Best practices in eGovernment: on a knife-edge between success and failure


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This article is an in-depth exploration of three best
practice cases in e-government. Even successful projects
face significant challenges.
Generic success factors exist, and lessons learned for
practitioners include: Achieve leadership buy-in, keep
technology as simple as possible, get early
stakeholder and user involvement, gain momentum
and plan for sustainability. I published this article in February of 2008 in the European Journal of ePractice.

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Best practices in eGovernment: on a knife-edge between success and failure

  1. 1. Best practices in eGovernment: - on a knife-edge between success and failure This article is an in-depth exploration of three best practice casesa in eGovernment. Findings from the Trond Arne Norwegian portal Mypage, the Austrian portal Help and Undheim the Dutch Horeca1 project, all previous European Award winners, indicate that even successful projects face significant challenges. DG Information Society and Media, European Commissionb Generic success factors exist, and lessons learned for practitioners include: Achieve leadership buy-in, keep technology as simple as possible, get early Keywords stakeholder and user involvement, gain momentum Best practice, and plan for sustainability. eGovernment, success, failure, good practice, This article is tailored to an audience of eGovernment, leadership, practitioners across sectors. Careful reading will Help, Mypage, Horeca1, increase awareness of the importance of sharing inscription, enrolment, momentum, science and solutions, lessons, technology and experience with technology studies, others; indeed, the learning process is equally placemaking. important to furthering one's excellence. The citizen, as a consumer of public services, has the self- conception that “I am in charge”. If we make good typologies, our systems will have inscribed in them a functionality that matches the demand. But demands change, so systems must be flexible. a b The terms 'best practice' and 'good practice' are used interchangeably, as Opinions expressed here they are largely the difference between US and European traditions of are the author's and do modesty. It was actually Voltaire who first said:quot; the best is the enemy of not necessarily represent the goodquot;. See the opinions of the European Commission. European Journal of ePractice · 1 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  2. 2. 1 Introduction The exchange of good practice is universally recognised as a major accelerator of achievement. Hence, it is a widespread, systematic global activity. For example, the OECD has developed Best Practices in Local Development,1 the World Bank provides useful research results and data concerning good practices2, and the United Nations recently launched an eGovernment Readiness Knowledge Base which incorporates good practice learning and knowledge sharing elements3. In Europe, starting in the Fifth Framework Programme, the Prisma project in 2001 was the first to provide good practice syntheses in eGovernment, which was then taken up by the Beep (Best eEurope Practices) project in 2002 covering five Information Society domains including Government4 and providing inter alia ‘good practice syntheses’ across 16 areas of eGovernment implementation. Also in the eGovernment area, more recently the eForum initiative is a European eGovernment network which brings together the private and public sectors for the exchange of ideas and information, including site visits or ‘learning journeys’, and provides a good practice showcase.5 eForum also runs PPP (Provide eGovernment Good Practice Portability), which has developed ways to conclude agreements between administrations for the transfer of good practice.6 More importantly, the European Commission started with its Good Practice Framework in 2005, an online database of self-submitted cases, which from 2007 has been joined with the IDABC eGovernment Observatory into the portal, building a community of practitioners. The European Commission's current approach is to combine online and offline exchange, enabling government organisations to get the most out of the knowledge of professionals. Practice is highly dynamic, so a good bit of learning can be had from merely following the flow of cases, reading them as they emerge on the portal or at workshops (where you can meet case authors face-to-face). Reflecting on good practice is central to replicating success rapidly and cost-effectively. Likewise, by writing about it you are challenged to think about the challenges encountered. The i2010 eGovernment Action Plan (2006) states: quot;The Commission, together with the Member States, will explore mechanisms to ensure the long-term financial and operational sustainability for sharing experiences, infrastructures and services.quot;7 The Lisbon Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment (2007) reconfirms that commitment: quot;Continue efforts to ensure effective exposure and exchange of eGovernment good practices and their subsequent take-up on a wider European scale by fully exploiting the potential of the eGovernment good practice exchange service (ePractice).quot;8 Sharing good practice is well established as a European policy driver. The next section looks at the research which identifies where best practice is most needed. Section 3 describes the methods used in this article. Section 4 presents leading projects and details their individual experiences. Section 5 summarises broad issues of failure that challenged the projects, and section 6 structures the emerging generic success factors of best practice. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 See 8 See European Journal of ePractice · 2 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  3. 3. 2 The Research context Recent EU studies show that leadership, citizen-centricity and service delivery beyond borders are among the elements which must be in place to have strong and lasting impact. Likewise, impact should be measured elegantly, so you know and can communicate progress (or lack thereof) to important stakeholders. Finally, science and technology studies have taught us that context matters greatly in eGovernment (Heeks, 2005), and has highlighted the key processes of inscription, enrolment, placemaking and momentum. Each of these approaches will be introduced in a brief theoretical scope, to prepare the ground for the case analysis. 2.1 Breaking barriers The Breaking Barriers to eGovernment study (BBeGov, 2007) found that leadership failures frequently act as a barrier to progress and that project management must be taken seriously. Networks and communities of practice can contribute to drive successful developments because they inspire, inform, and integrate people – a must in any eGovernment project.9 Seven barriers emerge as most distinctive (BBeGov, 2007; Eynon & Margetts, 2007): − Leadership failures resulting in slow and patchy progress to eGovernment. − Financial inhibitors limiting the flow of investment to eGovernment innovation. − Digital divides and choices, where inequalities lead to differences in motivations and competences that constrain and fragment eGovernment take-up and fail to address particular user needs. − Poor coordination across jurisdictional, administrative and geographic boundaries that holds back eGovernment networking benefits. − Workplace and organisational inflexibility impairing adaptability to new networked forms of information sharing and service provision. − Lack of trust heightening fears about inadequate security and privacy safeguards in electronic networks. − Poor technical design leading to incompatibilities between information and communications technology (ICT) systems or difficult-to-use eGovernment services. 2.2 Citizen-centricity The Citizen-centric eGovernment study (CceGov, 2007) found that delivering cost-effective, personalised and relevant e-services that enhance democratic dialogue require customer focus and constant monitoring of their needs. Through case analysis, flexible designs that are open to change are found to create the highest public value. Moreover, these are organisational requirements beyond any individual project. Without citizens being viewed as a trusted party, any investment made is significantly less efficient. Trust is quot;hard to build, easy to destroyquot;.10 2.3 Cross-border scope The Pan-European eGovernment services study (Euregov, 2007) argued that service delivery beyond borders requires vision, but also the right incentives - and those are not necessarily widespread. In fact, they seem more prevalent in: − Big cities with a mobile, international population; − Small countries with an open international economy; 9 See the Breaking Barriers to eGovernment study (2007): 10 See the Citizen-centric eGovernment study (2007): European Journal of ePractice · 3 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  4. 