Vested Digital Leadership against the odds

Lessons learned in the public sector

Stijn Viaene

By Stijn Viaene

Professor of Digital Transformation

04 February 2021

Public sector organisations have achieved mixed results when it comes to digital transformation. Some organisations seem to be significantly faster in exploiting opportunities to improve public service delivery by means of digital technologies, whereas others – the majority – have struggled to keep up with the pace of developments in the digital era.

Furthermore, the healthcare and economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled public sector organisations to quickly adopt new digital practices to cater to emergency needs such as data centralisation, new service delivery, decision-making and remote ways of working. Amidst all this turmoil, some organisations seem to be able to cope better with the circumstances, or even to thrive in them.

In the white paper 'Vested digital leadership against the odds', Professor Stijn Viaene and researcher Joachim Van den Bergh present the findings from research that was carried out in the public (and health) sector in 2020, together with Prime Foundation Partner AXI.

Research trajectory

  • Phase 1: exploratory conversations with a selection of key actors in government (pre-covid outbreak and measures) 
  • Phase 2: review of professional and academic literature 
  • Phase 3a: online panel debate 
  • Phase 3b: anecdotal case search 
  • Phase 3c: in-depth key actor interviews (after the first covid wave / measures in Belgium) 
  • Phase 4: consolidation of insights

The research shows that public sector organisations that display vested digital leadership practices – practices that scale digital transformation to the entire organisation – dispose of mechanisms to cope with turbulence more successfully. They explore and exploit opportunities faster than their peers. In other words, they excel in organisational agility and show more resilience to shocks.