The UK COVID-19 app: The failed co-production of a digital public service

Tobias Polzer*, Galina Goncharenko

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic put governments under pressure to make radical and urgent decisions, and to implement new digital solutions to steer society and deliver public services. Our study analyzes social media discourse to understand the co-production of a digital public service in an emergency situation. Empirically, we mobilize Twitter netnography and discourse analysis to examine citizens’ perceptions of the contact tracing app (CTA) introduced by the UK government to tackle the pandemic and save lives. Our study contributes to research on public sector accountability for digital transformations by advancing scholarly understanding of how societal concerns and public perceptions impact the co-production of digital services. Our findings reveal a high level of public skepticism toward the app and a general distrust of the UK government among the main social challenges of the CTA's implementation. Furthermore, we evidence widespread public distress over the potential violation of democratic freedoms and misuse of the data collected by the app. Finally, we reflect on the linkages between the lack of governmental accountability and the difficulties in mitigating the expressed societal concerns, causing a corresponding resistance on the part of the public to engage in and support co-production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-298
Number of pages18
JournalFinancial Accountability and Management
Issue number2
Early online date11 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • accountability
  • co-production
  • contact tracing apps
  • digital technologies
  • digital transformation
  • netnography


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