4. − EU-regions with lots of cross-border activity; − Public sector organisations aimed at knowledge workers, especially international ones such as the European Commission.11 2.4 Measuring Impact Fourth - measuring impact is not an easy task, but should not be too complex either. There are arguments to measure more and arguments to measure less. In reality, one should always strike a balance – measuring elegantly – not too much but not too little either. Most importantly, one should measure continuously, not ad-hoc (eGEP, 2006). In the end, the policy or delivery context should determine your choice.12 2.5 The co-construction of technology, people and process Fifth - four concepts from Science and Technology Studies unmask the match between 'e' and 'government': inscription, placemaking, momentum, and enrolment. 2.5.1 Inscription Heeks (2005) argues that context matters greatly in eGovernment. In his view, there is never simply technology transfer. Having studied developing countries he finds support for Akrich's (1992) theory of inscription – that all technical artefacts have an embedded user script (one could think of the script for stunts in an action movie). If that script is not followed, things can go horribly wrong. The example he gives is trying to make electoral processes more transparent in Africa using an e-application developed in the US, and failing miserably because the values, staff, skills, and hierarchies worked out quite differently (p.56). He concludes there is a quot;prevalence of eGovernment failurequot; (p.52). A comparative study of eGovernment systems in the US and Europe (Wyatt, 2000) similarly concludes that when designers lack an idea of how their system might be used, not only will the quality of service suffer, but the system itself may fail completely. 2.5.2 Placemaking All public services are delivered in a given setting. Organisation, people, policy and local dynamics influence what can be done. In a previous study of knowledge intensive work practices, I coined the term placemaking to describe the art of activating the totality of tacit knowledge found in the immediate surroundings to a real-world purpose (Undheim, 2002). Even in the high-tech industry, where my previous fieldwork was done, placemaking required face-to-face presence as well as time because of the intensity and trust required when trying to convince others. The proud civil service traditions in Europe, while partly a guarantee for professionalism and fairness of procedure, may block such bureaucratic entrepreneurship. It would seem that in a bureaucracy, placemaking around actual service delivery extends over decades, even centuries. 2.5.3 Technological momentum and enrolment Technological momentum is the process whereby a project starts to speed up because it matures and enough elements are in place for it to roll on its own (Hughes, 2004). For Hughes, momentum takes on a deterministic character, it cannot be stopped, as it were, but one need not go that far to use his terminology. Rather, we shall evoke the notion of enrolment (Callon, 1986), the moment when a set of actors accept the interest of another actor as their own (say project, idea or vision). To Callon, project success requires translating other's interests into a common matrix. The result is then a heterogeneous network of aligned interests, controlled by one main actor. 11 See the Pan-European eGovernment services study (2007): However, bypassing borders is also relevant in local service delivery. Success may require collaboration with and connection with citizens, businesses or other stakeholders outside your focus area. 12 See the eGEP study (2006): European Journal of ePractice · 4 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  5. 5. Taking into account this brief analytical scope on best practice, and the tools available to understand it, the questions we will try to answer in the following sections are: − What is best practice in eGovernment? − Which, if any, contextual factors are decisive? − Are there success factors across context? 3 Methods My analysis tells the stories behind three prize-winning initiatives in eGovernment, using the rich, emerging evidence from the good practice portal.13 The large knowledge base of real- life case studies submitted by portal members is freely available, and grows daily. Projects have an average funding of €1.3 million and represent a total implementation cost of well beyond €1.1 billion. Case authors represent most countries in EU27+, and ePractice members are starting to form communities of practice (Jarke, 2007). For this article, I have closely analysed three cases – two out of the five European eGovernment Awards 2007 winners, and one case which has won numerous awards, notably the 2003 eEurope Award. The methodological reasoning behind focussing on award winners is to have some externally validated rationale for my strategic sample. Beyond this, I chose cases where I had personal access. Other cases that contribute to the identification of best practice will be briefly reviewed. I have personally interviewed most case owners and the actor network around them. In addition, the recommendations are based on an overview of the 800 or so cases on the portal at the time of writing. Secondary sources include the findings of the EU-funded studies eGEP, CCeGov, Euregov, and BBeGov,14 and the literature on Science and Technology Studies (Akrich, 1992; Callon, 1986; Hughes, 2004; Undheim, 2002; Wyatt, 2000). 4 Best practice in Europe – three frontrunners In the following, I analyse three best practice cases, interweaving what emerges from the case profile with empirical evidence I have gathered myself. The first case is Mypage. 4.1 Over-promise and then deliver – Norwegian Mypage The Norwegian national portal Mypage15 is a citizens’ portal where users can carry out personalised public e-services in one place. Citizens also can control, and correct, the information held about them by various public agencies, nationally, regionally, and locally. It all sounds so simple, but it took significant effort to put in place. 4.1.1 A great political idea In 2004 the Minister of Modernisation, Morten Meyer, announced his intention to create a one-stop- shop for all eGovernment services within one calendar year. He said this publicly before anybody inside his own ministry knew about it. There was no feasibility study, no strategic plan, and most importantly, no budget available. Predictably, few believed it would be possible. Industry hailed it as a great but unfeasible idea. Meyer kept repeating the same message. In-house, senior bureaucrats started to worry. It soon became clear that a promise had been made, and something had to be done. 13 See ePractice (2008), 14 See and and 15 Norwegian national portal Mypage (EU good practice case): European Journal of ePractice · 5 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  6. 6. By September 2004, Lars Bjørgan Schrøder, a mid-level bureaucrat was assigned the task of project manager, with almost no resources and no team around him. Ad-hoc meetings were held to get the idea to the drawing board. Very soon, he realised that nothing could be done without resources. The Minister wrote to his Conservative Party colleague, the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, asking for ten million NOKs.16 He was given eight million, outside of any budget. Needless to say, the project started. 4.1.2 Things go wrong Almost everything went wrong in the first year. Partly because Morten Meyer had another fixed idea in his mind – to crack what he called the eID code.17 Thus, in parallel, he launched an ambitious project to set up an advanced online security portal. He set a short deadline (the end of 2005) and delegated responsibility to the Brønnøysund Register Centre.18 The security portal relied heavily on private sector solutions, namely the BBS19, the joint technology provider for Norwegian banks. Mypage, as the project now was officially called, dropped its plans for a log-in solution. Lars Bjørgan Schrøder noted: quot;It took a while before we understood how bad things were. But their 15 December deadline was in reality for a test version, and neither customers nor suppliers were enrolledquot;. As Stein Myrseth, Chief Architect at Software Innovation, the technology supplier, said: quot;There is a deadline. The ship has to set sail. There is no time to study. As a result, we must compromise on the technical sidequot;. A change of government in October of 2005 meant that media blamed the new entrants. The new Socialist Minister, Heidi Grande Røys, could easily cancel the project on political grounds, but chose to stay the course. She found that more time was needed. A press release was hurriedly produced: quot;we will deliver by the end of Q1quot;. A desperate race began. The deadline, however, was pushed once again. This time the mantra was, quot;we will get it launched by the end of the yearquot;. The site was at that point running as a pilot inside the ministries. Myrseth focussed on the strengths: quot;The unique feature of Mypage is that we do not own any data, we have created a content aggregator. Data ownership remains with each public agency and we avoid even temporary storing their data. We avoid many problems that way. No other country has this solution yetquot;. By April of 2006, Lars Bjørgan Schrøder finally gained full responsibility for both the Mypage and Security projects. He rapidly decided to discontinue all plans in the latter and change course. Mypage started working on a new, temporary log-in solution. quot;Getting the job of creating the emergency security solution in the summer of 2000 was a breakthrough,quot; says Myrseth. By the summer of 2006,, a public agency within the Norwegian Ministry of Government Administration and Reform, took over, and a new era started – that of service implementation. 