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Digital ambidexterity in the public sector: empirical evidence of a bias in balancing practices

Journal article
Authors Johan Magnusson
Tero Päivärinta
Dina Koutsikouri
Published in Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy
ISSN 1750-6166
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Applied Information Technology (GU)
Language en
Keywords Governance, Public sector, Digital ambidexterity, Balancing
Subject categories Information Systems, Business Administration


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to explore and theorize on balancing practices (BP) for digital ambidexterity in the public sector. Design/methodology/approach – The research is designed as an interpretative case study of a large Swedish authority, involving data collection in the form of interviews and internal documents. The method of analysis involves both theorizing on the findings from a previous framework for digital innovation and deriving design implications for ambidextrous governance. Findings – The findings show that all identified BP except one (shadow innovation) is directed toward an increased emphasis on efficiency (exploitation) rather than innovation (exploration). With the increased demand for innovation capabilities in the public sector, this is identified as a problem. Research limitations/implications – The limitations identified are related to the choice in the method of an interpretative case study, with issues of transferability and empirical generalizability as the main concerns. The implications for research are related to a need for additional studies into the enactment of digital ambidexterity, where the findings offer insight and inspiration for continued research. Practical implications – The study shows that managers and executives involved in the design and imposition of governance within the public sector need to take the design recommendations for digital ambidexterity into consideration. Social implications – The study offers two main implications for practice. First, policymakers need to take the conceptual distinction of efficiency and innovation into account when designing policies for the digital government. Second, existing funding practices need to be re-designed to better facilitate innovation. Originality/value – This is the first study directed toward enhancing the insight into BP for digital ambidexterity in the public sector. The study has so far resulted in both a localized shift in policy and new directions for research. With the public sector facing needs for increased innovation capabilities, the study offers a first step toward understanding how this is currently counteracted through governance design.

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