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The research project  

Digital Transformation at the Local Tier of Government in Europe: Dynamics and Effects from a Cross-Countries and Over-Time Comparative Perspective (DIGILOG) is a three-year long research project between the University of Potsdam, the ZHAW and the Vienna University of Economics and Business to generate systematic, cross-country and comparative knowledge about the state of implementation and the effects of digital transformation at the local level in Europe. 

Digital transformation is one of the most important innovations at the local government level and is fundamentally changing local service delivery, public administration, and governance in Europe. The project thus responds to the continuing need for an assessment of how far digitization has already progressed at the level of local government and how its dynamics and scopes are represented in Europe. 

In particular, the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that there are institutional deficiencies that challenge the sustainable delivery of public services. The aim of the research project is thus to address the existing knowledge gap in the field of digital transformation trajectories and their impact at the local level. Thereby, we aim to complement the growing research body located at the national government level with the local perspective. A particular focus here is on the comparative aspect in PA research. 

Who are we and what do we do? 

In total, two research teams each from the University of Potsdam in Germany and the ZHAW in Switzerland form the interdisciplinary research consortium. The Faculty of Economics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) in Austria is closely involved in the project as a partner. To show the dynamics over time and the impact of local digital transformation, we will distinguish between disruptive and incremental change. We assume that a specific combination of explanatory factors at the macro level (e.g., country-specific institutional frameworks and administrative culture, local governance systems, and economic situation), the meso level (e.g., internal organization and resources), and the micro level (actor strategies and micropolitics) explain different transformation dynamics as well as outputs, outcomes, and impacts of digitalization.   

The project uses a mixed-methods design that combines and integrates novel quantitative and qualitative research approaches. The qualitative part here builds predominantly on the quantitative part. As a core element, we will develop a real-time monitoring platform for digital transformation at the municipal level in Europe. This will be led in particular by the ZHAW team which is responsible for the quantitative part of the research. Using web crawling methods and surveys, this quantitative part of the project aims to conduct a broad systematic data collection and analysis covering a large part of European municipalities. The team from the University of Potsdam is responsible for the qualitative part, using multiple case studies to analyze the dynamics and developments of the digital transformation of various European municipalities in depth.   

What are our objectives?  

DIGILOG aims to generate new comparative knowledge on local digitization reforms and to examine the interrelationships between national contextual conditions, change dynamics, and reform effects. The results will expand the scope of conceptual and empirical foundations as well as the methodological rigor of comparative research on local government and digital transformation. Finally, the project will provide policy-relevant knowledge on local government digitalization efforts from a European perspective that can be used to improve policy-making for future public sector modernization.  

Case Studies  

Accompanying the electronic surveys, comparative case studies will be conducted in selected municipalities that are also part of the quantitative survey sample. The case studies are conducted in municipalities, which are embedded within different administrative cultures to obtain country-specific variance in local administrative systems. The case study approach is based on field research methods and semi-structured expert interviews as well as focus groups conducted with local chief executives, chief information officers (CIOs), department heads, staff representatives, employees and citizens. Building on the interim results of the quantitative part, the aim is to gain deeper insights into the internal processes and actor constellations of the respective digital transformation paths by exploring the organizational realities in the municipalities.   

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