Law and Society Blog

Carlos Ivan Vargas Alvarez del Castillo and His Hope to Trigger Some Changes in How We See Technology in Government

On November 15, 2021 Carlos Ivan Vargas Alvarez del Castillo from the School of Governance, Law and Society defended the doctoral thesis "Actor-Network Theory as a Theoretical and Methodological Resource for the Analysis of e-Government Projects: The cases of e-Estonia and e-Residency".

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How did you find your way to your research topic during your studies?

While searching for a master dissertation topic, I had a dream. When I woke up, I remembered somehow and in a weird way the words; public administration, government, technology. At that moment I had no idea of the evolution of government into the digital world, for me it was just computers in offices. As I couldn’t take the idea out of my head, I started researching until I found out about e-Government. That led me to the path that became my life for the last eight years. As the passion grew for the topic, I also found Estonia and its work on the field. So, I decided to get more involved in the academic perspective of e-Government. Some years later, this is where I find myself.

Writing a doctoral dissertation is definitely a challenge that needs constant self-motivation. During this journey, what were your hacks to keep on working to successfully reach the end result?

Indeed it’s a challenge and I believe sometimes the only thing that kept me going was the passion for the topic. A lot of times, I felt like quitting, however, a great supervisor that kept me motivated also helped a lot. So, my hacks would be to choose a topic you would definitely won’t loose interest in at least couple of years and to choose wisely a supervisor that will stick with you until the end.

Describe some memorable or funny event that happened while writing the dissertation.

It was long journey, full of interesting and memorable experiences that left me with some experience. All good ones and bad ones, have something to learn from. While writing the dissertation, I had the experience of intellectually being stolen from my work from some Estonian politician, that led to even discover the complicity of a foreign university and private companies on how they ran projects of e-Government. All that, for just writing about my passion. About good experiences, I cannot count the amount of people I met on the way that helped me, that stayed with me for professional, academic and personal matters. A funny experience, at the beginning of my studies, I went to a bar alone. A group of people let me to sit down on a free place they had at their table. Later on, while talking to them, it turn out they worked for the local news and they asked me to write about the upcoming e-Residency project. I wrote an opinion article, and two days laters, I had a call from the former director of the project. We met, and that article and that person ended up being the beginning of my dissertation. 

How does your research change the world?

I do not believe it is meant to change the world. However, if it changes a few points of view of certain actors, it might trigger some changes on the way how we see technology in government, both academically and in practice. If I achieve that, then I would be satisfied and the research was worthy.

How well is the voice of researchers and young researchers heard in our society?

Unfortunately, I would have to say that there is a lot of room for improvement. If society starts trusting and using more science as a base for decision making, we could foresee innovation in all aspects of our lives. The entrance of young researchers with new and fresh ideas should have a stronger support in order to achieve this.

What are the most important values and beliefs in your life to live by?

Honesty, innovation, acknowledgement of ignorance on myself and openness to new things. And hard work, a lot of hard work.

Describe a book that you've recently read and which you recommend others to read as well. Why do you recommend it?

Honestly, lately I haven’t have time for pleasure reading. However, I could make a large list of recommendations about Actor-Network Theory, e-Government, GovTech or Public Innovation. Between finishing the Phd, my job and a little one year kid, my time is quite limited and my free time mostly used for sleeping.