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Europe Moves Toward a Vision for 2020: Too Little, Too Late?

By Andrea Di Maio | March 24, 2009 | 3 Comments

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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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  • EU appears to be trying to be all things to everyone as usual but I have to agree about their performance management – perhaps they’re learning?


  • Basically, the underlying thoughts would mean that through more transparency by governments, governments and their constituents will be much more able to work together towards the best possible future for society. Balancing interests of different stakeholders explicitly, like currently pursued by the European Commission through its Impact Assessments that accompany policy initiatives that have potentially strong financial and/or regulatory impact, is important in this, too.

    Overall, a more conscious government that:

    does no longer assume to have to do it all by itself (but network in a “joined up” way with both businesses and citizens);
    makes explicit policy choices it is willing to sand for;
    is more explicit in its evaluations, both beforehand, and after, on impacts, and share those results;
    and is willing to learn from that and adapt accordingly

    seems to be the best possible government we can get in these days, financial crisis, or not!

    Up and beyond that, I agree with you that the role of citizens/users in creating value is not as visible in this report as it was in some of the discussions. Whereas this is the future, already today.

  • Useful thoughts from Andrea, as ever, almost all of which I agree with. Most of the shortcomings he refers to, however, arise from the specific context and purpose of the study. Many are indeed fully covered in the much more detailed research report prepared as background to the study, whilst this very short final summary version was written for a lay, rather than a professional, audience.

    Although it is correct to say that the study was completed last summer and thus did not capture the urgency of the current crisis, the study was not itself meant to evaluate i2010. It’s role rather is to contribute to a wider assessment, along with a number of other inputs, which is currently taking place and will culminate, I suspect, during the Swedish Presidency at the end of 2009.

    Clearly the report was the collective effort of a large number of people, and all the better for that. My own more focused view in the context of the current crisis is quite close to the Perez thesis of development cycles occasioned by new general purpose technologies like steam, electricity, mass media, and now ICT.

    In this view, it is only after a profound economic crisis that sufficiently broad changes occur to institutions and mindsets to fully take advantage of the new technology. We’re obviously in such a crisis right now, so we need to ensure that such deep changes do in fact take place, as this won’t happen without effort. These changes should include the public sector and public services moving towards a new paradigm where open government and open governance are the defining feature of the public sphere.

    It’s clear, for example from the current flatlining and even reduction in the use of eGovernment services by citizens, that there is a ceiling to the scale of benefits which can be achieved in pursuing the current eGovernment 1.0 approach, and that some Member States have already reached these limits.

    The power of the technology should now be turned to assist in changing the nature and role of governance itself, building on current achievements, institutional systems and legal frameworks, but helping to adapt and transform them to meet the radically different challenges of the 21st Century.

    This requires incremental but real and determined changes to governance structures, processes and mindsets, moving from the 1.0 ‘black-box’ model of governance to a 2.0 version of transparent and user-driven governance which significantly opens up the way government operates.

    First, this means that actors other than government can play appropriate roles in making governance more efficient and effective, whilst also enabling government itself to become more proactive in areas where this increases overall public value.

    Second, citizens, businesses and other interests and groups in society are no longer content to be passive recipients of governance generally, and public services specifically, but instead are increasingly demanding influence at all levels and in all aspects of public activity. Both of these requirements can now be met by the widespread availability of appropriate technological tools, skills and incentives.

    Government, as an institution, no longer always needs to be in the driving seat. However, as a believer in the role of the public sector through democratic means, I do contend that government should retain its legislative and framework building role, which would often include that of financer and arbiter between competing societal interests where it itself is not the prime mover.

    Thus, one aspect of this open governance vision is to see future governance as being ‘open-sourced’ in the sense that is draws on and ‘mashes-up’ the appropriate resources, expertise, knowledge and legitimacy of all actors from the private and civil (third) sectors, as well as from users and user groups themselves, so that roles sometimes become inter-changeable and blurred.

    I could go on. Suffice it to say that, in one sense, there is still all to play for in the future of i2010 and the eGovernment component of that. But we should also remember that the next eGovernment Action Plan (to 2015) will inevitably be a political compromise which attempts to construct a common understanding and common actions across very diverse Member States. It will, however, be a whole lot better than nothing at all and will assist in providing a common sense of direction, to which this study and the other inputs will hopefully contribute. For example, the need to support the economy through the Services Directive and the Single Market, to move towards the greening of government, and empowering and engaging citizens through the social media, are all likely to be given priority.