Q1. In the past seven years, you have completed a BA and an MSc in Economics. You are also doing your PhD in the same area and are an active football goalkeeper. A multidisciplinary profile – could you let us know a bit more about it?
Some people think that studies and sports are not compatible and, in that sense, it is funny to realise that the will of continuing to play football was something that contributed for me to enrol in both a Master’s degree and a PhD. In high school, although I was a very good student, playing football was my priority. I was never really concerned about the future, so when I had to apply for university, I almost had no idea about the field of study to choose. I ended up in Economics, and by the end of the first semester, I was starting to regret my choice.
Things changed, not only because the courses began to be more appealing, but because my interest in academic life increased. However, I still wanted to be a professional football player, and by the end of the degree, I declined job opportunities to be able to continue playing. As time passed by, I ended up by progressing more in the academic field than in football, and that led me to my current situation: I am still playing in a non-professional division, but the PhD and the research are my priorities.
Q2. As the only economist at the Operating Unit, how do you align your research interests with EGOV?
e-Government was mostly unknown territory to me when I applied to join the UNU Operating Unit. As a citizen, I had experienced some e-Government services, but I was unaware that it was already a quite established academic field. However, it is a multidisciplinary field, where there is space for academics from different areas and, equally important, academics who have diverse research methodologies, including qualitative and quantitative ones.
Moreover, e-Government as research topic can be quite broad and intersect more traditional fields of Economics, such as Political Economy or Development Economics. If we think about the relationship between e-Government and corruption or entrepreneurship, or if we believe that e-Government can impact the ease of starting a business and affect the entry rate of a firm in a given market, we can see that there is room for an economist to be interested in this area.
Q3. What is your opinion about the Sustainable Development Goals and how this relates to your PhD?
The SDGs can be important, as they point a direction and set a standard that helps the governments of UN member states to define medium- and long-term objectives. Some SDGs are more oriented towards developed countries, which is essential, but others, such as the ones related to clean energy, climate action or partnerships for the goals, should, in the actual context, be taken very seriously by developed countries as well. One may think that the SDGs are utopic or UN window dressing, but the truth is that when reading action plans or listening to presentations from public entities of several different countries, one will find references to the SGDs. This implies that they end up impacting real policy-making.
Regarding my research, by exploring the links between e-Government development and economic variables related with regulatory burdens or corruption, and by assessing which socioeconomic and individual demographic characteristics can explain e-Government adoption from the user side point of view, it can help map the relationship between e-Government and the SGDs, both by measuring benefits and pointing challenges. Goals 8 and 16 are the ones which relate more to my research.
Q4. What is your view on the importance of EGOV for society nowadays?
Some benefits of e-Government for society are starting to be well documented in the academic literature and to be more clearly perceived by the civil society. A straightforward example is the way through which e-Government can be a tool for administrative burden reduction by decreasing the time and costs associated with paper-handling. However, there are other possible efficiency-related benefits, such as entrepreneurship-related ones, as illustrated by the On the Spot Firm in Portugal.
Moreover, e-Government may be necessary for accountability, transparency and, ultimately, for fighting corruption. As electronic records are easier to store and access, they can benefit audits or preventive checks. Additionally, more and more governmental data tends to be open, which facilitates the scrutiny of public transactions by the media and the public. All of this creates disincentives for misbehaviour in the public sector. Finally, e-Government also has the potential to foster citizens’ participation in politics, namely through initiatives such as the participatory budgets. However, the tendency towards the digitalisation of public services must also raise some concerns, namely the ones related to digital divide and exclusion, which can be particularly striking in developing countries or even among the elder and the less literate in developed countries.
Q5. You are the youngest researcher at UNU-EGOV. What major trends do you see in the EGOV area for the upcoming years?
I like the humour of the sentence “It is tough to make predictions, especially about the future“. Trying to foresee the major e-Government-related innovations is a challenge. What we do know is that they depend on both technological innovations and the multiple socioeconomic and political contexts. A clear trend seems to be Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, the extent until which AI will change governmental organisations, and which services will be based on or supported by AI, is still a grey area.
A second aspect has to do with the clarification of the role of the government in producing regulation regarding the individual data that is collected online, which is currently a major social concern. The proliferation of open data and open government initiatives is also a trend. However, which data is made open and the level of development of open government will possibly tend to vary a lot across countries and regions, according to the political context and the demands of the civil society. A third trend is a shift toward more integrated, citizen-centric, and pro-active public services.
Finally, I think that major progress still must be done in several developing countries to catch up with the developed ones. As they face more infrastructural and human capacity-related challenges, the tendency should be for them to face a smoother transition from the personal to the digital channel.
*The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the UNU.