. https://doi.org/10.3316/agispt.20220416065625
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Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On Happiness and Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141–166. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.141
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Twenge, Jean. (2019). More Time on Technology, Less Happiness? Associations Between Digital-Media Use and Psychological Well-Being. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0963721419838244
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