Antonio Cordella [email_address] ISIG – Dept. Management London School of Economics and Political Science “ e-Government: have we forgotten of the public sector context?” “ E-Government: Concepts and practices in mature and developing Countries”
e-Government reforms are intrinsically embedded in combinations of political reforms and organizational changes, designed to enact, support and drive a profound transformation in the organization of the public sector.
ICT is mainly conceived as a short cut to increase public sector efficiency and improve internal administration and management capabilities.
By focusing on these goals, e-Government reforms have often neglected to discuss the broader impacts ICT can have on public sector organizations and the services they deliver.
There is a limited focus on the broad effects that ICT has on the transformation in the public sector.
“ Rules stabilize and hold together the elaborate, complex system of authority, status, and technical skills which constitute modern bureaucratic organizations. Rules reduce uncertainty by eliminating, as far as is possible, the influence of individuals and creating a permanent and predictable structure of relationships independent of the position .” (Anderson, 1968)
This conceptual model for e-government polices, while considering the opportunities opened by ICT deployments, does not neglect the importance of bureaucratic organisation as mechanisms to enforce fundamental democratic values such as impartiality and equality of citizens in front of the state.
The value enforced by bureaucratic organisations: impartiality and equality are valuable outputs that have to be preserved while considering alternative forms to coordinate the action of public offices.
This suggests to look at the failure of bureaucratic systems in delivering public services as a problem, but does not consider bureaucracy the problem.
This relies upon the assumption the bureaucratic organisation has to be preserved as long as it is able to provide coordination better than alternative organisational structures, such as markets like organisations.
This assumption does not pretend, as other forms of evaluation, to compare the costs of running a bureaucratic organisation vis a vis the cost of running a market like organisation.
Bureaucracies have failed delivering services effectively because they have not been able to handle the increasing amount of information and coordination activities that are nowadays needed to provide what have historically been considered traditional public services.
All the other cases should be addressed designing and generally conceiving ICT solutions to support and where possible to foster the bureaucratic capacity to handle within their structural mechanism the new, always increasing information flows.
Accordingly, e-Government should pay more attention to the complexity that is associated with their implementation in particular on the consequences the transformation of the relationship between citizens and the state can have on shared expectation on the action of the government.
By downplaying this difference ICTs in the public sector have been designed and managed along the basic principles of efficiency that are governing the private sector (i.e. six sigma).
Outcomes of public sector reforms have however an impact on social, political and institutional policy making that are not accounted for in private sector frameworks.
The technological choices and designs and the characteristics and functionalities of hardware and software configurations are thus part of this policy-making process and deserve to be studied as such.
Technology is a carrier of specific and contingent e-Government policy aims that not only last because enacted in social, institutional and organisational practices, but also because embedded in the technological systems themselves and enacted in organisational practices.
e-Government can consist of and deliver multiple objectives, such as narrow economic objectives (cost saving), broader outcomes (economic growth), and the creation and maintenance of socially shared expectation of fairness, trust, legitimacy whose definition cannot be detached from the socially shaped context within which they are defined.
To prioritize management practices which have been designed on the basis of critical performance objectives centered on efficiency and economy performances largely reflect the economic framing of government activities and the reconstruction of citizens as customers, as proposed by NPM.
e-Government is a public policy with consequences that go beyond impacts on economic and/or organizational performances.
We need to move towards contingent and political dependent indicators which are closely related to the ultimate outcomes the administration is expected to deliver.
The search for objective administrative measurements of the activities of public servants and public organizations should be relegated at a secondary level.
The socio, political, and institutional outcome of e-Government policies should therefore be the main dimension to be accounted for when public sector ICTs are designed, implemented, managed, and assessed.