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Minna van Gerven: Digitalization of the welfare state – threat or opportunity?

Published on 14.6.2022
Tampere University
Minna van Gerven is Professor of Social Policy at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Her current research focuses on the technological era and current social policy questions in a digitalizing society. She is particularly interested in the changes of the welfare state amidst technological development.

Van Gerven says that the technological transition has affected things such as the processing of social security benefits and how people are referred to services. Digitalization and technology will also govern the creation of social security and welfare in the future. The COVID-19-induced digital leap is one example of the exponentially accelerating pace of technological development.

“In a techno-optimistic world, technology is often seen as a big opportunity. Technological development is then seen as a natural progression and an enabler of welfare: technology can help us solve major social problems and also replace human labour,” van Gerven describes.

However, the digitalization of the welfare state also raises critical questions about the ethical basis of information technology and automation and the related practices that exacerbate inequality. Can all the customers of KELA, for example, make the necessary digital leap? How does the public sector work in the era of datafication and what are the risks associated with data and artificial intelligence? 

“It is important that technology is not developed only with the tech companies leading the way. We need social sciences to influence the kind of technology that is developed and how it is used so that innovations would meet the needs of citizens and the administration.”

Minna van Gerven's contact information