A shift in paradigm?

Collaborative public administration in the context of national digitalization strategies

Gerhard Hammerschmid, Enora Palaric, Maike Rackwitz and Kai Wegrich | Wiley Online Library

Despite claims of a paradigmatic shift toward the increased role of networks and partnerships as a form of governance—driven and enabled by digital technologies—the relation of “Networked Governance” (NG) with the pre-existing paradigms of “Traditional Weberian Public Administration” and “New Public Management” remains relatively unexplored.

This research aims at collecting systematic evidence on the dominant paradigms in digitalization reforms in Europe by comparing the doctrines employed in the initial and most recent digitalization strategies across eight European countries: Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

We challenge the claim that NG is emerging as the dominant paradigm in the context of the digitalization of the public sector. The findings confirm earlier studies indicating that information and communication technologies tend to reinforce some traditional features of administration and the recentralization of power. Furthermore, we find evidence of the continued importance of key features of “New Public Management” in the digital era.

This considered, we can conclude that our research confirms that NG is an “academic invention” and a normative framework describing how public administration should be organized rather than a model capturing the empirical reality. It may be time for research to reappraise the role of bureaucracy in the digital era.