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Fostering Social Value in Digital Transformation Initiatives

By Niki Panteli

DOS Co-Director & Professor of Digital Business, Royal Holloway University of London School of Business and Management (

My contribution centres around the argument that digital transformation can create a better world by taking a broader perspective on the value that could be created though digital initiatives. The study I present here focuses specifically on the use of digital health platforms but the argument can be generalised to other digital transformation initiatives.

Value in new initiatives is not just when something new and novel is created, but rather when these new initiatives are considered worthwhile by others. Despite this conceptualization that is recognized in the literature, value is often thought in terms of economic and financial terms, while other types of values such as social value that refers to generating worthwhile impact on specific social groups and the wider society had only attracted limited attention. For this we carried out a study of a digital health platform and sought to examine what kind of social value if at all can be linked to these initiatives.

The study involved MedicineAfrica, a digital platform that was founded in 2008 by a small group of health professionals in the UK with the aim to provide healthcare education to junior and trainee doctors and medical students in fragile, post war countries and regions such as Somaliland, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. MedicineAfrica is based on the voluntary contributions of professional medics primarily in the UK but also Germany with the only paid staff being an administrator and an IT person. The tutorials are online in real time often taking place on Sunday afternoon and until very recently the interactions between tutors and tutees have been text based only. At the time of the study, MedicineAfrica had expanded the number of programmes, courses and countries that it covered, had around 100 volunteers and more than 1000 users/tutees who were benefiting from the educational support of the platform. Therefore, we can confidently say that this represented a successful digital initiative.

In our study, we interviewed a number of people involved with the platform including the founder, managers, volunteers and tutees. We also carried out observation of online tutorials and interactions and had access to a series of documents that gave us further insight on the platform.

An intriguing early finding from the study was about the reasons that made the volunteer doctors not just to join but also to stay with the platform and contribute to its success and growth. The infographic presented here shows a trajectory of the volunteers’ commitment growing over time. Initial reasons and motives for joining included an opportunity to practise new skills and adding these on their CV, making good use of their free time, and giving something back to their home countries especially among immigrant and refugees doctors based in the UK. Over time, the motives changed and the commitment has grown. The tutors talked about the opportunity given to them to learn from their tutees as well as a sense of fulfilment when they spend time on the platform. As a result, they showed commitment to the platform and what the platform stood for; they developed a sense of community and a willingness to undertake additional roles and lead new initiatives on the platform.

Further analysis pointed to evidence of value created for the wider good and different social groups. Different types of social value emerged from the findings.

Cognitive value concerns the transfer of medical knowledge in order to improve clinical practice, to improve patients treatment and healthcare overall.

Professional value is linked to the opportunity provided by the digital platform for the continuous education and development of the professional medics themselves as well as opportunity for networking among the medics themselves.

Epistemic value develops by gaining new knowledge that contribute to publications, and advancing the medical field in general and beyond the specific countries involved.

What the study has shown is that she success of a platform such as MedicineAfrica depends on the connectivity potentials of technology to bring people together regardless of their location, to enable them to work as a collective and develop that important sense of community, and also on the growing commitment of their users especially the volunteers. Together these contribute towards the social value creation and the different types of social value that we have seen in the study.

The blog draws from my contribution to the PDW  ‘Is Digital Transformation Creating a Better World – An International collaboration between academics and managers’, at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management 2022 (August 4-10, 2022, Seattle)’. The full study upon which this presentation is based was published in Information Systems Journal with Petros Chamakiotis and Dimitra Petrakaki in 2021.

Full Reference:

Chamakiotis, P., Petrakaki, D., & Panteli, N. (2021). Social value creation through digital activism in an online health community. Information Systems Journal31(1), 94-119.

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