Implementing Digitalization in an Administrative Justice Context
Oxford Handbook of Administrative Justice (2021 Forthcoming)
22 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 6, 2021
Administrative agencies have long been sites of technological innovation. Today, government officials worldwide are intensifying digitalization efforts to cut costs and to make bureaucratic operations more efficient. This article examines how digitalization initiatives are implemented in administrative settings, using examples from the United Kingdom (Universal Credit), Canada (Ontario’s Social Assistance Management System), and Australia (Online Compliance Initiative, a.k.a. ‘Robodebt’). It draws on qualitative research, government reports, and administrative justice literature to illustrate the dilemmas common to digital government projects. For example, digitalization both hardens and virtualizes the interface between officials and the public, while obscuring the vast amounts of human labour needed to maintain digital government initiatives. To function well, digital systems require deep integration between government databases and software. Yet, the process of digitalization is often piecemeal, continuous, and reproduces dilemmas that arise whenever new technologies are used to solve institutional problems. Consequently, the promised benefits of ‘digital by default’ initiatives are rarely realized. Digitalization accelerates a shift in relations between people and the state that administrative justice scholars must take seriously. First, scholars must reconsider the internal perspective from which administrative justice theories assess an outcome’s acceptability. Digitalization compels the development of new justice models centred on the values of system users within and outside of administrative institutions. Second, scholars must reassess administrative justice theory’s procedural focus. In digitalized settings, ‘administratively just’ decision-making processes may generate substantively unjust outcomes. These challenges must be addressed if administrative justice theories are to remain relevant in an age of algorithmically-driven decision-making.
Keywords: administrative justice, digital government, algorithmic decision-making, social protection, welfare, fair process, substantive justice
JEL Classification: O33, H55, H53, H41, I38, Z18, K49, K23, K19
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