Trust in government is key for digital infrastructure adoption, study by Luciana Cingolani shows

In the journal Governance, she examines infrastructural power through the lens of contact tracing apps.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries have had varying degrees of success in using government-sponsored contact-tracing apps to manage the spread of the virus. In a new paper in the journal Governance, Hertie School Assistant Professor of Public Administration Luciana Cingolani examines data from 150 countries on the adoption of virus-tracing apps, as a lens for assessing “infrastructural power” – in short, a state’s capacity to enact policies. The research shows that trust in government is a key factor in high adoption of such digital technology.

“The findings stemming from a pool of 150 countries show no straightforward connection between traditional and digital forms of infrastructural power,” Cingolani writes. “They also point at the primacy of governmental trust over financial, institutional, and technological factors– including privacy standards – when explaining high adoption, suggesting that the relational aspect of infrastructural power acquires a proportionally greater weight in the digital era.”

Infrastructural power, which refers to a state's capacity to implement its policies effectively throughout the territories it governs, "is a defining aspect of statehood, and is most heightened whenever states are able to act 'at source', that is, as close to the regulatory subject as possible,” Cingolani writes. Digital tools enable this aspect of statehood, but they rely on social acceptance more than in traditional forms of state coercion.  

Such tracing apps are a relatively cheap and potentially efficient digital solution to complement local COVID-19 testing. Examining their uptake and acceptance among populations in different countries is a way to “extend traditional discussions on infrastructural state capacity into the digital era, and to present a comparative picture of digital infrastructural power and its determinants at the global level,” Cingolani writes.

Read the full paper here.


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