For a better comprehension of the relationship between the Government and the citizens I will use a simplified version of the standard communication model. As the diagram shows, the medium of communication affects all the elements of the relationship.
In the information age, Governments adopt new management strategies that generally go through the phases of automation, optimization, reengineering and eventually transformation (Heeks,2001,p.41). The reform of Government can be described by a series of outcomes such as: increased efficiency; decentralization; increased accountability; improved resources management; and marketisation (Heeks,2001,p.13). Citizens are also changed in this relationship mainly by being more involved in decision-making processes, better informed and served faster. Their expectations are growing as a result. Services and information get a new size and shape as a consequence of the use of ICTs which, in this context, is generally known as eGovernment.
As The Economist (2000) synthesizes the process, there are four main steps to a desirable eGovernment: a) disseminating information over the Web; b) allowing citizens to use e-mail to pass information to government offices; c) allowing citizens to fill in forms over the Internet; and d) integrating a range of user services.
The relationship as a whole is changed and, in order to describe how it is changed, I will start with the definition of eGovernment, as given by Gartner Group (2000): “The continuous optimization of Government service delivery, citizen participation and governance by transforming internal and external relationships through technology, the internet and the new media”. Following this framework, it is apparent that the changes fall into one or more of these three categories:
· Service delivery
· Citizen participation
Three decades ago, Bernstein S. (1976, pp.427-439) reviewed and foresaw the accomplishments due to use of computers in public administration and realized the great step made in a various public services. The development of networks and eGovernment raises these results to a new level.
The changes in governmental service delivery through eGovernment are founded on the paradigm which conceives citizens as active customers or clients rather than passive beneficiaries. Gröndlund Å. (2002,p.24) argues that the design of eGovernment is usually constructed around the provision and enhancing quality of services by “increased speed, completeness, process efficiency and other”.
With a direct view on eGovernment, in a programmatic document, the Scottish Executive (2006) points out such objectives as improve efficiency and productivity by “reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, embedding a culture of efficiency across, public services, and strengthening leadership”; and creation of join up services and minimize separation by “joining up services across organisational boundaries, and sharing best practice”. All these are competitive advantages offered by eGovernment.
At a general view, the main changes induced by eGovernment in the area of service delivery are the enabling of citizen centered approaches, a more accurate performance management, the above mentioned join-up services, an increased responsiveness of the government, a much better information, a faster delivery, lower price and access around the clock to many of the services. Another competitive advantage of the eGovernment approach is the possibility for different agencies, partners in an eGovernment structure, to collaborate in order to provide more suitable services for citizens. Lamersdorf W., Tschammer V. and Amarger S. (2004, pp.307-315), for example, observed through a number of case studies that there is a convergence among different eGovernment strategies that points out to integrated and cross agency services.
In a very optimistic manner, Riley (2000) says that the revolution in ICT “has the potential to radically alter the delivery of government services” and announces the apparition of the portal http://me.gov.uk/, meant to be a gateway to all public services that can be accessed electronically.
There are, nevertheless, some limits of the eGovernment in service delivery, mainly because of the possibility of system crashes. An over-reliance to e-service delivery should, consequently, to be very cautious.
The changes brought by eGovernment in the sphere of participation fall under the more general concept of electronic democracy (also referred to, by various authors, as e-democracy, teledemocracy, new democracy, digital democracy, inclusive democracy etc.). The paradigm behind this concept does not perceive the citizens as consumers, but rather as producers of policies, plans or political structures (Macintosh A. et. all,2002,p.233). Duivenboden H. and Lips M. (2005, pp.141-151), relating eGovernment with the NPM, argue that the main role of the first is to give to the citizens the power to play a prime role in the reform process.
As Sheridan and Riley (2006) say, “the ‘final frontier’ of e-government is the attempt at extending ‘e-democracy’”.
To quote Heeks (2001,p.214), “electronic democracy can be understood as the capacity of the new IT environment to enhance the degree and quality of public participation in Government”. The models of electronic democracy Heeks describes (electronic bureaucracy, the information management, the populist model and the civil society models) are actually different manifestations of eGovernment as it was applied in different countries.
The main aim of democratization through eGovernment is “to better inform policy process and, through direct citizen involvement, to give citizens the opportunity for increased participation in and allegiance to the political system and its processes” (Heeks,2001,p.223). In concrete, there are three requirements in order to reach this aim: accessibility (reaching out to all stakeholders), equity (balance potential costs and benefits among stakeholders) and adaptability (continuous reevaluation) of policy information.
Participation of citizens can also be increased by creating the so-called knowledge societies, communities more or less based on the ICTs use. For instance, Heeks (2001,pp.194-210) shows, using the example of South Africa, how the purpose of decentralization and community development is sustained by multi-purpose community centers which “enable communities to manage their own development by providing access to appropriate information, facilities, resources, training and services” all these resulting in cost-effective and efficient community services.
Overall, the participation and democratization through eGovernment is meant to empower the citizens, to give them the capacity and competencies to influence the decision-making and to take an active part in the democratic debates. However, there is a negative part associated with an over-reliance on the eGovernment in obtaining a participatory democracy and this is because of the inequalities that exist in the provision and use of ICTs among the people. The digital divide can put the process of democratization to the risk that many citizens could be actually excluded.
Governance is sustained an increased, without doubt, by the eGovernment. The massive increase in information availability about governmental organizations, correlated with the possibility of generating new data through cross-matching the existing data, leads not only to a superior transparency, but also to an increased accountability in the public sector. Actually, in the same programmatic document, the Scottish Executive (2006) is looking forward to a strengthened accountability by “moving power and resources to the frontline, strengthening local responsibility and accountability and efficient and effective governance”.
Comparing the two concepts, e-Government and e-Governance, Sheridan and Riley (2006) show that the later “is a wider concept that defines and assesses the impact technologies are having on the practice and administration of governments and the relationships between public servants and the wider society”. From this point of view, e-governance includes, arguably, the element of participation mentioned above. In fact, the distinction is that a better governance obtained in the virtue of eGovernment processes is not necessary related with the political concept of democracy, but rather with the administrative field of decision-making.
Governance is thus increased through eGovernment by the fact that it makes authority more visible and hence more responsible, having at the same time the possibility to involve citizens on a large scale in the decision-making processes. In that way, citizens have the opportunity to interact more directly with different authorities and to express their comments on public services in a safe and secure manner. The possibility to vote online or through mobile phones counts as a democratic procedure, but it is also a powerful tool for searching people’s opinions within a very short time with a minimum cost.
An over-reliance on the governance facilitated by electronic means can lead to controversies, most of the time related with the problem of privacy and security of data. What some critics of the Information Age are afraid of is the possibility of the government to gather too much unneeded personal data about people through the electronic means of surveillance.
Using an analysis of 1,782 government websites in 198 different nations West (2006) finds that “29 percent of government websites offer services that are fully executable online, up from 19 percent last year; 94 percent of websites this year provide access to publications and 72 percent have links to databases; 26 percent (up from 18 percent in 2005) show privacy policies, while 14 percent have security policies (up from 10 percent in 2005); 23 percent of government websites have some form of disability access, meaning access for persons with disabilities, up from 19 percent in 2005”. These numbers can show by themselves the great impact eGovernment has upon the relationship with the citizens. But they show at the same time the need for further research and analysis in that domain, as long as the phaenomenon increases in unexpected directions.
From a manager’s point of view, my conclusion is that eGovernment affects the relationship between Governments and citizens in such ways that make an overall strongly fundamented strategy for eGovernment becomes an imperative, especially in developing countries.
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