Australian administrative elites and the challenges of digital-era change

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Within long-lived public sector bureaucracies, the organizational cultures developed by administrative elites have strong filtering and focusing effects on the kinds of technological changes adopted, especially in the modern era. Normally seen as very slow-moving and hard to alter, senior officials’ attitudes towards digital changes have recently begun to alter in more substantial ways in Australia. We review first a considerable reappraisal of the priority given to digital changes by top public service managers. This cultural shift has followed on from tech-lead disruptive societal changes affecting most areas of government now, and from the rise of global-scaled ICT corporations to become key management exemplars for officials. Second, we look at the chequered history of political leaders’ interventions to speed up digital change, showing that in the period 2015–19 Australia witnessed both the initial power and later limits of such involvement. Finally, we consider Australia’s recent experience with big data/artificial intelligence (BDAI), a key area of technological change for public service officials, but one that in a liberal democracy can also easily spark public resistance to their plans.




Dunleavy, P., & Evans, M. (2019). Australian administrative elites and the challenges of digital-era change. Journal of Chinese Governance, 4(2), 181–200.

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