Public Leadership Challenge: Autonomy in the digital society

Thursday afternoon 31 May the Public Leadership Challenge took place in the Living Lab, of Leiden University The Hague. During this afternoon, a diverse group of professionals, academics and students focused on the challenge of autonomy in the digital society. Working together on this complex and interesting theme led to creative and innovative ideas about the role of leadership in the digital society.

Autonomy in the digital society

After a warm welcome of René de Jong, board member of the PLF and moderator of the PLC, and an introduction of the organizing partners PLF and BECIS, the Challenge started with a mini lecture. Professor Steunenberg gave an introduction about the theme. In his mini lecture he presented the state of the art of the academic literature about the role of citizens, public policy, data and digital society. After this lecture, it was time for the stakeholders to present their point of view and interests.


The citizen, government and private sector

When it is about autonomy in the digital society, different actors with different, and often opposing, interests are involved. To present these different interests, three stakeholders were asked to present their point of view and interest concerning the theme of autonomy in the digital society. The National Ombudsman, Reinier van Zutphen, represented ‘the citizen’. The government perspective was presented by Anja Lelieveld, Dutch Ministry of Interior affairs who is preparing the Dutch government’s digital agenda. The private sector, then, was represented by Jan Kooiker, who is director of BMconsultants, specialized in digital solutions.

Working in dynamic sub-groups

To find an answer to the challenges set out by the National Ombudsman, the Ministry of Interior affairs and the private company, the participants were divided into four groups that were asked to create a clear picture of the challenge. In this first round the sub-groups discussed the problem, the causes, effects and important people and organizations involved. After the groups shortly presented their results to the others groups and to the stakeholders, they searched for possible solutions and the role of leadership in this. The great diversity of the participants meant that there was a dynamic, interactive discussion about the various challenges.062018-plciii

Results, autonomy and leadership

To add to the philosophical perspective in the debate about autonomy in the digital society, dr. Marcel Beckers provided a keynote about ethics. Questions such as ‘ What is autonomy’? led to an interesting debate.  The work in the sub-groups finally resulted in creative posters and concrete advice for the stakeholders. The advice for the stakeholders was an agile model, in which the citizens, the government and private companies work together in ‘innovation labs’ and using a ‘see-feel-change’ philosophy. Leadership is essential in this model and is shared among the parties involved. It was impressive to see what the dynamic and interactive nature of this challenge had accomplished in only a few hours. Seeing how the proposals were received by the stakeholders was a beautiful end to a very worthwhile afternoon. During the drinks afterwards the participants talked further about the theme and exchanged their ideas, opinions and possible solutions.


The PLC 2018 was a successful joint initiative by the Public Leadership Foundation, BECIS and the Leiden Leadership Centre of Leiden University – Campus The Hague

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