May 2006

Governance “with and of ICTs”

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e-Government is confronted with, and the necessity to address these issues with a consistent toolbox and terms of multi-actor, multi-level and multi-sector involvement, we are obliged to ask whether e-Government is not forgetting some important “missing masses” in its linear, optimistic and mostly mono-factor type of deployment.

From e-Government to e-Governance
The numerous e-activities, e-products, and e-services which are currently being displayed in the public sector cannot be fully understood, appreciated, and assessed if they are not placed within the much broader framework of State transformation, as mentioned in the introduction. However, it is important to stress why. Indeed, the transformation of the State's status encompasses changes in three separate dimensions, namely the growing emerging of non-state actors, basically transnational corporations (TNCs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Increasingly, the State has to share its power with these non-state actors. Such power sharing is most pronounced at the supra- and at the infra-national levels; the growing emergence of levels of managing public affairs, other than the nation-state level. In particular, the emergence of supra-national levels (EU, global), as well as of infra-national levels (local, regions) is being given an afterthought; and, the growing differentiation of the State's three main functions namely the service delivery function, the rule-making function, and the (rapidly emerging) regulatory function. These three functions can increasingly be treated as being separate from each other and therefore being shifted to the different levels and the different actors.

Development of ICTs is highly impacting our day-to-day lives. Today, e-Governance has come a long way and it duly constitutes a new approach to overcome some of the current difficulties we are dealing with

These three movements are being combined with each other, which leads to the fact that public affairs become more and more fragmented (functions), diluted (levels), and outsourced (to non-state actors). There is in particular a deficit of cross-functions, seamless operations in which non State-stakeholders can play a proactive role. At the same time, enterprise-based and private individuals' e-activities develop quite freely and growingly. There is therefore a place for a different type of steering that the one e-Government promotes. We call it e-Governance.

It is quite clear that our concept is not shared worldwide. It is quite the contrary. For many, e-Governance is just one more buzzword for e-Government. For others, who aim at specific identifications, e-Governance is merely an indication of the impact of e-Government outside of the administration outreach, in particular when private economy actors are active stakeholders.

We postulate, as for ourselves, that there is a need to consider a more radical paradigmatic shift, as a complement but inherently different than e-Government, e-Governance is the field of activity where coordination, negotiation, arbitration, networking and regulation (just to mention essential steering function), with ICTs but, also, of ICTs, involved all sorts of non-State actors, the State representatives being at best one of the stakeholders.

There are basically two converging processes that support the activities in the e-Governance arena. One which stems from insufficient coverage from the State, of problems that need to be solved but in which most solutions, experiments and expertise, from design to usage, are mainly motioned by non State actors, as innovative move or as survival need. The other one, emerging from technology or service users, as inhabitants or as specific customers of a given economic market, individuals, communities or local enterprises, expresses some form of bottom-up creativity in which the State may play a role but only after the interactions and processes tackled reach a certain consistency level. It is particularly true in the ICT area, where new services, habits, components or even technological ecosystems (let us think of Ipod, digital photography, smartphone applications or GPS-based services) emerge with barely any State presence of any kind. e-Governance is an intermediation arena in which negotiations, experiments and networking make important use of ICTs and in turn may also be dealing with some regulation of ICTs.

We postulate, as for ourselves, that there is a need to consider a more radical paradigmatic shift, as a complement but inherently different than e-Government, e-Governance is the field of activity where coordination, negotiation, arbitration, networking and regulation…

After a while, in particular in the second case, the State tries to get a hold on it, sometimes with success (standardization in WIFI for instance), sometimes not (governance of the Internet). In other cases, the issues are still open (pornography, intellectual property rights of ICT multimedia products, etc.).


