In search of the citizen in the datafication of public administration
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonBig Data and Society. 2022, 9 (1), 1-14. 10.1177/20539517221089302
The administrative reform of the datafied public administration places great emphasis on the classification, control, and prediction of citizen behavior and therefore has the potential to significantly impact citizen–state relations. There is a growing body of literature on data-oriented activism which aims to resist and counteract existing harmful data practices. However, little is known about the processes, policies, and political-economic structures that make datafication possible. There is a distinct research gap on situated and context-specific empirical research, which critically interrogates the premises, interests, and agendas of data-driven public administration and how stakeholders can impact them. This paper therefore studies the conditions of participation in public administration datafication. It asks the overall research question of how citizens are problematized and included in policy and practitioner discourse in the datafication of public administration. The paper takes Norway as its case and applies Cardullo and Kitchin’s scaffold of smart citizen participation at the system level. It makes use of a unique empirical insight into the field, consisting of a survey, interviews, and an extensive document analysis. Unexpectedly, we find that citizens and civil society are rarely engaged in this administrative reform. Instead, we identify a paternalistic, top-down, technocratic approach where the context, values, and agendas of datafication are obscured from the citizen.