Scaling impact through programmatic research

Starting in 2016, SCDI saw an influx of requests for commissioned research on digital government. Public sector organizations were displaying increased demand for support in digital transformation. The old solutions offered by management consultants had basically reached their end-of-life, and new knowledge was needed.

To support this, researchers started working in close collaboration on bespoke projects with a selection of government agencies, municipalities, and local authorities. The projects were organized as clinical research engagements using inspiration from Schein (1987). As the research started to gain traction in terms of both scientific output and impact, the requests increased, and the core research group started to expand through the addition of new faculty members.

By 2021, the research group was nationally recognized as the premier research environment for digital government. Through the research, direct impact in the form of changes in policy and governance in public sector organizations was growing. Research results were manifested in scientific papers and reports tailored for impact in the public sector, and in addition to this, a number of digital solutions had also been created to further enhance both the impact and data collection

“The digital solutions offer a new deal for research. We can simultaneously drive societal impact and collect data that will be of immense value to the research community.”

Tomas Lindroth, SCDI Faculty and co-founder of the research group. 

These digital solutions (digital maturity assessment, portfolio management, and digital infrastructure mapping) were created through a public-private-partnership and widely implemented in public sector organizations. For instance, the digital maturity assessment hosts over 40K responses from individuals and is recurrently used in over 400 organizations as a basis for monitoring digital transformation and creating a basis for prioritization. The solutions are now being nationally scaled through a EU funded project run by the Swedish Association for Local Authorities and Regions.

With the massive inflow of new data, the research group started to think about creating further synergies from the data and decreasing the threshold for onboarding new researchers. The idea of shifting over to a programmatic approach, in part inspired by other researchers from IS such as Professors Sudha Ram and Paolo Goes was implemented in the fall of 2021.

In the spring of 2022, the research group further enhanced the research environment by establishing an executive doctoral program, where 12 executives from the public sector were admitted to do their PhDs in parallel with their day-jobs. Through the programmatic approach, these PhD students were offered a nest-egg in the form of over 400 interviews from 20+ projects on digital transformation in the public sector, along with a cornucopia of other data. Through a carefully designed onboarding program, the PhD students could directly engage in their first analysis and writing-project, directly from the start of the program.

To get the opportunity to combine my own experiences, my organization’s challenges, and the latest research feels incredibly exciting. While we diffuse the research findings, we create new collaborations and impact where we work. The research school is a brilliant idea to achieve purposeful digital transformation in Sweden!”

Petra Sintorn, Citizen Engagement Director, Botkyrka Municipality

The research group now consists of 30+ researchers, all working directly on supporting the digital transformation of the public sector through applied research in a programmatic setting. The lessons learned so far are that the programmatic approach offers fantastic opportunities for increased synergies of existing research, and significant positive effects on societal impact through excellent research. 

For additional information, please visit the group’s website (in Swedish, given the focus on the impact on the Swedish public sector).