16 10M NOK = € 1.24M. = £ 926K (as of 24 January 2008). 17 See 18 The Brønnøysund Register Centre is a government body under the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, and consists of several different national computerised registers. These registers contain information and key data about such matters as: Liabilities and titles in mortgaged movable property, more than 280 000 business enterprises, more than 1 300 000 annual accounts and auditor's reports of limited companies, bankruptcies and compulsory liquidations, and approximately 200 000 marriage settlements. The Brønnøysund Register Centre contributes greatly towards creating improved and more orderly conditions in business, trade and industry. See 19 See European Journal of ePractice · 6 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  7. 7. 4.1.3 Launched at last When Mypage launched on 18 December 2006 it was 18 months late, and with PIN-codes20, not the more advanced security solution (PKI21) which failed in the meantime.22 At launch, only 23 services were included.23 These were mostly already existing electronic services now displayed on one page online, with one exception – over 20 municipalities were present from day one. Even though the tension had been high, the partnership at local level was not broken. Local actors were more eager than ever. That fact was to prove significant. Illustration I: The Mypage portal24 In May 2007, after only four months of operation, about 200 services from more than 40 public administrations were serving more than 200,000 registered citizens (around 5 percent of the population). Although a certain success was in sight, the public profile of the project was not like it once was. Lars Bjørgan Schrøder said: quot;The media only wants to write about eGovernment scandals. Once things start working, or are successful, we lose their attentionquot;. The marketing budget of, an organisation with only 26 employees, was very small. In fact, Mypage has spent almost nothing on traditional advertising. Myrseth added: 20 See 21 See 22 The re-vamped security project is still running and will present its findings to the Norwegian Parliament (the Storting) in the spring of 2008. 23 At launch, services included: change name or address in the national person's registry, application for Tax card, moving notice, change of primary physician, my vehicles, my debts, application for State funded student loans, employment status, reservation against direct mail advertising, my properties, and some municipal services. 24 Retrieved from, 21 January 2008. European Journal of ePractice · 7 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  8. 8. quot;The government strategy to allow equal access to all suppliers through the open standards interface has worked. Neither on the customer nor the supplier side, have we been selling the concept, the services and helping enough public service providers join in.quot; quot;The most important is not that people log-in to the site every day, but that when they need it, it is simple and straight forwardquot;, said Lars Bjørgan Schrøder. Tor Alvik, responsible for Mypage, sees a brighter picture: quot;While driven top-down with involvement throughout the organisation in state agencies, the project was [also] driven bottom-up with direct contact between and the individual municipality.quot; 4.1.4 Connecting with stakeholders Exactly how do the Mypage staff interact with municipalities? According to the collaborators I talked to, in practice, they meet interested municipalities one by one, and recruit new players by word of mouth. However, there are also formal forums in place. Alvik says: quot;The main lesson learnt from the project is the importance of involving all actors from the beginning. This includes the local authorities through their organisation, The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, as well as the Government Agencies and their controlling Ministries. The establishment of a coordinating group for eGovernment involving the major administrations and the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities has been important in order to secure support from all public bodies involved in delivering services to the portal. The coordinating group is lead by the Ministry of Administration and Reform.quot; Lars Bjørgan Schrøder supports this view, echoing what Alvik says about the importance of stakeholder involvement. Moreover, Mypage staff had to engage in placemaking (Undheim, 2002), as we recall activating tacit knowledge found in the immediate surroundings. In fact, the staff had to inscribe a new notion of service delivery into the daily practices of the people involved, not only into the systems: quot;Sectoral barriers had to be broken down. There are two ways to do it, either by decree, which is difficult, or voluntary, which demands both buy-in from the ministerial level and buy-in on the operative level. We had both, and that is why it worked out in the endquot; […] we worked based on our contacts and networks.quot; While Schrøder emphasises the role of informal networks within the bureaucracy, Alvik, from his standpoint in a public agency, values top leadership support: quot;A committed political leadership has proven to be vital for moving the project to full operation and to get other parties involved.quot; In the end, leadership buy-in throughout the process was clearly fundamental to the success of Mypage. According to Stein Myrseth, such momentum took time:25 quot;The challenges were never on the technical or even on the implementation side, but on the political and organisational side. We had to create enough momentum. We stood up against a public sector model based on non-collaboration across agencies. Mypage represented something new and scary, almost a foreign idea. The competence level in the public agencies was not always sufficient to have a meaningful discussion about the challenges we were facingquot;. 25 Myrseth now works for Sun Microsystems, Norway. Mypage is built on Sun's software platform and portal server. European Journal of ePractice · 8 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  9. 9. To assume that the public sector was the slowest to get how important Mypage could become would be a faulty assumption, according to Myrseth: quot;It took a while before people at Software Innovation understood the many synergies involved. We received a lot of goodwill, confidence on the security solution, and a head start on our document management system which now is being implemented as one of the services on the portalquot;. We recall that enrolment is the moment when a set of actors accept the interest of another actor as their own (Callon, 1986). While Mypage successfully enrolled the hierarchy, the trickiest challenge of all is to satisfy the user, according to Alvik: quot;The importance of focusing on users' needs […] cannot be overstated. Mypage is a user-oriented initiative and without constantly keeping the citizen in focus the project would probably have failed and ended as yet another good idea never brought to its full potential.quot; However, says Myrseth: quot;Advanced impact reporting and user profiling is possible, but we are careful. The Data Inspectorate26 could object, and trust is everything in this businessquot;. In early spring of 2007, The Norwegian Board of Technology, a government think tank, talked to focus groups about Mypage. The result was not reassuring. They concluded that the jury is still out on the efficiency gains of the project and pointed out that users have quite high expectations that now must be met.27 However, the international assessment was very different. 4.1.5 Winning the prize In the fall of 2007, at the 4th Ministerial eGovernment Conference in Lisbon, MyPage won the eGovernment Award 2007 in the category for Participation and Transparency. The fact that what the government knows about you is available online so citizens can review (and contest) it, is unique. The entire Norwegian delegation, from Minister Røys to Project Manager Alvik, celebrated this victory in Lisbon. It is sweet to finally get some recognition. One would think the trouble is over. 4.1.6 Sustainability concerns However, the prize did not immediately lead to big changes at home. The media reported about it the day after, but then its newsworthiness declined. The budgetary struggles continued, although the project now was in safe hands with The struggle to keep up the momentum continued. quot;It is challenging to keep the focus and push when everything is based on voluntary action,quot; says Schrøder. Some advertising will be done in the fall of 2007 in connection with sending out new PIN- codes together with the Tax Card, but that is all. quot; cannot scale – it is too small,quot; says Myrseth, and quot;in the future, Mypage must get more national registry services and more geographically-based services. People use those services more often, and it is the only way to become their primary pagequot;. On the other hand, he also exclaims enthusiastically: quot;We are interested in sharing the new portal experience at the European level – maybe creating a community. In fact, Mypage is going to become more generic. We will put the whole solution out on a community and allow developers to access and build services on top of the system. In fact, we encourage other countries to make use of the solution out of the boxquot;. 