University of Oulu

Magnusson, J., Päivärinta, T., & Koutsikouri, D. (2020). Digital ambidexterity in the public sector: empirical evidence of a bias in balancing practices. Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, 15(1), 59–79.

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

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Author: Magnusson, Johan1,2; Päivärinta, Tero3; Koutsikouri, Dina1
Organizations: 1Swedish Center for Digital Innovation, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
2Kristiania University College, Oslo, Norway
3M3S, Oulu University, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Emerald, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-04-21


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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Series: Transforming government. People, process and policy
ISSN: 1750-6166
ISSN-E: 1750-6174
ISSN-L: 1750-6166
Volume: 15
Issue: 1
Pages: 59 - 79
DOI: 10.1108/TG-02-2020-0028
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 113 Computer and information sciences
Copyright information: © Johan Magnusson, Tero Päivärinta and Dina Koutsikouri. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at