I just saw the report Value for citizens – A vision of public governance in 2020, which has been produced under the auspices of the European Commission to support discussion and work for the so-called “post-i2010 debate”.
i2010 has been the European Union policy framework for activities on the Information Society and digital economy, including e-government. The keywords for i2010 were growth and employment and it is unfortunate that the end of the 2010 timeframe sees negative growth and increasing unemployment. This is one more reason for the post-i2010 thinking to set new priorities and directions for the EU and its Member States toward the use of information and communication technologies for sustainable growth.
The report stresses four areas:
- Fully joined-up government and networked governance, calling for greater openness, a more collaborative approach, and recognizing the “blurring boundaries” effect inside government and between government and society.
- Responsiveness to user needs and wants, by means of personalized services involving self-service, greater inclusion for disadvantaged users and greater intermediation through commercial and informal parties (such as social networks).
- More open, participative and democratic government, looking at how to gather input from the bottom up, empowering local communities , encouraging and nurturing new ideas, also via mass collaboration techniques
- New forms of managing, evaluating and improving performance, touching upon better and more open risk management, output orientation and relentless cost/benefit analysis.
Most of these points are absolutely sensible and they are the necessary ingredients for modern governance. However the first impression reading the report is that those ingredients are not – or at least risk not to be – combined in the right way.
Probably because it was produced in the course of 2008, when the financial crisis and economic downturn had yet not revealed themselves in all their severity, the report does not transmit a required sense of urgency on important topics that will shape governance in the years to come.
First of all, if one takes an output-driven approach to evaluate i2010, it cannot deny it has failed to achieve its high level objectives. Why is that and how are the suggested directions building on the lack of success?
Second, all member states in the EU will have to face major challenges in terms of defending employment, stabilizing their own banks and sustaining key industries, while resisting the temptation of protectionism, which would be in breach of EU internal market rules. How will the suggested governance directions help make sure that Europe does not fall into the trap of defending national interests?
Third, all governments will face new challenges as they try to inject significant resources to re-ignite the economy, something the US are already experiencing with TARP and ARRA. This puts a new burden on resource management and performance evaluation, and requires participation from all stakeholders, hence creating a key connection between two or three of the areas above. Why isn’t there any reference to this?
Fourth, the vision of a joined-up government spelled out by the report keeps governments in the driving seat, as if they were able to orchestrate the many social resources that are self-organizing on the net. On the one hand, governments should embrace this, identifying areas where they can step out of service delivery to redirect scarce resources where they are most needed. On the other hand self-organized social networks will constantly challenge the status quo and even apparently harmless l moves like making information easier to reuse may backfire. Why isn’t the report looking into any of this?
I will be working on a more detailed analysis of this report and subsequent activities for Gartner clients. My bottom line so far though is that, while the report touches on important areas, it misses the mark on some of the most compelling challenges for governance in the decade to come.
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