26 See 27 See especially the results of the citizen's panels: European Journal of ePractice · 9 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  10. 10. Once successful, it is only natural to want to claim what is yours. But what should that mean when you are in the business of citizen trust? Myrseth is clear: quot;There are many actors who want to own the citizen –, the Finance Ministry, FAD28, Altinn29, the municipalities, the County administrations, the new Directorate for eGovernment30, among others. In reality they all get it wrong. It is not about owning the citizen. The game is about who should be in the driver's seat. At the moment, nobody is.quot; The idea of Mypage had been launched with bravado. The way there was long and painful. There is an old, Norwegian saying that goes: quot;nothing comes by itselfquot;. The Mypage project reads like a Norwegian folk tale – the kind, anti-hero wins in the end, but only having surmounted overwhelming obstacles.31 Now, let us turn to the Austrian portal, a similar solution, but ten years earlier in the making. 4.2 Success through rigorous planning – Help The Austrian portal Help, the brainchild of Arthur Winter at the Ministry of Finance, was launched in pilot version in January 1997. Designed around eight different 'life situations' like birth, marriage, travel and death, rather than around administrative structures, it is one of the first one-stop-shops for eGovernment services. Sylvia Archmann, who was a key player from inception until 2005 says: quot;In 1997, our first users were around 70 percent male and in their 30s –to exaggerate a bit – our services could have focused mainly around cars – following our polls. Two years later, in 1999, our users were 50 percent male/female and the average had risen to 35-45 year olds.quot; We recall the notion that all technology has an embedded user script (Akrich, 1992). From the beginning, Mr. Stergar, from the Austrian company Net Value, inscribes the initial IT concept behind the portal, soon fixating on life events, far from the only logical choice.32 Net Value has been involved in the development of the Help concept since the start some ten years ago. According to Stergar, some of the factors which made this project such a success from the start were; a strong project owner at the ministry, the strict citizen orientation, the life situation approach, the strict central approach and the fact that technique was supporting, but never leading. Outsourcing content development to a private and independent company was important in achieving the above goals. Also, the pragmatic approach ruled: quot;trying before long term planningquot;, which also could backfire. Moreover, initially, there were different understandings of project organisation and the importance of targets among the key constituency, something he attributes to the Austrian Federal Chancellery's organisational culture. Also, there was little attention on the creation of good and understandable content, and a heavy focus on technique. To Susanna Rihs, Austrian Federal Chancellery, for instance, quality assurance is crucial:33 quot;To ensure that Help’s information is always up to date, cooperation with the public administration offices is necessary. At the beginning, only a few volunteers from this sector were prepared to cooperate with Help. In 1998 a resolution was adopted by the Council of Ministers stating that each ministry must nominate a Help coordinator to act as a contact person.quot; 28 FAD = Norwegian Ministry of Government Administration and Reform. 29 Altinn is the portal for eGovernment services to business, partly integrated with Mypage, but still insisting on their own identity, see 30 The Directorate for eGovernment was created as of 1 January 2008, and encompasses 31 If your interest in Norwegian folk tales has been triggered, please see 32 Stergar presented his experience at a 2007 ePractice workshop. See the workshop report: 33 All quotes from Susanna Rihs are from the case entry at European Journal of ePractice · 10 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  11. 11. In the first years, the coordination network was smaller, but it soon consolidated at around 70 people. The vast team of contacts engage in placemaking (Undheim, 2002), providing face-to-face representation of the online portal around the ministries, making it quot;realquot;. Sylvia Archmann recalls: quot;Finding the right content was a challenge. We settled on the concept of life events, but had to find out which of them to focus on first. Our approach was to ask our partners, on the business side, the Chamber of Commerce (for SMEs) and the Industriellenvereinigung for large industry. In fact, in the beginning, we were running two parallel tracks, one portal for business and one for citizens. This was abandoned after a while. We also had other challenges. It was tough to achieve the needed visibility, and not to mention, to convince the different levels of government to cooperate. We especially had to strike a partnership with Mayors around Austria, a very powerful group. I have to say we succeeded. In my term, we went from 30 municipalities (2001) to 800 municipalities (2005). Initially, we thought we had to fight about the content, but no, the solution was to involve them in the future development and to allow them to create their own look and feel.quot; 4.2.1 A quot;communication portalquot; Not everything goes smoothly. According to Stergar, Help encountered many barriers both in terms of launching and running the site, and in terms of learning from others or sharing with others. Public servants are not trained for selling or marketing: quot;In-house, there was not a clear idea of what our good practice was: what needed to be shared? Was it the concept, the technique, or the organisational model? There was also insufficient attention for the start up phase in which the concepts and strategies are developed, to effectively identify and target the specific demands of public administration.quot;34 The Austrian public sector has many lawyers. However, staff felt that content on the portal had to be appealing to the masses. NetValue was charged with re-writing a lot of public servant's speak and legal terminology into plain, simple text. The lawyers had to adjust to that, and it took some convincing. In this first period, users were very forgiving and engaged. Sylvia Archmann remembers: quot;We were perceived as fast and friendly. When we answered questions online, giving a 72 hour response guarantee, people came back to us and said 'it is hard to believe this is a government solution'. We were one Help team, contractors included. People would stay throughout the evenings on their own time if things needed to be done. This was the pioneer spirit.quot; The focus in the Ministry shifts from communication well to delivering on policy matters. In the years from 2001 to 2003, Help becomes accessibility compliant, following the WAI AAA criteria. In 2003, a nine language strategy comes into effect, which receives wide acclaim. The accessibility turns out to be quite inexpensive, in partnership with institutions like the Austrian Association for the Blind, while the language strategy is costly, and does not last for long. 4.2.2 Winning the Award In 2003, Help wins the e-Europe Award, in the category A Better Life for European Citizens. The motto is modest by today's standards: quot;Help is a virtual guide to Austrian authorities, offices and institutions that provides citizens with information on official proceedings, dealings and fees, as well as forms that can be downloaded or completed on-linequot;. 35 34 Source: Stergar's presentation at (2007). 35 See European Journal of ePractice · 11 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  12. 