Improving the delivery of public services and meeting society’s demands is among the foremost missions of the public sector. Information and Communication Technologies are already playing a pivotal role in helping agencies to achieve this mission, as modern, though well-established technologies are adopted and applied by the public sector who acts thus as a follower of technological developments and a mere receiver of related innovations.

However, as new and emerging technologies are further transforming our daily life, tackling challenges and opening up new and exciting opportunities for innovation in other domains, such as manufacturing, business, consumer services, media etc., expectations of leveraging these technologies for transforming and innovating the public sector are growing as well. Emerging technologies, characterized according to Rotolo (Rotolo, D., Hicks, D., Martin, B. R. (2015), What is an emerging technology? Research Policy 44(10), pp. 1827-1843). by radical novelty, relatively fast growth, coherence, prominent impact, and uncertainty and ambiguity, are perceived as capable of changing the status quo. As such they do hold a high potential of modernizing the public sector and transforming the latter into an innovation driver.

Nevertheless, one has to note that not all technologies apply everywhere, not to mention that besides benefits and opportunities for innovation, they also bring along drawbacks and risks. This means that careful considerations and planning are needed before porting new technologies and trends in the public sector. This is because technology is one part of the wider project of applying fundamental and profound changes in public administrations, where stakeholder readiness, in terms of all literacy, skills and dedication, maturity of existing infrastructures and knowhow and inclusiveness of related legislation are critical success factors that also play their part.

Yet in a time of profound financial and societal crisis and, in spite of the uncertainty that surrounds the application of emerging technologies in its context, the public sector cannot afford to retain a passive role; on the contrary, the latter has to jump into the forefront of technological developments and to seek and explore new opportunities for value creation. Indeed it is high time public agencies identified, analyzed and evaluated the innovation potential of emerging technologies and built business cases around their exploitation to address specific needs. Creativity is at most needed in this process, whereas lessons from the private sector, and basically from each technology’s mainstream domains of application can reveal ways to side-step potential barriers and effect change. Further to that, an open dialogue with the stakeholders involved not only in the implementation but also in the adoption of the envisaged technological solutions, as well as a culture of best practices sharing with other agencies, can notably reinforce the chances of success of the venture.

In SONNETS, we are focusing on emerging technologies and their application in the public sector. As part of our activities, we have performed an extensive desk research to identify a pool of key emerging and disruptive technologies and strategic technological trends, while we have organized and conducted a series of interviews with IT experts, a focus group with the SONNETS Experts Committee, and a number of workshops with citizen, businesses and public sector representatives, in order to refine and narrow down our findings into a list of technologies and trends that do make sense to be adopted by the public sector.

Technologies in this list enumerate:

    Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Big Data, Biometrics, Blockchain, Bots, Cloud Computing, Data Analytics, e-Identities, e-Signatures, Geographical Information Systems, Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Wearables and Virtual Reality,

whereas related technological trends are as follows:

    Crowdsourcing, Digitalization, e-Participation, Gamification, Mobile Devices, Open Data, Open Government, Personalization, Policy Making 2.0, Sentiment Analysis, Smart Workplace and Social Networking.

Based on the current trends of the ICT (in general) and of the ICT domain and the views that have been recorded during the aforementioned focus groups and interviews, as well as additional brainstorming activities, these technologies and trends can be placed on a conceptual hype curve with regard to their maturity and applicability as seen from the public sector’s perspective, as shown in the figures below:

Hype Curve of Identified technologies for supporting public sector Innovation

Hype Curve of Identified trends for supporting public sector Innovation

Transferring the focus on the way these technologies and trends impact on the public sector, i.e. on whether they hold the potential of renovating the public sector or of helping the latter to become an innovation driver itself, the current landscape can be imprinted as a magic quadrant, divided in four spaces:

  • “PS Labs” where applications are still highly experimental and they are only addressed (or can be used) by public sector personnel, and holding a great but uncertain innovation potential,
  • “PS Farms” where again the public sector makes extensive use of applications and tools that are in a highly mature and operational state, and holding a great but uncertain innovation potential,
  • “Open Labs” where direct engagement of citizens is quite high but applications are again experimental, and holding a more predicted innovation potential, and finally
  • “Open Apps” where there exist at the same time high engagement of citizens and maturity of applications to be used for everyday purposes, and holding a more predicted innovation potential.

Magic Quadrant of Identified technologies and trends for supporting Public Sector Innovation

Further to the above, we have leveraged the insights and suggestions of the stakeholders involved in the aforementioned activities to link these technologies and trends to societal and public sector needs by means of related applications and services. Such applications range from the introduction of bots in public administrations as a first point of contact with citizens, through IoT to enable the development of smart cities, to the design and development of biometrics-based individual identification documents. Our current work involves the critical analysis of these applications and services in the directions of their innovation potential and their feasibility, whereas our research is meant to be completed with the validation of our findings with the help of the stakeholders involved in the public sector transformation.

Stay tuned to find out more about our findings, as well as to provide your own views with regard to the application of emerging technologies in the public sector.