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Last month, I attended ISPIM 2024 in Tallinn, Estonia, to co-presented a research-in-progress paper that I am co-authoring together with graduating student Sander Spiegelenberg and my PhD supervisor Gerrita van der Veen, to gather feedback from peers. It was a great opportunity to learn more about digital transformation, innovation and its intersection with research. I was looking forward to seeing how current research and practices discuss innovation, its future direction, emerging trends, and existing challenges. Here are a few highlights from the event.

Estonian Digital Society
There were several impact speakers from Estonia, including Carmen Raal, the e-Estonia Briefing Center’s Digital Transformation Advisor. She described the process by which Estonia became such a digital society. In this regard, Estonia is incredibly unique since 99% of its public services, including voting, are conducted online. With a population of only 1.3 million, Estonia is about the same size as the Netherlands, which has over seventeen million people. Because providing public service in a traditional way, usually one-on-one, was impractical, digitalization was embraced. Primarily digital leadership plays a big role here, including the necessity of having a long-term vision, to achieve where they are right now. At this point, innovation is essential and should be based on robust infrastructure. Legislation frequently hinders innovation, however in Estonia, the legislation is dynamic and ever-changing, which is beneficial. Likewise, Estonia trains its citizens from a young age and extend the training to senior citizens.

Fear and Failure
ISPIM featured a wide range of activities that built on what the impacts speakers mentioned. With a variety of research presentations, workshops, roundtable discussions on trending topics, and sessions devoted to ongoing research. I attended a discussion on design thinking and digital transformation. We talked about how design thinking is primarily applied since digital transformation is a wicked problem that affects not just procedures but also individuals and entire organizations, including the team because of fear and failure. Fear of change hinders acceptance and use of new tools as mentioned during the presentation by Inc Innovation Lab. Failure or ‘failure culture’ occurs within an environment where people are afraid to admit that an implementation or new process was unsuccessful.

For instance, when choosing to innovate with AI (in whatever shape or form), trust in this system should be included as long-term strategy.

To combat these obstacles several methods are applied or are suggested. One way to reduce fear, is to include employees or stakeholders in the process of design. A project led by LUT University designed an AI virtual assistant in a VR environment that explains new changes in a Polish city, with the aim to increase participation. New city plains are visualised in this virtual environment. The project plans to organise (social) hackathons and co-creation sessions with citizens. From another research, the presenter on ‘Micro foundations of Corporate Foresight: Individual Roles in Technological Change’ explained that the employees, not only management or CTO’s, are essential. Despite limitations and rules in the organisation, employees push for visionary digital innovation and change. These employees have ideas and drive change ‘under the radar’. Next to inclusion, long term vision and strategy is needed. For instance, when choosing to innovate with AI (in whatever shape or form), trust in this system should be included as long-term strategy. Trust is built over time. There is trust in traditional ways of working. Moving to new processes that include ‘new technologies’ such as AI are scary. It requires different and new skills. Thus, preparing for the future is important, which brings us to the third point. There cannot be innovation without failure. Failure is a part of the process, but it is often not admitted, therefore we cannot learn from mistakes by only focussing on the success stories. Acknowledging failure provides opportunity to learn.

But despite citizens acceptance and familiarity with chatbots, participants value and require one-on-one interactions and still visiting a helpdesk on location.

Presenting research in progress: Public Sector Chatbots
A great way of collecting feedback was the opportunity to present our research in progress. This study looks at how digital literacy of Dutch citizens plays a role in their perception on chatbot’s tone of voice. As public organisations, such as municipalities increase digitalisation and invest in automated communication to provide citizens with personalised information. In our case, we focussed on chatbots. Chatbot’s communication style is crucial for citizen experience, as citizens are diverse and vary in their digital skills and perceptions of these applications’ level of personalization. The implementation of these applications can influence trust in the organisation. Our study investigates if digital literacy influences a chatbot’s Tone of Voice by conducting an experimental survey. The findings so far show that Dutch participants perceive differences between informal and formal Tone of Voice. But despite citizens acceptance and familiarity with chatbots, participants value and require one-on-one interactions and still visiting a helpdesk on location. Removing this option could erode trust in organisations. If chatbots are to be integrated into services, they must be personalised to accommodate the differing preferences of various digital literacy groups.

The feedback we received included:

  • The Tone of Voice in each culture is different. We could compare the findings with how the Tone of Voice in other cultures would be perceived. The study setup could be replicated to be conducted in other cultures as well.
  • Concerning cultures, we should also consider different cultures within the Netherlands. As the Dutch as usually seen as ‘direct’, how would this effect the perception of Tone of Voice of the chatbot?
  • We collected data on income and educational background, this we still need to include in our findings, as feedback suggest that they could have an impact on digital literacy and they way people perceive chatbot communication style.

Tips for PhD students and junior researchers
Visiting ISPIM was a nice way of meeting fellow PhD students and senior researchers who shared great feedback and advice. With fellow PhD students I had nice talks and shared experiences. It was exciting to observe senior researchers’ feedback-giving styles and how they approach and formulate ideas. I was given helpful advice that, while seemingly simple, have a lot of significance: make sure the data and methodology are reliable, precise, and specific. This is what most people will be looking for at these kinds of events. Second, add new knowledge. Make sure the research you do is original and contributes to the field; otherwise, there would be no use in conducting it. Lastly, define a scope, then broaden it to include participants and additional data.

There was also the chance to speak to journal editors, their tips on how submitting and writing for journals, was very valuable.

  • Locate the journal that corresponds with the study before delving into detail. This will save time when editing and coordinating the study’s objectives with those of the journals.
  • In the submission, mention the journal’s keywords. It would be wise to include keywords like “innovation” or “change” if the focus of the journal is innovation.
  • Add citations from the related field. In our case, the study focuses on automated communication, digital transformation, chatbots, innovation, and the public sector. Including publications from related fields demonstrates the study’s relevance.
  • Scoping is crucial. Ensuring a precise and well-defined scope demonstrates focus.
  • Another alternative is to get in touch with a journal in advance and check if the study fits the journal, thus saving time.

Overall, it was a nice experience and I hope to attend ISPIM again.

Funding
This publication is part of the project Bots of Trust: An interdisciplinary discourse (with project number 023.020.030 which is (partly) financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO). This publication is also funded by the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.

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