12. The award gives an international push. Austria gets a large amount of public administration tourists, eager to copy their success. The award also helps in the branding and visibility, towards municipalities, but the effect is hard to measure. The Citizen Card concept, a digital authentication solution (not always a physical card),36 is launched in 2000 and has since then increasingly taken shape. In March 2004, the Austrian eGovernment Act enters into force. The Act which sets the obligation for public bodies to be capable of full electronic transactional service delivery by 2008 provides a clear and solid legal basis for the country's eGovernment programme and initiatives. It covers all electronic communications, procedures and proceedings within all layers of government. Among other things, it sets the legal basis for the use of the Citizen Card, electronic signatures, sector-specific personal identifiers, electronic payments and electronic service delivery. It also provides for closer cooperation between all authorities providing eGovernment services. Austria was one of the first EU Member States to adopt comprehensive legislation on eGovernment.37 In September 2005 a new federal organisational structure ensures a coordinated approach with no overlaps. This strategy proves successful: In the annual benchmarking of 20 basic eGovernment services Austria steadily moves up to a leading position, improving its overall ranking from 11 in 2003 to 4 in 2004, and runner-up in 2005. By now, there are only two languages left on the portal, German and English. Cost-cutting and shift of emphasis towards core business is now more evident. One could say the project has matured. In 2006, Help38provides services to all those who deal with Austrian institutions. It is organised as a one-stop-shop covering about 150 life events (such as birth or marriage) as well as topics like “housing” or “starting a business”. Help is offered in German and English and extends its reach to people from other countries that live, work or take an interest in Austria. With time, success, and organisational changes, the portal's inscripted user (Akrich, 1992) begins to include policy makers. The focus is shifting. 4.2.3 A quot;serious IT projectquot; Help's applications were initially developed to be implemented only once. However, in the last few years, the portal has been a motor for administrative development, and the open standards architecture is offered free of charge to organisations in other European countries. Peter Reichstädter: quot;Help has contributed substantially to the standardisation, transparency and clarity of administrative processes in Austria.quot; Fully integrating the service delivery of more than 2,358 local communities on a national portal is a significant achievement. The page views increased from 12 million in 2004 to 22 million in 2006. Top topics in 2006 have been passports, taxes and driving licences39, but motor vehicles, residence and visas, benefits, birth, housing, residence registration and marriage are not far behind in the top ten list. Rising take-up figures of Help are an indicator for the impact of the portal. It enjoys 380,000 visits with an average duration of 10.46 minutes per month.40 36 The concept defines the necessary requirements to carry out electronic administrative procedures securely, see 37 Source: ePractice eGovernment Factsheet for Austria (up-to-date as of 29 June 2007): 38 See Help's English website: and Help's EU good practice case entry: 39 Source: Peter Reichstädter at the ePractice workshop 18.09.2007. 40 Source: 2007 National Progress Report (Austria) – internal EC document. European Journal of ePractice · 12 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  13. 13. In June 2006, as a first achievement of the renewed e-government initiative of the Federal Government, Austria finished first in the annual eGovernment benchmarking survey published by the European Commission. 95% of basic public services are at the transaction stage and 83% are fully available online. Later that year, in December 2006, Help is awarded the BIENE 2006 in Gold for the best barrier free German language information portal. A 2006 eGovernment initiative spread knowledge about how to enable effective and efficient e- government services at all levels and in all institutions of the administration, where success is: − Linked to a massive content strategy and a support staff including editors. − Widespread through the use of open standards. − Achieved through constant positioning in the marketplace (among users). As of summer 2007, Help provides quick single access to administrative procedures, and as an interface between local authorities covers 12 federal ministries, 9 federal provinces, 80 local authorities and 2,359 municipalities. The portal is still structured according to life situations, refined after user input, and with functionality from information, to communication and transaction services. After ten years, Help is a worthy predecessor to the one-stop service concept, handling 200 life situations, 1,000 public forms and executing more than 250 online administrative procedures. The Euregov (2007) project describes its benefit this way: quot;The portal centralises knowledge that otherwise would cause a lot of search activities and cost if a public administration encounters requests that go beyond its usual scope of tasks and expertise […] In some cases questions are starting to be answered by citizens themselves.quot; 41 In fact, the users forum for quot;Questions and Suggestionsquot; ( gets 1,000 requests per month, most of which are answered by the editorial team of Help or specialists. 41 See: (page 2), retrieved on 11 December 2007. European Journal of ePractice · 13 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  14. 14. Illustration II: Screenshot of Help42 4.2.4 Momentum kicks in In the fall of 2007, it becomes clear that Austria tops the EC benchmarking of online public services for the second year in a row. Austria is the first to achieve 100% fully online availability, which means that for every service measured in the survey, each citizen or business has the possibility to access the service via a fully transactional electronic channel. Austria scores 99% on online sophistication, even with a new 5th level on that indicator. Help is a crucial component in the success, but does not score as high in terms of personalisation, since login is not yet in place. Moving into transaction services, the portal has different procedures with over 650 partner authorities all over Austria, integrating e-signature (Citizens´ Card), e-payment and e-delivery. By now, the national portal Help is the centrepiece of eService delivery in Austria. Lessons from Help were used both in the German provinces of Bayern, Baden Wurttemberg and Saxony43, and in the Swiss national portal, Guichet Virtuel. We have here a significant European success story. 42 Retrieved from, 10 December 2007. 43 See in Baden-Württemberg and amt24 in Saxony European Journal of ePractice · 14 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  15. 15. 4.2.5 Sustainability challenges Despite the success, challenges remain, as policy, people and technology move on. Budgets are also a constant concern. As of autumn 2007, in-house, they include: − Semantic Ontologies − E-Gov Service Catalogue − Multi channel delivery − Content Syndication Tackling semantic ontologies is an emerging challenge because the life situations that build the basis for the portal’s structure are interpreted differently. Multi-channel delivery in terms of mobile communication is currently being explored. Finally, content syndication is amongst the very next steps of Help: Due to the fact that every ministry is providing content, this content can and should be shared with other websites and authorities. Another issue concerns quality assurance: How to present information understandably? The development of an eGovernment Service Catalogue is not only meant to benchmark what services are provided, but also to find out how these services can best be shared. Among the experiments going on, the presence in the 3D online virtual world Second Life44 is maybe the most controversial, and is not necessarily proving to be only a positive experience, according to Stergar. Help also now has a front towards youth and children, and tries to tailor content to different age groups. To this day, Help remains one of the most successful implementations of the online one-stop service concept, even though others have come along. Over the course of 10 years, the portal has shifted hands between various agencies at the federal level. Whatever the future holds, it seems certain that the portal will remain a focal point for some time to come. Help is ingrained in Austria’s service delivery, enjoys considerable momentum, and has strong stakeholder support. But, in the business of people and politics one never knows – therein lies the rub. Trust is hard to build and easy to destroy (CceGov, 2007). 4.3 Making tacit knowledge more explicit – Horeca145 Periodically, the city of Amsterdam asks a group of local entrepreneurs what they can do for them. The clear message in 2005 was to reduce their administrative burdens. For a bar, hotel or restaurant in Amsterdam, one needs to obtain licences and permission from more than 18 different authorities46, creating a difficult obstacle for those setting up their own business. In addition, entrepreneurs in the hotel and restaurant business need to renew licences every three years, which obviously creates considerable stress and administrative burden. Two city officials asked themselves: can we do anything about it? 44 See 45 See and As for the name, Horeca is a business term which refers to a sector of the food service industry, to establishments which prepare and serve food and beverages. The term is a concatenation of the words Hotel/Restaurant/Café (or Hotel/Restaurant/Caterer, or Hotel/Restaurant/Canteen. This term is used in the Netherlands where it is thought to have originated, though it is also used in Portugal and Belgium and international beverage companies specializing in this sector. See 46 These 18 authorities include 17 national authorities plus that each applicant deals with one out of the 14 autonomous city municipalities in Amsterdam. European Journal of ePractice · 15 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  16. 