Saturday, December 8, 2007

E-Government: Key Concepts and Applications to Development

One effect of new and expanding information and communication technology and the digital revolution is the reality and potential of ICT to increase the efficiency and effective of government. Another is demands on governments to be more receptive to the needs of citizens. Governments must become more participatory, lower barriers and costs for access, and become more responsive.

One way to do this is e-government – the use of information and communications technologies to transform government, to make it more efficient, effective, transparent and accountable. For developing countries and the development efforts they are pursuing, e-government will be particularly important, in development and in establishing good governance.

E-government involves many benefits that strengthen the function of government, but also involves issues that call for new ways of governing. For developing countries, the potentials are particularly significant, but so are the issues. An additional concern developing country governments must face is reconciling e-government and the digital divide.

E-Government: Key Concepts and Applications to Development

Friday, November 2, 2007

On e-Government

In its most common use, “e-government” refers to communication between government and citizens by way of the Internet and web-based applications. From the government point of view, the goal of e-government is utilizing information and communication technology to improve ways government does business and serves citizens. From the citizen’s point of view, the most visible and relevant part of e-government is the many ways of interacting with government online.

Government often is seen as inefficient and unresponsive in meeting citizen expectations; and citizens do not have an alternative to government. In many places, however, government is beginning to take a more customer-oriented view, regarding citizens as clients and adopting values of consumer satisfaction. The on-line, 24/7 availability and response of business is carrying over to citizens’ expectations of government and demands they are making. At the same time, government is realizing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of ICT operations that come with e-government.

As a leader, the United States federal government has adopted the concept of e-government, with four priority areas:

  • government to citizen – government and citizens communicating, and government delivering services in a more efficient, more responsive way

  • government to business – government and businesses interacting and exchanging information through timely, cost-efficient, cost-effective channels

  • government to government – improving the efficiency of government processes between government entities

  • intragovernment – improving the way government does business within its units, managing processes more effectively and efficiently and applying best practices

Beyond improving administration and providing better services to citizens, e-government can strengthen government’s relationship with citizens as stakeholders and voters, from whom government must, or should, derive its mandate and legitimacy. E-government can make the public sector more transparent and accountable, and display greater responsibility for decisions and actions. E-government can provide new ways for citizens to participate in the functions of government and strengthen democratic processes. Through stronger public-private relationships, e-government can work to build new partnerships toward strengthening social and economic capital and capacities of people and their communities.

E-government does not come without suspicion. Government is not always seen as – and sometimes does not operate as – a benevolent authority. E-government includes information and communication technologies related to worrysome functions such as security and surveillance and information gathering. E-voting still is not universally trusted. In some aspects, government still is not always responsive, accountable or transparent. Citizens must know that limits and safeguards for e-government are in place to ensure that the information capacity, reach and access that government can achieve is not misused or abused, and that government is operating to serve the interests of people.

Not Without Fears

While the advantages and benefits of e-government are apparent, effective e-government is not a sure thing:

  • E-government often involves change – which means, many would say, that the process will be difficult. Designing and implementing effective and appropriate e-government systems requires learning from research and experience, and following advice of experts from outside government. Potential constraints to effective implementation would include ineffective design and coordination within government, or mistakes in defining problems and finding ways to solve them. Individual government entities employing e-government may have different perspectives, operational goals and objectives, circumstances, financial and human resources, technologies, levels of acceptance, and so on. Government at higher levels may not have the capacity or will to provide the necessary competent leadership and oversight in developing and implementing broad strategies.
  • Citizen acceptance is key in effective e-government. People may lack the interest, understanding or willingness to accept e-government processes. Potential barriers at the citizen level could be many, such as resistance to technology, inadequate understanding and training, lack of access to ICT facilities, weaknesses in civil institutions that could support e-government, and unsupportive local perspectives and attitudes.
  • E-government may not be an answer. There would be little to gain from using e-government in support of processes and systems that may be outdated or bad and that should be changed. There would be little to gain from using ICT in support of government operations that do not support the effective functioning of government, or effectively benefit or serve the best interests of people.
  • The big-brother element of e-government cannot be denied. Many people are reluctant to allow government expanded electronic control of information, and harbor suspicions of mismanagement and abuse. Security of information, against internal abuse or theft by third parties, is a real concern. Freedom of information would be another area of concern – whether citizen will have access to information, and assurances that information cannot be withheld, as well as assurances that government will not abuse its power and authority through censorship and misuse of information it possesses. Vulnerability to external assault, by forces such as terrorism, must be considered.
  • The global element of e-government is to be considered. The degrees of adoption and utilization of e-government processes by governments around the world are different. Some countries have comparatively broad-reaching and well-functioning e-government structures and capabilities, and some do not. Some countries are uncomfortable with or mistrusting of e-government, and have lagged in adoption or have chosen to limit adoption. Some countries do not yet have the technological, education, or infrastructure bases needed for effective e-government. In some countries, there is a disconnect between the nature of e-government and national culture – culture being independent of the many culturally neutral technology, hardware and physical infrastructure elements of e-government.

Some Ideas

E-government has many dimensions. Three are the willingness of citizens to accept e-government, citizen trust in e-government, and aspects of e-government around the world.

  • As ICT and the Internet have changed most every aspect of life, the ways government operates and the ways people interact with government have changed. E-government has become a fact, and is expanding in its impact. As with most ICT applications, e-government does not have fixed limits in the ways it can be used, to make government operations more effective and efficient, support government-citizen interaction, and strengthen citizen participation in the processes of government. Perhaps the most important element in implementation of e-government will be a willing citizenship – one that recognizes and embraces the benefits and potentials of e-government, and that forces government to respond appropriately.

