In the second half of August the Brookings Institution published two e-government surveys (one ranking US states and one ranging countries worldwide). This was formerly known as the Brown University survey, from the previous affiliation of its author Darrel West. A few clients asked about the rationale for sudden changes in position from 2007 to 2008 (just take a look at how Ghana and Tonga now outrank UK or New Zealand).
While I cannot comment on individual surveys, I have consistently said for 7 years now that rankings, surveys and other means to compare and contrast e-government progress and achievements make little sense, since they fail to capture context, constituents priorities, political imperatives, which all differ by jurisdiction. Further, methodologies are often questionable in terms of chosen criteria, weighting factors and the actual process of assessing a (sometimes unclear) set of web site for each jurisdiction.
The sad thing is that there are jurisdictions around the world where financial resources and management attention are explicitly targeted at improving position on one or many of these rankings. I still remember when – over a year ago – I met a high-level official in an (undisclosed) country. He welcomed me in a wonderful office with a spectacular view, and had two younger assistants at his side, both with impressive business cards (director level). At the beginning of our conversation he asked me what I thought about e-government surveys, and I told him quite openly, making the same argument I made above. After listening to me he smiled and asked “Andrea, do you know what these two people do for living and what is one of my top priorities for next year?”. I should have seen it coming but I didn’t. And he continued “To improve our position on the (undisclosed) ranking”. It goes without saying that it was the last time I met him: on the other hand, over one year after I met him, there is little evidence that their e-government issues have been overcome (whereas I am sure they will come up better in the next ranking).
The bottom line is that while in the early days of e-government these surveys served at least the purpose of encouraging jurisdictions to take action and start an e-government program, in today’s world, where several programs have already achieved maturity and are in their n-th edition, they are of little use, if not counterproductive.