16. 4.3.1 Enrolling support The idea brewed throughout 2005, and in January 2006, the Horeca1 project got going with support from the government innovation programme Inaxism, with a start-up-cost of €175,000, and an additional €120,000 inserted in 2007. On the national level, the focus on reducing administrative burden has been in place since May 2004, when the first progress report from the Dutch Advisory Board on Administrative Burden (ACTAL) was submitted to Parliament.47 Only four people were in the project team. Coen Boot, who was involved from the very beginning as member of the government innovation programme Inaxis48, and provided Horeca1 with start up capital and advice, explains: quot;The reason to start the project was the increasing administrative burden because of the differences in procedures and forms an entrepreneur needs to go through when he or she wants to start a business. [The root of the problem is] the fact that the city of Amsterdam is divided into 14 partly autonomous acting municipalities. The central city of Amsterdam cannot force them and tries to seduce them. The tricky thing for Maurice and his club is how to convince those 14 municipalities to join the solution he is developing. The answer is mostly a practical one: showing them in practice how good it works and putting all the energy in those who want to go along.quot; In the beginning, the project had several challenges: quot;We were being viewed as one city among many, we had lack of access to certain national records, and very small resources,quot; says Maurice Van Erven, from the Economic Development Department in the City of Amsterdam. The lessons for eGovernment projects are to: quot;Make your design in steps and limit the scope of your project. Work towards a concrete example at an early stage of the project and continue from there through an iterative process. With a first mock up it will be easier to create support.quot; When the project started, the city of Amsterdam was not aware of any experience in Europe that would help them set the course. Quick internet searches were performed, but having found nothing, they proceeded using their own devices.49 Horeca1 was envisioned as a project only for existing entrepreneurs tackling the renewal of licenses. However, as this proved quite difficult, and since the information was starting to emerge on how to help emerging entrepreneurs, they opted to put this in place first. Van Erven says that 80% of all knowledge of civil servants has not been formalised and the task of eGovernment projects is not to reproduce existing procedures in an online form, but to simplify them: quot;There is a large grey area between laws and regulations and the actual service provision based on them. Digital service provision makes this grey area explicit and visible. It therefore forces the governmental organisation to address contradictions and overlaps within this grey area which contributes to better governance by making decision making and assessment criteria transparent and the information equally accessible for all.quot; What about the importance of stakeholder buy-in? quot;It is important to actively engage them in the project at an early stage and to spend a considerable amount of time in knowledge transfer, training and explaining. Make your project their project!quot; in fact 47 See the ePractice Factsheet for The Netherlands (up-to-date as of 30.06.07): and 48 See 49 The European Good Practice Framework for eGovernment was in place from 2005, unbeknown to Horeca1. This shows the importance of increasing PR for public sector good practice sharing efforts. European Journal of ePractice · 16 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  17. 17. quot;parties were seduced to contribute a small partquot;, because quot;in public administration, once people give you their information, they are afraid to become obsolete.quot; 4.3.2 Online momentum The technology behind Horeca1 is quite simply an online-forms solution, which is built on an existing platform. The application itself is built by in-house technical staff, while the designer is hired externally. The real difficulty lies elsewhere. The conceptual phase, gathering the necessary information about existing regulations and convincing officials to give up information takes a full six months. Designing the solution is a bit quicker. Building the form itself only took two weeks, and in January 2007 there is a pilot version online. By April 2007 the entire form is online. Through the HoReCa1 one-stop-shop an entrepreneur can easily find out which among the selection of 40 governmental documents has to be obtained by answering 20 questions and filling out a single form for seven local licences required in the City of Amsterdam. The first milestone has been reached. Is it all well? No, because nobody loves it. 4.3.3 Caught in politics Even though Amsterdam was viewed as a technological pioneer in the 1990s, that momentum is lost. The Digital City Amsterdam project failed to become a sustainable information and communication infrastructure (Besselaar & Beckers, 2005).50 Amsterdam's online portal, introduced only in late 2006, is largely an information source, rather than a service providing communication or transactions.51 Hence, in the beginning, only two out of the 14 city municipalities of Amsterdam go online with Horeca1. After a while it becomes clear that one of them fails to attract any applicants; the other, the centre of Amsterdam, which represents 50% of the industry in the city, decides that it does not want to attract more applicants - city policy says there are enough restaurants and bars. They refuse to promote it. It would seem Horeca1 is headed for full collapse. However, that depends on which political context is in focus. Horeca1 now begins to gain national and European recognition. 4.3.4 Winning an award In September 2007 Horeca1 wins the European Award in eGovernment in the category Better public services for growth and jobs. Amsterdam discovers there are, in fact, at least two other projects that do similar things, in France and in Spain.52 In December 2007, they have seven of the 14 municipalities with them and are aiming to integrate others at rapid pace. About 30 entrepreneurs have used the system successfully. An initial budget of €250,000 and a boost of €550,000 in 2006 have had clear effect. 50 While financed by the the city of Amsterdam and national Ministry of Economic Affairs, De Digitale Stad was an independent foundation from 1995. 51 See Amsterdam Answers 52 The two are the Spanish case Circe: and the French case Admin24 European Journal of ePractice · 17 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  18. 18. Illustration II: Horeca153 4.3.5 National challenges With savings per applicant of €1,506, it is possible to save some €30.2 million a year in administrative costs in The Netherlands, while reducing the burden for both the authorities and the individual businesses, if the service were to become national. The administrative burden focus, setting concrete targets and measuring progress is a Dutch forte.54 In addition to a simpler, more effective service with real financial benefits for both the provider and the user, the project has proven its flexibility and transferability to other municipalities and other sectors. However, there are challenges as well. Coen Boot says: quot;Developments on national level influence the Amsterdam project. For example the different laws made and carried out by ministries which influence the content of the forms and thereby the goal of reducing the administrative burden. We intend to help Amsterdam on this point by addressing this problem and bringing the problems Amsterdam encounters under the attention of the ministries on national level. The maintenance of the (Amsterdam) solution which is available to the rest of all the municipalities in The Netherlands [is also problematic]. Amsterdam is a front runner and we hope others will take over their solution. Some already are. Maintenance then becomes an issue, because Amsterdam can't and won't do this for them all. The solution to this problem can probably be found on national level.quot; Implementing eGovernment projects at the city level has specific challenges. The Horeca1 experience teaches us to: 53 Retrieved 11 December 2007 from 54 See European Journal of ePractice · 18 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  19. 