One theme that seems to be very fashionable around the evolution of e-government is e-participation. Its definition in Wikipedia is “ICT-supported participation in processes involved in government and governance”. Processes may concern administration, service delivery, decision making and policy making.“
While this definition mentions both service delivery and decision/policy making, many people use the term in the latter sense: engaging citizens in city planning or in commenting about a draft policy, creating blogs to discuss future policies or wikis for interactive policy making, and so forth.
As I have written before, this kind of participation, when it happens on-line, is unlikely to take place – or at least to thrive – on a government-controlled channel. To some extent, it would be more appropriate to see such a dialogue develop on a Parliament or a Congressman web site, rather than on a government one. What would be much useful though is to allow people to comment about the services they receive or the administrative obligations they have to discharge, asking them to rate them and to provide suggestions for their improvement. It is most likely that also part of this conversations will take place outside the government context, on social networking sites, fora, blogs. However for services that are partially or totally delivered online, the government web site or portal can be an important touch point to capture opinions, thoughts, suggestions.
At a meeting last week where I met international experts on e-government from several countries, there seemed to be a wide agreement about this and the fact that e-participation should be more tightly related to service delivery. On the other hand, when we discussed the role of web 2.0, a few colleagues mentioned its importance for personalizing the government portal. As if people cared composing a page with feeds and widgets from government.
Reality is that interaction with government is rare for most citizens and those who interact most are also likely to be the least inclined to use electronic channels. Service levels will increase by greater efficiency, shorter waiting times, less rather more interactions. Becoming less visible by leveraging existing data and previous interactions as well as by enabling citizens to choose their preferred intermediaries: these are steps that – especially in the current challenging times – government IT organizations should take to contain costs and increase service levels at the same time.
Although many e-government research programs, consultants and vendors seem to be beating the old drum of “more interaction is better”, there is still hope. I just saw that I have the following inquiry in the coming days, from a state authority:
“Citizens are contacting their government 1.3 times a year as an average. Even if the e-Government is a huge topic, the question remains if it does make sense to establish a digital solution for that due to the very low usage.”
I love this question and I’d wish more government officials to ask it.