IViR Lecture Series: Empathy in Digital Government

IViR is pleased to announce that
Professor Sofia Ranchordás
will give a lecture about
Empathy in Digital Government
on Friday 4 February 2022.

Humans make mistakes. Humans make mistakes especially while filling out tax returns, benefit applications, and other government forms, which are often tainted with complex language, requirements, and short deadlines. However, the unique human feature of forgiving these mistakes is disappearing with the digitalization of government services and the automation of government decision-making. While the role of empathy has long been controversial in law, empathic measures have helped public authorities balance administrative values with citizens’ needs and deliver fair and legitimate decisions. The empathy of public servants has been particularly important for vulnerable citizens (for example, disabled individuals, seniors, underrepresented minorities, and low-income individuals). When empathy is threatened in the digital administrative state, vulnerable citizens are at risk of not being able to exercise their rights because they cannot engage with digital bureaucracy.

In this lecture Sofia Ranchordás argues that empathy, which in this context is the ability to relate to others and understand a legal situation from multiple perspectives, is a key value of administrative law deserving safeguarding in the digital administrative state. Empathy can contribute to the advancement of procedural due process, the promotion of equal treatment, and the legitimacy of automation. The concept of administrative empathy does not aim to create arrays of exceptions, nor imbue law with emotions and individualized justice. Instead, this concept suggests avenues for humanizing digital government and automated decision-making through a more complete understanding of citizens’ needs.

Drawing on comparative examples of empathic measures employed in the United States, the Netherlands, Estonia, and France, this contribution is twofold: first, it offers an interdisciplinary reflection on the role of empathy in administrative law and public administration for the digital age, and second, it operationalizes the concept of administrative empathy. These goals combine to advance the position of vulnerable citizens in the administrative state.

Sofia Ranchordás is a Full Professor of European and Comparative Public Law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and a Professor of Public Law and Innovation at LUISS Guido Carli in Rome. Sofia Ranchordás conducts multidisciplinary research on public law and digital technology. Her research agenda is focused on two topics: first, the advancement of innovation through experimental regulatory instruments; second, the impact of digital transformations and digital exclusion on the position of citizens before the government. She held previous academic positions at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, Tilburg University and Leiden University. 

Sofia Ranchordás has been the recipient of both national and international grants and awards (e.g., Niels Stensen Fellowship, Knight Foundation, NWO Smart Governance, KNAW). She is currently a Visiting Professor at Catolica Global School of Law, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and the University of Cote d’Azur in Nice.

Date: 4 February 2022
Time: 16.00 – 17.30 CET (Amsterdam)
Place: This lecture will take place online via Zoom.