19. − Take one step at a time, dividing the project up into smaller, more manageable tasks and goals. − Harness internal knowledge, much of which is not formalised, thereby increasing transparency and efficiency. − Invest in the organisation and its people to increase the acceptance and subsequent take-up of a solution. However, Coen Boot challenges the notion that taking the project beyond its initial scope is something one should wait with until the end: quot;Let other cities participate in your project as early as possible. Look for broad support. Make sure the project benefits everyonequot; 4.3.6 Sustainability and transfer Horeca1 will run until 2009 with current funds. Meanwhile, Maurice Van Erven, the project manager, has been promoted. The Horeca1 method has been adopted and spread across the city of Amsterdam – and is now to be included in building applications for online public services around events (from barbeques to the Gay pride parades), work in the public space, building permits and towards expatriates – and Maurice is responsible. They are working directly with two other Dutch cities (Nijmegen and The Hague) who want to copy the system. As for Nijmegen, it has no canals, and a different terrace policy. The classification of a fast food restaurant is also different. The system will have to adapt. The national ICT agency, ICTU, has been assigned to transfer the Amsterdam system to other local governments. In fact, the methodology can be transferred to other sectors (healthcare, education, civil matters, funding programmes, etc.), and to other European cities. Amsterdam has created a toolkit with all you need to get going, making it available as an open standard, and partly available in English. As the initial problem is still being solved – the online solution for existing entrepreneurs renew their license will be ready in spring 2008 – a new project, called Horeca2 is seeing the light of day. The aim is to attack the back-office. While Horeca1 only took the entrepreneur's vantage point, Horeca2 will tackle the city official's day-to-day. Again, critics say it is impossible – legacy systems are too ingrained. A proof-of-concept must be ready by January 2008. This time, the city of Amsterdam puts in €400,000 of their own resources and will develop everything using open standards.55 Maybe this time, Amsterdam will keep the momentum? 5 Government projects- confronting the threat of failure Having exposed cases which, while highly successful, always had failure as a possibility, we may ask more generally – why do projects fail? 56 The literature abounds with descriptions and the media is full of it. IT projects are often very attractive targets for a media hungry for scandals and failures. As it turns out, these are barriers to correctly prescribing solutions before implementing them, to enrolling actors in your actor network, and to achieving the necessary momentum, recalling Akrich (1992), Callon (1986) and Hughes (2004). Some failures are specific to public sector and three in particular are important: − Lack of financial incentive: Why save money when that will reduce next year's budget? Why set a stop-loss rule when there is new money next year? The attitude can often be that a project has to succeed at all costs. 55 Amsterdam is also active on Open Source front. In an attempt to save costs and achieve interoperability, several Dutch cities in 2007 announced they will test Linux and Open Office (see 56 Our factors resonate with, but go beyond earlier studies (BBeGov, 2007; Heeks, 2005; Wyatt, 2000). European Journal of ePractice · 19 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  20. 20. − Changes in the political agenda: Typically, election years can force things to go wrong as politicians and their staff are rushing contracts or partnerships. Promising too much publicly can lead to a premature launch, as in the case of Mypage. − Outside events: In a public setting, lots of things can happen. There could be unforeseen budget effects or debates, shifts in public attention, or media campaigns. The latter is what happened to Mypage – after its delayed launch, causing immense pressure from media and industry. Some reasons for failure are more generic, notably: − Groupthink57: Decisions are taken within a small hierarchy and few outsiders are kept in the loop, narrow expertise is consulted, and end users only glanced at. If simply transferred from someone else, the consequence can be that the software design does not match user realities, or it is unfit for the local context. Another consequence of groupthink is the lack of an interdisciplinary approach. − Poor management: A faulty management approach could lead to lack of transparency, structure, deadlines, or follow-up (or any number of these). A project may have been run by an IT department or conversely, by managers without IT competence – both of which is equally destructive. − Clear goals are not established: If one does not decide exactly what to do and has the procedure in place, takeover by new managers becomes difficult, which is in various phases what happened to the Help portal. Putting in place a too centralised or too locally-specific approach can be equally problematic. Horeca1 was labelled a quot;localquot; project until they broke through the ice. Re-inventing the wheel can be another problem if you do not consult best practice. You may end up with simultaneous paper and online procedures, which in fact often is the case in the European Commission, probably for fear of getting completely rid of the paper trail due to the risks involved.58 All eGovernment projects will therefore have the risk of failure embedded in their setup. The difference is actually how the risks are managed, a process to which we will turn now. 6 Succeed regardless of setting From our case material, factors that interplay and complicate the transfer of best practice include:59 − Need (Ministers, parties, bureaucrats, users) − Time and Place (political agendas, policy window) − Degree of knowledge and experience (team, leader, users) − Available budget (too little, sufficient, abundant – compared with the task) − Legacy (organisation, technology, legal framework, culture) − The technology available (in-house, open source, or on the market) 57 The term was coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), see 58 Internal procedures run a myriad of systems, including Adonis, iFlow, Adonis, Sysper2 etc. which are only partly integrated and with a highly challenging interface for people who grew up in the internet generation (as well as others). 59 Beyond the set of three cases studies (Mypage, Help, Horeca1), these recommendations build on a cursory glance at the around 800 good practice cases within the database, as well as upon almost four years of eGovernment experience with the European Commission. European Journal of ePractice · 20 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  21. 21. − Stakeholder involvement (who – and how intensely) Taking these factors into account, and reviewing the case material, the following seven recommendations may to a certain extent transcend the setting and provide for a recipe for eGovernment success:60 1. Start with a clear vision Successful projects come from good ideas. Then, one should always perform a sound analysis of requirements (along with others). The vision must then be written into the solutions (inscribed) otherwise it will have no effect. Mypage is the example of a glorious, clear vision. Horeca1's vision to simplify and Help's vision to guide were more moderate and not so clearly formulated, but the projects were equally successful. 2. Introduce innovations slowly – build momentum While it can be tempting to launch with huge bravado, the public sector is maybe best served with some modesty. Once you see the effects (enrolment), you can add steam until momentum builds. Incremental steps reduce risk and give a sense of accomplishment. Be adaptive – you can then turn failure into success. Capitalise on opportunities underway. Do not expect quick wins. The real, sustainable impact emerges slowly. Help is ten years in operation and the most significant transformation effects have just started to show. Mypage, Help and Horeca1 all started with pilots and then built more advanced solutions, which indicates that size or context does not change that particular dynamic in the innovation process. 3. Achieve leadership buy-in Involve all stakeholders early, present choices and hear people out. Do not use too much force, even if you can – force is counterproductive. Let new entrants opt in – do not launch by decree. Achieve cross-party commitment. Keep a professional dialogue with the IT supplier and industry overall, where you treat them and are treated on equal terms as a respected peer. Although only Mypage started with high level political commitment, all three cases, Mypage, Help and Horeca1 demonstrate the importance of some kind of buy-in early on – and in order to sustain the effort. 4. Monitor stakeholder needs continuously Design the solution knowing what users want. Release often and release early (an open source software development principle that works well as long as you can take criticism61). Be aware that PR and marketing needs are huge. Do not underestimate the helpdesk function, and make it multi- channel (online, phone, face-to-face, TV). The Help portal is the best example of doing all of this. Enrolling users takes time and is hard work. 5. Track progress elegantly Do measure – but measure the right things. Do not measure too much. Act on the results – otherwise you need not measure in the first place. Do not ignore bad news (or bad progress on impact metrics). Good examples to use are eGEP, Mareva62, Wibe 2.063, and the EU benchmarking results64. The aim is to be able to adjust to circumstances. Help is the most advanced solution in this regard, and the results show. 60 However, as with all recipes, they are impossible to follow exactly as given. Therefore, a disclaimer up-front: results will vary. 61 See 62 See 63 See 64 See European Journal of ePractice · 21 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  22. 