Platforms and Public Administration
Platforms refer to the strategy to connect consumers (citizenships) and developers (government) interested in the outcomes of network interactions.
In business administration, the strategic use of business management platforms is recurrent. Magazines are used to connect businesses – through their advertisers – with readers. Trade shows have established themselves around the globe through this same model, serving as the basis for the link between consumers and sellers. With the advancement of technology, companies like Facebook, Google, Alibaba, Uber, and Airbnb used the same format to become leaders in their business segments. The success of this format was then used in public administration, mainly to stimulate social participation and legitimization of governments.
In principle, the adoption of public service platforms has characteristics similar to those of the private market. However, a differential is the motivation of users. While in private initiative the economic purpose supports most actions, the return on public platforms is fundamentally social. The purpose of this entry is to provide an overview of the role of platforms and its adoption in the public domain. It begins with an analysis of theoretical perspective and the managerial consequences of its use. Finally, it concludes with an approach of what is known about platforms in public administration.
The platform is a transformative but straightforward concept that has affected businesses, the economy, and even society (Parker et al. 2016). Traditional sectors such as hosting, transportation, and retail have undergone significant changes following the introduction of platform-based business models (Kohler 2015; Libert et al. 2014). Parker et al. (2016) argue that eventually all industries will be affected by business platforms, given the value produced by collaborative work through social networks. Contemporary networks enhance the ability to create value through fast and spread connection of distant actors with complementary resources.
What makes the platform model successful is the ability to connect people, organizations, and resources in an interactive environment in which value propositions are created and exchanged (Parker et al. 2016). Information and communication technologies (ICT) play an essential role in platform business models as they allow reaching the necessary scale to sustain network externalities. Besides the access to distinct actors and resources, ICT enhance the necessary breadth for businesses to develop rapidly and become successful players in traditional markets (i.e., private transportation, hosting, etc.) or even create new markets (Hagiu and Rothman 2016).
Platform business models connect knowledge and talent spread into the crowd to predict opportunities and create solutions. ICT as powerful data processers should be able to organize and filter the amount of information arising from interactions of complementary actors. As an outcome, resources are effectively connected to opportunities, and solutions arise (Brabham 2013).
In general, four main players comprise the platform ecosystem: owners, providers, producers, and consumers (Parker et al. 2016). Owners are responsible for controlling intellectual property and defining governance for interactions among users. Providers usually stand for technological solutions as an interface among users, processing data, and supplying information. The group of users is composed by producers and consumers, each sustaining their positions according to each transaction.
The platform becomes active as a business when it generates a value perceived by both connected parts through its primary assets, which are the information and the interactions it makes possible (Evans and Schmalensee 2010). Because they are connecting people, platforms benefit from network externalities (Katz and Shapiro 1985), that is, the product or service utility increases as the number of consumers and creators involved increases. Parker et al. (2016) refer to these externalities as an essential part of the platform architecture and go beyond, stating that not only benefits are observed with increasing numbers of users in a platform. The authors identify negative effects of the network, mainly when an indiscriminate increase in the number of users on a poorly managed platform can reduce the value produced for each user. Then, the perfect fit of managerial structures and set of users sustain the value creation in platforms.
Kohler (2015) identifies three models of platform operation as the best architecture for business purposes. These models are defined by how stakeholders are connected, business objectives, and structures of power and control: (a) two-sided or multiple-sided platforms, (b) product platforms, and (c) integrating platforms.
In two-sided markets, the users connect and interact directly inside the platform environment. The two-sided connection is a feature not only of platform strategies but of markets with network externalities. Platforms managed under this model connect groups with distinct and complementary objectives (Eisenmann et al. 2006; Rysman 2009).
The dynamics of product platforms undersees the development of products or services by users on a base technology. In a second step, these developers sell their solutions to connected consumers. Similarly to two-sided models, product platforms promote the matching of complementary objectives, but here the control and direction of the platform owner are accentuated. The owner has the technology on which the product or service is developed by its creators (Kohler 2015).
The main characteristic of the integrative platform is an environment where contributions are captured and sold to consumers. The creation is a core activity here, performed mainly through competitions. This operation also presents a variation, commonly known as collaborative communities, whose main objective is to gather a series of contributions from the crowd into an original set of value (Kohler 2015).
These different platform configurations can be successful in their applications through strategies where the focus is on orchestrating resources and optimizing internal processes to facilitate external interactions, generate customer value, and maximize the value of the ecosystem (Boudreau and Lakhani 2009; Van Alstyne et al. 2016).
The platforms traditionally focused on private initiatives were adopted by the public with the power to respond to the demands of increasingly participatory individuals, called Citizens 2.0, and to legitimize their actions toward society (Brabham 2008, 2009; Hilgers and Ihl 2010; Linders 2012; Seltzer and Mahmoudi 2013). These initiatives are based on the belief that citizens with experience, situational awareness and interest in participating are potential sources of solutions for governments pressured to do more with less (Royo and Yetano 2015). In recent years, driven by technological advances, availability of information, and social mobilization, this development has become widespread (Thomas and Streib 2005).
Platforms in Public Administration
Traditionally focused on private enterprise, the adoption of platforms as a public management strategy has been recurring in the last decade. Technological advances, the growth of social activism (Nalbandian et al. 2013), and the concern to expand participation mechanisms have made the adoption of platforms – especially electronic ones – increasingly large. Pressed to do more with less, governments came to use platforms as tools to legitimize their actions, to understand the demands of society, and to find potential solutions to social problems, since citizens directly involved with the situation would have the experience to suggest interventions (Brown et al. 2017).
The public service management strategies based on platforms have the motivation as their differential. While in the business environment economic purposes are the rule, in public management the return is fundamentally social. Cases such as the Brazilian government’s “Ideia Legislativa” platform (Nardi et al. 2018) illustrate this reality. In the concrete initiative, citizens can suggest through the platform changes in the current legislation and mobilize their network of contacts to raise support. These ideas are then brought to the discussion and, if approved, implemented in society.
At the same time that it brings the public administration closer to society, the use of platforms expands the process of direct democracy (Royo and Yetano 2015) and facilitates the solution of social problems. The use of social media technologies and the implementation of open government initiatives encourage the participation of society in the political process, giving legitimacy to public actions and making more effective solutions to complex problems. The use of platforms, for example, enabled matchmaking systems to be implemented to overcome management failures, as in the case of access to the American education system (Roth 2015).
Increasingly, organizations around the world use platforms as a business strategy. To date, however, little has been explored on the topic in the literature. The use of platforms as tools for public management, although still an embryonic stage, has aroused the interest of managers for their ease to fastly connect a broad part of the population. Although the similarities between the public and private use of platforms are recognized, a point of differentiation is the outcome generated for users. While in the private initiative the motivation is economic, in the public administration the return is inherently social.
The adoption of public management platforms emphasizes citizens’ engagement and their direct participation in the political process. At the same time as it brings benefits to the citizen, the results for the government that can use the tool as a source of identification of social problems and solutions increase their relations with society, strengthen citizen confidence in public management, and, finally, legitimize their actions. Serving as a mediator between government and society, a platform is a resource-rich tool for implementing innovative practices that enable governments to do more with less. The understanding of the platform strategy still lacks advances in the literature, especially the architectures to be used in each case to reach the best possible results.
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