July 2005

Leadership reflections for e-Government

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Christine Leitner

is Senior Lecturer; Head of eEurope Awards Project Management Secretariat, European Institute of Public Administration, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
c.leitner@eipa-nl.com

European prespective

e-Government calls for strong leadership at different levels  to provide a strategic vision and operational implementation of innovation and change processes in public administration. In terms of eGovernment, ICTs and the Internet imply modernised service delivery processes regarding the sharing of data, business process redesign and human resources. This in turn requires organisational change, new top-level leadership (eLeaders), with mid-level leadership (eChampions) supporting their work. Both clerical staff and managers need to develop a new and challenging set of skills. A new type of (general) manager is required. Apart from basic technical skills, general managers need an understanding of information management and the information society. Managers must be able to lead (and not be lead by) the organisation’s IT department, outside partners and must be able to integrate the organisation’s ICT strategy with its broader goals (OECD, 2003). At present, the Member States of the European Union are developing intensive training programmes to support the development of skills for staff, in line with the complex evolutionary process underway. The main common priorities for training in the public sector in the EU concern subjects linked to leadership skills, digitisation of the public administration and European integration (EPAN study 2003).

eLeaders – the top-level leadership

eLeaders at the strategic and operational level share a basic core of competencies for successful e-Government implementation.

Strategic leadership

Strategic leadership implies decisions closely linked to organisational priorities, and the ability to offer support to others. Some basic components of competencies can be summarised as follows

  • The ability to enhance the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats is vital. Clear assumption of responsibilities and understanding of roles, mutual respect, openness are required together with shared objectives, good communication channels and a culture of cooperation and negotiation.
  • The capability to take and implement (even unpopular) decisions. There might be times when it would be difficult for example, decisions on issues related to people that oppose changes related to ICT.
  • The ability to communicate is crucial. Communication allows a two-way interaction integrating the know-how of organisational work and the rules, norms, values, and myths that motivate people to act effectively and efficiently.
  • Ensuring visibility within the entire organisation. During the process of change, involving different units and departments is of utmost importance, as is to demonstrate that leaders fulfil promises and meet expectations.

Operational leadership

At the operational level, heads of department and programmes related to ICTs in public administration should have the ability to develop a leadership strategy based on two criteria: the digitisation of public services and the management challenges related to public affairs facing an increasingly intensive use of ICTs. In doing so, a set of specific aspects should be considered (SC&TPS, 2000), namely to:

  • Focus on how IT can reshape work and public sector strategies
  • Use IT for strategic innovation, not simply tactical automation
  • Utilise best practices in implementing IT initiatives
  • Improve budgeting and financing for promising IT initiatives
  • Protect privacy and security
  • Form IT-related partnerships to stimulate economic development
  • Use IT to promote equal opportunity and healthy communities.

eChampions – Mid-level leadership

eLeaders require a set of eChampions in different units and departments throughout the organisation (and – for integrated government solutions – most likely across organisations) to effectively implement e-government. eChampions are managers or mid-level staff, even base line personnel in small organisations, who understand, share and promote the strategic vision of eLeaders addressing e-Government. Their role is vital in stimulating and deploying change throughout the organisation.

Table 1: Essential skills for dealing with eGovernment processes 

 

Skills Needed by
Information Technology

Basic IT literacy

Specialist IT skills

 

All employees, managers and IT specialist

Information management

Internal information management

External information management

Privacy protection

Feedback mechanisms

 

 

Managers and IM specialists

Information Society

Understand capabilities of ICT

Ability to evaluate trends

Foresee ICT’s impact on organisational culture

Ability to set ICT strategy

 

 

Managers

Management/Business

Organisational change

Risk management

Accountability frameworks

Financing arrangements

Co-operation and collaboration

Public-private partnerships

 

 

 

Managers

Source: OECD

Table 2: Training systems in EU Member States (ex EU-15)

EU Member States Semi-decentralised Decentralised Centralised
Austria X
Belgium X
Denmark X
Finland X
France X
Germany X
Greece X
Ireland X
Italy X
Luxembourg X
Portugal X
Spain X
Sweden X
The Netherlands X
United Kingdom X

Source: Hellenic National Center for Public Administration (2003)

eChampions require clear work teams, sharing decision processes and agenda setting. At the same time, they support the strategic and operational leadership. eChampions promote a bottom-up approach communicating the specific needs of each department in order to ensure that they are taken into account in the global approach to e-Government of the organisation.

Training programmes

Decision makers in the European Union (EU) have on various occasions emphasised the importance of leadership skills for effective e-Government implementation. More specifically, the Mid Term Programme 2004-2005 for Cooperation in Public Administrations in the EU aims at “identifying the acquisition of the different skills (not only technical skills) which are needed by managers  (and clerical staff) to govern and manage change. By the end of 2005 the e-Government skills required will be appraised and recommendations will be agreed by the Member States” (EPAN Mid Term Programme 2003).

As a recent study in he EU has confirmed that approaches to training of public employees vary in the EU, in addition responsibilities for training are quite scattered among the different levels of administrations in the EU Member States (EPAN, 2003; for details see also table 2). To date a variety of training schemes (short term) and educational programmes (postgraduate programmes) have been developed in the EU member states (e.g. UK, Finland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Estonia to name but a few). At present a common understanding of a core training curriculum does not exist within the EU. However, training programmes within the EU Member States very often follow the scheme outlined by the OCED (see table 1).

It is interesting to note that according to a recent EPAN study (EPAN, 2003), subject linked to leadership skills and the digitisation of the public administration are the main common priorities for training in the  public sector in the EU together with knowledge and skills related to EU matters. The European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) provides management training for European Commission officials in cooperation with national schools of public administration, as well as managers in national and regional administration. In response to the challenges described above, EIPA is presently developing a training programme that focuses on change management and e-Government skills in European Public Management.

One of the themes of this year’s eEurope Awards for e-Governance is “the right environment”. This ‘category’ focuses – among other issues – on skills and  professional development in public administrations. (www.e-europeawards.org)

Conclusion

As pointed out above, the practices of a society are embedded in the practice of institutions and evolve with them. This is why changes in institutions of business, government, etc. matter and why leadership – the energy that enables such change – is so important. However, “in the  world of today’s organisations, the idealisation of great leadership leads to an endless  search for heroic figures who can come in to rescue the rest of us from recalcitrant,  non-competitive institutions”. One might ponder if … “this very thinking [might] be a key  reason such institutions prevail”; and finally, “might not the continual search for the hero-leader be a critical factor in itself, diverting our attention away from building  institutions that, by their very nature, continually adapt and reinvent themselves, with  leadership coming from many people in many places, not just from the top?” (Senge, 2002).

 

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