22. 6. Be up to date – but use the simplest technology possible Use proven components to reduce the risk of failure or delays. Use established standards, ideally open standards so the solution is re-usable (for others). In fact, Horeca1, Mypage and Help are built with an open architecture, and Mypage is now going completely Open Source.65 Solutions should be interoperable with legacy systems and future proof (or at least flexible enough to adapt to new plug- ins and technologies.66 The best example of keeping it simple is, in fact, Brasilian eVoting, which uses an extremely simple software tool developed in the 1980s – but runs voting across this vast country with little complaints.67 The UK portal Directgov68 may be another example. It provides only information, not transaction across its solution, but focuses on being a simple, timely, and accurate source of information, and does that well. 7. Ensure sustainability over time Unless you fail, chances are your solution will outlive its creators – make sure there is a succession plan. A great solution which operates for a year is not a lasting improvement and can be counterproductive – find benefactors or alternatives. The EU-wide collaborations that the European Commission's Tax and Customs service runs in the customs area is a good example, as is the Help portal. Mypage will be with the Norwegian government for decades as will Horeca1 for the city of Amsterdam – they will, in turn, represent the new legacy which others are forced to build upon. 7 Conclusion This paper set out to explain three things: − What is best practice in eGovernment? − Which, if any, contextual factors are decisive? − Are there success factors across context? Best practice says to start with a visionary idea, design your solution as simply as possible, gain top leadership buy-in, adjust to circumstances, track stakeholder needs, understand the policy context, gain momentum, withstand criticism, and ensure sustainability. Now, that was the easy part [sic]. The real story is that success and failure is never far away from each other – one can turn into the other. Context, such as (1) Need, (2) Time and Place, (3) Degree of knowledge and experience, (4) Available budget, (5) Legacy, (6) The technology available, and (7) Stakeholder involvement, matters, there is no such thing as a fail proof list of success factors. People's and projects' lessons learned can be useful, but must be used wisely. This is why our three case studies each explore different facets: Mypage shows how to succeed starting with grand, political visions, Help shows one can succeed with policy entrepreneurship within a federal bureaucracy, and Horeca1 shows that city officials who listen to stakeholders can bypass criticism and succeed beyond all odds. All actors were engaged in placemaking, carving out a niche for themselves, and defending it fiercely. That process never ends. Clearly, in any real situation inside an organisation, things will not present themselves as straightforward as in the examples and recommendations given in this article. Leadership which lifts the challenge at hand out of the realm of day-to-day problems and into the scope of strategic decisions is required to succeed. While the schematic I presented here is empirically based, it is likely to only scratch the surface. It can still be of invaluable use. 65 What Open Source means is hotly contested, see and 66 See 67 See 68 See European Journal of ePractice · 22 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  23. 23. The mega trend of users having a larger impact on public services through choice, criticism, suggestions, walk-ins or walk-outs (CCeGov, 2007), will manifest itself in ever so many ways. The citizen, as a consumer of public services, has the self-conception that “I am in charge”. If we make good typologies, our systems will have inscribed in them a functionality that matches the demand. But demands change, so systems must be flexible. In the end, since we are talking about winning hearts and minds, and dealing with the fairly volatile attitudes and behaviours of citizens and businesses, best practice in eGovernment hovers on the knife-edge between success and failure. Earlier research by Wyatt (2000) resonates with this. In this article, the case evidence allows us to go one step beyond. Near failure can be turned to success, as in the case of MyPage. One cannot be too afraid to fail, yet there is no point in taking excessive risk in the public sector. Failure leads to public scrutiny and, more importantly, the loss of the taxpayer's money. Trust is a relationship, and like all relationships it must be nurtured carefully. It should be clear from this article that eGovernment enabled service delivery is far, far more complex than eCommerce. But the rewards are also greater – in that one contributes to the common good, if successful. 8 Future research While this article has used three cases for an in-depth exploration of the generic success factors in eGovernment projects, the rich empirical material available on presents a research challenge for a more extensive mining. First, any best practice portal needs to embed within it a process of reflection and research – this paper is only a first stage in trying to understand what all this material tells us. Second, the identification of generic success factors presents the portal (or indeed any other best practice initiative) with an emerging mechanism to structure content and advice. In fact, what I am doing here is to start building an ontology69 of best practice – a model that explains the relationships between concepts and practice. Third, and most challenging of all, is to understand how this material actually helps existing and emerging projects to succeed faster. In that context, a best practice portal also should see itself as a user-driven service facility. Then, best practice in effect becomes part of a process of learning that both helps its users learn, and learns from its users. References Akrich, M. (1992). The De-Scription of Technical Objects. In Bijker, W. & Law, J. (Eds.) Shaping Technology/Building Society, 205-224. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press BBeGov (2007). Breaking Barriers to eGovernment study, retrieved 7 December, 2007 from Besselaar, P. & Beckers, D. (2005). The Life and Death of the Great Amsterdam Digital City. In Digital Cities III. Information Technologies for Social Capital: Cross-cultural Perspectives: Third International Digital Cities Workshop, Amsterdam, Besselaar, P. and Koizumi, S. (Eds.), Volume 3081, 66-96, Heidelberg: Springer Callon, M. (1986). Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay, pp. 196-233 in Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge, edited by John Law. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 69 For a brief definition of 'ontology', see European Journal of ePractice · 23 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  24. 24. CCeGov (2007). Citizen Centric eGovernment study, retrieved 7 December, 2007 from eGEP (2006). eGEP Measurement Framework, retrieved 7 December, 2007 from ePractice (2008). ePractice - good practice case, retrieved 21 January, 2008 from EureGov (2007). Pan-European eGovernment services study, retrieved 7 December, 2007 from Eynon, R. & Margetts, H. (2007). Organisational Solutions for Overcoming Barriers to eGovernment, European Journal of ePractice, No.1, Fages, R. & Sangüesa, R (2007). State of the art in Good Practice Exchange and Web 2.0, retrieved 7 December, 2007 from Heeks, R. (2005). e-Government as a Carrier of Context, Journal of Public Policy, 25 (1), 51-74. Hughes, T.P (2004). Human-Built World: How to Think About Technology and Culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Jarke, J. (2007). Knowledge sharing in a distributed community of practice: a case study of, European Journal of ePractice, No.1, Undheim, T.A. (2002). What the Net Can't Do. [Ph.D. thesis], retrieved 7 December, 2007 from Wyatt. S. (2000). ICT in Central Government: Learning from the Past, International Journal of Innovation Management, 4 (4), December, 391-416. Author The European Journal of ePractice is a digital Trond Arne Undheim publication on eTransformation by, a portal National Expert eGovernment created by the European Commission to promote the DG Information Society and Media, sharing of good practices in eGovernment, eHealth and European Commission eInclusion. Edited by P.A.U. Education, S.L. Web: Email: The texts published in this journal, unless otherwise indicated, are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivativeWorks 2.5 licence. They may be copied, distributed and broadcast provided that the author and the e-journal that publishes them, European Journal of ePractice, are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted. The full licence can be consulted on European Journal of ePractice · 24 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X