“We would like to involve as many colleagues from UiA as possible who are interested in these types of solutions,” the project managers say.
The four-year agreement secures nine million kroner for UiA's academic environments. The goal is that this will lead to more joint applications from UiA and the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) to the Research Council of Norway and European funding sources.
UiA has previously collaborated with NAV on research into users’ preferred channels and also artificial intelligence. When the collaboration is stepped up, one of UiA's tasks will be to connect academic environments with sufficient academic breadth and level to deliver research that is relevant to decision-makers.
“We would like to involve as many colleagues from UiA as possible who are interested in these types of solutions. NAV is one of the most exciting places to work for those of us who do research on digitalisation in Norway,” says Øystein Sæbø, professor and deputy manager of the collaboration.
The collaboration between UiA and NAV is based on a long-term strategy to strengthen research in areas where NAV has specific needs for evidence-based knowledge, and where UiA has research expertise.
“UiA's ambitions for the agreement are to build a culture and infrastructure that supports research collaboration between academia and NAV. We will contribute with high-quality research that will be of great practical use to NAV and other public services.”
That is what Sara Hofmann, associate professor at UiA's Department of Information Systems and manager of the collaboration, says.
“We are one of the largest academic communities on digitalisation in Norway, and we are proud that NAV, which plays the largest part in the digitalisation of the public sector, takes the initiative for such collaboration,” says Sæbø.
“NAV is an important national service provider that we are proud to collaborate with in the area of digitalisation. Outsiderness has been defined as one of two cross-sector social missions in the long-term plan for research and higher education. This collaboration will make a good contribution towards that goal,” says Hans Kjetil Lysgård.
He is vice-rector for research and interdisciplinary projects at the University of Agder (UiA). On Wednesday 26 April, he attended the signing of the cooperation agreement together with Anne-Cathrine Grambo, director of the R&D section in the Directorate of Labour and Welfare.
For NAV, it is desirable to connect with strong academic environments that can contribute with relevant research, according to Anne-Cathrine Grambo.
“UiA has created an excellent research environment in the field of public sector digitalisation. They also collaborate with similar research teams in Sweden, Denmark and other European countries. In that way, the research can be strengthened with perspectives and experiences from countries we often compare ourselves to,” she says.
NAV's strategy towards 2030 states that knowledge must be the basis for service development. Grambo believes that cooperation like this increases the likelihood that the ambitions will be delivered.
“For us at NAV, it is important that the citizens of Norway are confident that we will safeguard their rights and legal protection when we digitalise our services, automate processes and start using artificial intelligence. One of the most important things we can get from this collaboration is quality research that helps us make the right choices in the development work,” she says.
The main purpose of the agreement is responsible digitalisation under which three programme areas have been planned:
Digital citizenship: What is required of citizens for them to be able to use digital solutions? What is the right level of involvement when it comes to digitising services? How can public welfare services be developed that prevent the exclusion of digitally vulnerable people?
Citizens' channel choice and NAV's multi-channel strategy: When does it make sense to digitise a service, and when is it best not to? What is the right mix of channels for communicating with users?
Human-centred artificial intelligence: How can we establish effective cooperation between humans and artificial intelligence? How can artificially intelligent systems be intuitive, easy to use and accessible to all citizens? How do we ensure that these systems are stable and reliable?
“NAV has focused on digitalisation in order to become more efficient, but in recent years there has been more awareness of the challenges it poses for vulnerable groups. Rather than reinforcing the outsiderness of such groups, we want to work together to ensure that as many people as possible can make use of these services,” says Hofmann.