By: Darrell M. West
Reported by: Aldwin Urbina (M1)
Chapter 1 / Scope, Causes, and Consequences of Electronic Government
This chapter introduces the author’s view on electronic government, defined as the public sector use of the Internet and other digital devices to deliver information, services, and democracy. The chapter presents the following three (3) questions which were considered most significant and relevant in the domain of digital government: How much are the Internet and other digital delivery systems transforming the public sector? What determines the speed and breadth of e-government adoption? What are the consequences of digital technology for public sector performance, the political process, and democracy?
It was said that the Internet was originally introduced in 1969 through the United States Defense Department project named ARPANET, which is a digital system connecting computers in different geographical locations. Since then, the Internet was developed as a means of communication among the general public. It was not long until government agencies discovered that the Internet was a useful tool to communicate with citizens, businesses, and other agencies. Today, the Internet is considered the most popular e-government delivery system. Unlike the traditional way of how governance works that are highly hierarchal, linear and one-way in their communication style, digital delivery systems are non-hierarchal, non-linear, interactive, and available 24 hours per day and 7 days a week. Such characteristics of digital delivery systems provide opportunities to citizens to seek information at their own convenience.
The Internet, as well as other new similar technologies, facilitates communication by overcoming geographical distance, promoting ideological variety, opening citizens to more diverse viewpoints, and encouraging deliberation. However, it was made known that not all technological innovation leads to large-scale transformation. While computer technologies’ potential to transform societies was seen to be promising, it was observed that governments were slow to adopt new technologies and such technologies were not used to produce fundamental change. There are several factors that dictate government actions in the said manner, among others, institutional arrangements, budget scarcity, group conflict, cultural norms, and prevailing patterns of social and political behaviour, which restricts the ability of technology to transform society and politics. The Internet, far from revolutionizing the conduct of politics and civic affairs in the real world, it tends to reflect and reinforce the patterns of behaviour of that world.
The following table shows the four general stages of e-government development, their corresponding characteristics and the different models of technological change brought about by the transition from one e-government stage to the next:
Table 1. E-Government Stages and Models of Technological Change
|Billboards||Partial Service Delivery||Portal Stage with Fully Executable and Integrated Services||Interactive Democracy|
|Key qualities include reports, publications, and databases, but no services or interactive features||This stage allows visitors to search websites and order a few limited services.There are few privacy or security statements and no means to personalize site.||Site has online services, integrated across agencies.Substantial concern with privacy and security. Some means to obtain electronic updates.||Lots of online services and interactive features.Site contains accountability-enhancing features and technologies for public feedback and deliberation.|
There are several factors that drive the pace of technological change. Such factors include, among others, organizational setting, political dynamics, media coverage and budget. In organizational setting, it was pointed out that bureaucracy is a barrier to technological innovation as most new creations pose a change in the status quo. This is because new innovations may force bureaucrats to alter routines, develop new working relationships, and sacrifice autonomy. In political dynamics, governments are faced with the dilemma on tending the need to seek technological innovation while maintaining traditional delivery of government information and services (i.e., face-to-face, telephone, and mail) because many people lack access to digital technologies. Political leadership also matters because strong petitions from elected officials or top administrators can encourage public sector organizations to speed or slow down the adoption of new technology. Media coverage is important for the dissemination of information about new technologies because it affects both how people think about technology and their receptivity to change. Financial resources and budget conditions are also important factors as technology requires upfront investment. The scarcity or abundance of budget support makes a huge difference in the ability of government to innovate.
It is difficult to ascertain the impacts of new technologies on society and government due to the variety and complexity of changes brought about by such technologies. In order to determine the impacts of e-government on the public sector, the following factors need to be assessed: information availability, serving special populations, online service delivery, democratic responsiveness, democracy enhancement through interactive features, and citizen trust in government. The most basic concern is the availability of information and whether information is accessible to people with special needs, such as non-native speakers and people with disability. Service delivery refers to the levels of convenience of citizens in accessing information through electronic means compared to traditional means. Democratic responsiveness refers to the degree to which technology improves the government’s capacity to respond to the masses. On the other hand, democratic enhancement refers to the ability of technology to improve government’s performance beyond responsiveness. Democratic enhancement employs technology to suit the needs and interests of those using the technology.
Reporter’s Own Thoughts
E-government may be seen as revolutionary means to achieve good governance. However, implementation of such strategy without proper understanding of the fundamental principles of the scope, causes and probable consequences of e-government may prove otherwise. This chapter explains that employment of e-government does not guarantee success and revolutionary change. That is why it is important for governments to carefully study and assess the impacts of e-government initiatives that were formerly implemented to determine the prevailing issues in their implementation and provide the necessary solutions towards improving public sector performance.