Workshop. Fostering Innovation in eGovernment (part I)

Held at the IN3 headquarters in Castelldefels, Spain, on Friday March 9th, 2007, this open workshop of the MODINIS project, Breaking Barriers to eGovernment, will focus on ways in which innovation can be and has been achieved in eGovernment to improve governance in the information age. How can the widespread diffusion of the Internet and Web enable governments to transform not only the delivery of public services but also approaches to governance? The project has already identified 7 key categories of barriers to the development of eGovernment across Europe. This workshop turns attention to approaches for overcoming these barriers to stimulate innovation. These approaches span at least four key categories: legislative, technological, citizen-centric and organizational solutions.

Here come my notes for the first part of the workshop.

Innovation in a Networked Society
Manuel Castells, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya y University of Southern California, USA

Manuel Castells
Manuel Castells

In the whole world there has been a deep evolution of power. At the international level, nation-states and international institutions do have to establish a new process of decision making that relies on the different stages of Administration (i.e. national vs. supranational), the powers of multinational corporations, NGOs (which Castells calls “new governmental organizations”, as most of them are subsidized by governments), etc. In the case of the European Union, the change is even more explicit due to the different treaties of the Union.

Thus, the centralized administrations of nation-states, have to set network channels to interact at both with sub-levels of public administration and with supranational levels of administration and international coordinating agencies.

The keys for success of e-Government are:

  • Databases: The heart of network e-Government. Accessible and inter operable.
  • Software: Customized applications. Inter operable, based on standards.
  • New rules for administration relationships, fostering horizontal relationships among administrations. The network state requires a network administration which requires network technologies.
  • Transparency: Every transaction should directly to an accessible, public record. And the more the transparency, the more (citizenship) participation. And the more transparency, the less corruption.

Some of the most important barriers for e-Government are:

Information, and possibility of access in an interactive way, is a pre-requisite for citizen participation. The state of things now is that it seems there is an ongoing process of administration networking among administrations, but not with citizens, besides one-way information systems.

Regarding technology itself, the problem is that lack of competence makes that the users (administrations) are not setting their IT strategies but tech providers. The Administration should have the autonomous capacity to choose and decide their best tech strategy.

Hierarchical organizations is yet another barrier. Based on asymmetrical information, uncertainty areas emerge and, hence, networks based on power over those areas of uncertainty appear. Notwithstanding, this structure does not fit with the technological structure of of records and data, that, by definition, reduce uncertainty. Resistance to lose power in one’s area of uncertainty is clearly a barrier for IT and network technologies spreading.

In the same way, the transparency that network technologies bring might be a menace for those not interested in having all their acts that much exposed.

Efficiency of the network administration sometimes contradicts autonomy for quick, onsite decisions. Efficiency is based on protocols, that cut autonomy. But flexibility helps autonomy. So the conflict is served.

Labour have to be skilled in digital technologies. But not just digital literacy, but also new processes of organization due to technological change. And most times, unions react against changes if those changes do not take into account workers’ rights.

Lack of interest and knowledge of the organization leaders. Without leadership, there’s no chance to overcome obstacles. And the problems are that (a) leaders don’t know and (b) leaders don’t trust the ones who know, because they don’t think this is that important

Bureaucracies are reluctant to risk, which is a must for innovation.

Innovation does require cultural, organizational and technological change are the fundamental pieces to begin change. Leadership, supported by participation of workers and users, is the way to fit goals with means. If bureaucracy is defined as the organization whose means are the goals (i.e. their goal is to keep the means, is to be a mean), here we have the main contradiction to solve. Bureaucracies should become innovative/schumpeterian bureaucracies.

Innovation in eGovernment in Catalonia
Marta Continente, Generalitat de Catalunya

The transformation of the Administration should be based on changing the demand, on knowing what the citizens ask the Administration.

Marta Continente
Marta Continente

Three strategies that the catalan government is working in:

  • Orientation to the citizen, multiplatform.
  • Standardization, but with flexibility
  • Decentralization, approaching the citizenship through subsidiarity.

Proximity should be a driver of the relationship amongst the Administration and citizenship. This means that the Administration should serve the citizen specially when he is not connected, but “on the street”. The territory is, hence, a very important variable when designing public services.

If we look at the stats, a high percentage of people search the Internet for information (including public information on public services) but, when asked about their how they’d like their relationship with the Administration, almost a 50% of them do want to go to the nearest office in their town. So, if we thing about going virtual, maybe we’d gain a couple of points to those stats, but we could be leaving behind half the citizenship.

The future of the Administration should be to provide “structural” data that the citizen can easily access, not only to perform tasks with the Administration itself, but to be able to comfortably “move” along the territory.

And along with the idea of participation, Web 2.0 is another of the priorities of Public Administration, letting the user — and this includes both the public servants and the citizens — fill in the public databases and apps with their own, collective, social information.

All in all, the big challenge is to be able to reinvent yourself every morning but keeping a global long term strategy. And this have to fit with your commitment with flexibility. All the actions, of course, have to be accompanied with changes in the regulation framework, and this does not only mean “the law” but all the existing applications that were not interrelated and now have to be.

Workshop. Fostering Innovation in eGovernment (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “Workshop. Fostering Innovation in eGovernment (part I)” In ICTlogy, #42, March 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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