Abstract

Digitalization is changing society by the increased connectivity and networking that digital technologies enable, such as enhancing communication, services, and trade. Increasingly, policymakers within various national governments and international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are examining the original sustainability policy concepts applied within the Brundtland Report of 1987 through the lens of digitalization. While the growth of a digital economy may increase productivity and benefit local and global economies, digitalization also raises potential sustainability challenges pertaining to social (i.e., the benefits or costs imposed by disruptive digital technologies upon social networks and ways of life, including threats to economic sustainability and the rise of economic disparity) and environmental wellbeing (i.e., natural resource stewardship and concern for future generations) driven by the automation of information processing and delivery of services. Various perspectives have been raised regarding how the process of digitalization might be governed, and national governments remain at odds regarding a single best strategy to promote sustainable digitalization using the Brundtland concept to meet the development needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations (i.e., social and environmental well-being). This paper reviews three governance strategies that countries can use in conjunction with adaptive governance to respond to digitalization sustainability threats: (i) a laissez-faire, industry-driven approach; (ii) a precautionary and preemptive strategy on the part of government; and (iii) a stewardship and “active surveillance” approach by government agencies that reduce the risks derived from digitalization while promoting private sector innovation. Regardless of a state’s digital governance response and how it is shaped by political and institutional realities, adaptive governance approaches are likely necessary to address the economic and social sustainability challenges posed within differing manifestations of digitalization.

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