Since when the term e-government was coined around the end of the nineties, it has almost inevitably referred to the use of Internet and other information technologies to transform the way government organizations deliver services and operate. I do not think that definition has really changed since. E-government was always part of a larger initiative, called “digital society” (mostly in North America) or “information society” (mostly in Europe), meaning the adoption of Internet-based technologies to transform the way societies and economies function. E-government is just one of the many facets of a digital society, which also needs a different regulatory framework, deployment of basic infrastructure to ensure affordable access to all, broad education for people to make use of such infrastructure, and economic development to stimulate innovative businesses and business models.
As a consequence, e-government has always been dealt with as an independent stream of activity. If one looks at the EU program on information society called i2010 (as well as at the way its successor is being shaped – see the current post-i2010 consultation), it is quite evident that e-government is still seen as a silo amongst other element of the portfolio (learning, inclusion, innovation, environment, etc.).
All this occurred to me as I was having a conversation with a CIO from a European local authority who is working on a vision document for his city’s digital future. As the paper was mostly taking the “information society” angle, there was hardly a trace of “e-government”, as if transforming government operations was not an integral part of a digital future vision. One thing that stroke me was the absence of any reference to the role of government employees as transformation agents or contributors in this vision.
Now, if we accept that the digital future is one where boundaries blur across people, sectors, geographies and roles, then we have to accept that the role of government employees will change in ways we cannot yet anticipate. They will be information creators, assessors, brokers, integrators, analyzers, and will work as much with other official as with volunteers, advocacy groups, service suppliers, and the citizens they serve.
If this is a plausible scenario, then we can no longer treat e-government as a separate silo in a digital society transformation initiative. We cannot consider it as an ancillary element that serves more fundamental initiatives– such as education, content creation or infrastructure deployment. Government employees are likely to become the joints that make this whole vision of a digital “2.0” future work.
It is time for e-government to become more employee-centric and to take center stage in the vision for a future digital society.