  • An important part of successful e-government will be citizen trust in ICT systems and processes, and the ways government employs these systems and processes. Effective e-government will require basic citizen confidence in overall government – perhaps beyond the scope of ICT, but a key in ICT being adopted in the functions of government. For successful e-government, citizens must be assured of a safe and secure information environment – in the ways government uses e-government systems, and the ways it protects these systems.

  • There is a digital divide in terms of adoption of e-government around the world. Many explanations of this are available, ranging from availability of technology, education and physical infrastructure, to compatibility between e-government and national culture. These aspects of the digital divide must be acknowledged, and, where possible and appropriate, addressed. Where the divide can be closed through improved availability of technology and infrastructure or creation of education opportunities, efforts in these directions should be made. Where differences are based in elements of culture, these differences must be acknowledge and respected.

Web Resources

E-Gov: Powering America’s Future with Technology This is a website based in the White House, to quote: “Expanding E-Government is the President’s goal of utilizing technology to improve how the Federal Government serves you, citizens, businesses and agencies alike. This website provides an overview of the program, the Presidential E-Government Initiatives and the Federal Enterprise Architecture.” This is an extensive web site outlining Federal Government approaches to e-government and providing a wealth of official information resources.

Journal of E-Government Journal of E-Government is a forum for policymakers, practitioners, and technology industry leaders, along with academics and researchers. This professional journal focuses on the application and practice of e-government in its broadest sense – using information technology to enhance the delivery of public services and information. Journal of E-Government is produced by the E-Governance Lab at the University of Southern California.

Center for Democracy and Technology: Working for Democratic Values in a Digital Age The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to promoting the democratic potential of today's open, decentralized global Internet. This web site discusses a wide range of issues related to ICT, communication and public policy. Resources on the site relate to legislative and policy development, current issues, and information and research resources; CDT’s work is both U.S. domestic and international. The site includes a link to a CDT blog that discusses ICT issues.

eGovernment Research & Development This is a web site of the European Commission. The EC recognizes e-government as an emerging priority and has charged the eGovernment Unit of its Information Society initiative with exploring ways to implement new policy, good practice exchange and avenues to implementation. The EC sees e-government as being beyond establishing online services, and toward using information and communication technology in public administration, through organization change and development of new skills, to improve public services, strengthen public polices, and support democratic processes. This web site presents policy development in the EC, activities that are being pursued, and information resources that are available.

About E-Government This is the home page for the World Bank’s e-government initiative. The World Bank Group is working to support adoption of the principles of electronic government as a conceptual and technical framework for governance and public management reforms in the countries in which it works. This web site presents the work the World Bank is doing, along with a range of knowledge resources. The World Bank is a leading development institution with regard to e-government.

eGovernment for Development This is the web site for a project at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom addressing the relationship of e-government and social and economic development. With the specific question “How can e-government help developing countries” the site works to provide answers through links to publications and other information resources and an online discussion network.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What Makes for a Good Blog?

The things that most people would think of, such as credibility, consistency, accuracy, timeliness, reason, and usefulness of content. Believability would rank high.

I think of deciding “good” for a blog as being the same as for most anything else. In effect, blogs must attract customers. "Good" would be based on the same kind of consumer reasoning that goes into repeat purchases of a commercial item or repeat visits to a business.

Referrals would be a good indicator as well. Word-of-mouth, or mentions in other places, whether on the Internet, in other media, or from people. Links on blogrolls would be another – a link is a vote of confidence.

Two Contrasting Purposes for a Blog

Two contrasting blogsites in terms of finding content that is a basis for public debate:

One is from Greenpeace The site obviously exists to disseminate Greenpeace’s views on current events. Whatever Greenpeace’s views might be, the site is a jumping-off point for discussion of issues.

The other is from the World Bank’s InfoShop, the public information outlet of the World Bank. While existing as a blog, the site is little more than one more outlet to advertise World Bank information products. It does not seem to serve the purpose of what a blog might be in terms of expressing views and creating a platform for comment and discussion.

A Blog that Stays, and a One-Shot Deal

In looking at international topics, a blog with a really interesting topic, and with follow-through, is My Heart’s in Accra This is a site dealing with a range of ideas and issues, that has been maintained, in scope of content and in continuity, over time.

A disappointment is World Bank Watch: A Blogsite for Critical Research on International Financial Institutions This is a blog with a topic that is both relevant and intriguing. But it is a one-shot deal – one post and nothing since.

Information and Going to Jail

An significant moment for pause comes from the site Journalism and Mexican politics -- the idea of journalists going to jail.

For a journalist in the United States, the threat of jail, at worst, would come from something like refusing to reveal a source.

In many other countries, the threat jail is an everyday part of the job. And it could be much worse. In many parts of the world, the threat of physical harm and death also are an everyday part of the job.

These should be some sobering thoughts, as we casually surf through the world’s press on the Internet, and take for granted how easily news and information comes.

Comments and Trackbacks

In looking at weblogs that relate to aspects of international development, there is an interesting contrast between blogs that generate comments and trackbacks, and those that do not.

In the list of blogs included on this site, it is worth noting that the site for CIVICUS generates a few comments, and a number of trackbacks.

This compares with the site for Center for Global Development, which generates few comments, and virtually no trackbacks.

I’m not sure whether this is a reflection of a “better” blog. Or perhaps a reflection of blogs with different purposes – a site designed to facilitate dialogue or idea exchange, compared, for example, with a site designed to disseminate information.