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.
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IMHO, the digital society won’t come by design (laws, white papers, projects and business plans), but from the advent of digital natives in leading roles.
All needed technologies have been here for nearly two decades, but little progress has been made. My whole professional life has been a prolonged astonishment, noticing how much could be done using soft technologies (to improve people lives, serve citizens better, save natural resources, operate businesses more effectively, etc.) and how little was actually accomplished.
This is not merely the leaders’ fault (politicians, bureaucrats, business managers), but also their constituencies, as only a tiny proportion of people really do understand the potential of ICT.
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PS: I know it’s probably unintended, but I sense a potentially dangerous spin to your title and conclusion. Public administrations (with or without the “e-“) shouldn’t be built for their employees, but for the society. As a slogan, «citizen-centric» sounds a lot better than «employee-centric» (especially in Southern European administrations, which are still essentially built around their employees rather than around the communities they should serve)
Paolo is correct in that it will require the majority of citizens to become digital natives.
In the meantime the majority of existing channels need to be maintained and optimized to usage.
For too long pulic services have been employee-centric and the processes designed to ease their burden or legislated to ensure their benefit.
Lets consider the end-to-end processes with the citizens at the source.
Both Paolo and Mick raise two important points: (1) what percentage of the population should be really e-enabled for all this to work? (2) why should we focus on employees, as this is what governments have done so far?
As far as (1) I think that what many are missing is the “indirect effect” of online social networks. Even if not everybody can usefully access the Internet, she may know somebody who does (a relative, a friend, a social worker, etc). So we really have to focus on how to help non-digital people to leverage the networks their digital friends or relatives access to.
As far as (2), the term “citizen-centric” has been used for many years, but has not really helped deliver services that provide value to citizens. In a Web 2.0 world, value creation is up to individuals more than to organizations. Therefore the question is how to provide employees the right tools (and I am not really talking about devices or software here) to deliver value in an ecosystem where traditional boundaries betweem service providers and service consumers are blurred
Good luck with (2)… ^_^
As to (1): I did not mean e-enabled people, but people born after 1985, as 95 percent of non-digital natives are unable to digest or even understand what the “digital age” can offer.