 
Beyond an illusion
Information is not knowledge neither competence. As a matter of fact, information access and sharing, expert data handling, much the contrary, necessitates a lot of knowledge. Information is nor the first stage towards, neither the pre-condition of knowledge; it is quite the contrary. In the same perspective, the increase of participation in the usage of ICTs is no automatic and linear step towards a deep, effective, sustainable or democratic evidence. Just the opposite, one has to stress that to carry out a collective learning of some significance through ICTs, more horizontal processes, empowerment and trial and error linked with experience sharing must somehow take place “upstream” or at least considered quite early in an ICT-based project to constitute a democratic enhancement chance. The Internet, e-Government, e-learning, etc., do not lead in a straightforward manner to better chances and awareness among practitioners. e-Governance stresses the importance of the “how” things are done rather than what is done, the learning residing much more in the causality chain than the other way around. Altogether, in particular if mishandled, wrongly put into perspective, or simply shortsightedly tied with short-term, low impact efficiency goals of substituting actual processes with digital equivalent without any further reflection of the organisation, ICTs may not be always necessarily profitable, nor e-Government in all cases, lead to betterment of administration performance or servicing to the citizen. Recent studies have found vast differences among countries in the maturity of their e-Government efforts. One of the key findings is that even the most mature countries have tapped less than 20% of the potential. Furthermore, only very few governments have opted to use e-Government applications for transactional services or networking; and even fewer governments use it to support the genuine participation of citizens in politics. Those who do, in most cases, apply it at a very rudimentary level.

The pitfall suggested here, that involves a mere digital translation of existing services, with all the technological solutions outsourced and no particular change induced in the value chain, we call it “Change I type”. The e-Governance type of interactions and collective-problem solving negotiation, which may involved State agencies and condition some redesign to fit the new assignments, experiments or opportunities of alliances and partnerships, we call it “Change II type”. Change I is ICT driven, Change II is basically the art of reconfiguring processes, tasks, roles and if necessary, institutions in order to make better use of ICTs. Change I is mainly a substitution operation, Change II a new deal to enhance each stakeholder's chances. Change I is mostly an administration-focused preoccupation, rhetorically concerned with servicing customers or users better, Change II is often multi-actors, multi-levels and multi-sectors. e-Government, namely the exercise of administratively governing a territory through the intensive use of ICTs, can be considered as an industry which must be steered or managed. We are rather short of all the political claims of the e-Government concepts, in particular on the one hand the promotion of facilitated inter-relationships between the administration and the private economy and on the other hand, the empowerment of the citizen (no necessarily equal to his ICT-supported participation in public activities, as said before). To give an example, in November 2005, all four e-Government Good practice awards distributed to innovative e-Government projects by the European Commission were Change I type of operations.

Some key domains
Any complex issue will bring quite quickly issues to deal with, which may well be e-Governance problems rather than e-Government ones. Let us mention a few areas in which we are involved and for which new concepts, experiments, designs and expertise need to be fostered. These include Public security development and regulation; Identity management; Risk management, not only technological, but also economic, political and social ones; keeping up the motivation for innovation beyond the best or good practice trend (which aims at not always reinventing the wheel, a goal quite noble in itself); developing new mobility schemes for individuals and organizations, with the kind of knowledge and environments which will enable them; Cross-border applications and projects; Cross-function learning beyond the boundaries of the various network industries in which e-activities are deployed (telecom, post, transport, energy, health, education, etc.); Territorial management for development; and the various types of digital divides to be taken care of.

For all these problems, and of course many more to be identified and documented, which most of the time do not occur separately but in conjunction (the above listing is in reality in matrix of issues), there is a need for new competence, leadership and combined efforts and learning patterns, first in projects, experiments, knowledge sharing and benchmarking as until now, but also in knowledge management and neo-institutional skills. We have worked in that direction and will pursue research and advisory services to support these claims. In this regard, the Chair MIR (Management of Network Industries) at the College of Management of Technology of the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL), had crafted a one-year part-time high-level Executive Master in e-Governance, in partnership with renowned Universities and research centers worldwide, in order to undertake a continuous “learning journey” around the Governance “with and of” ICTs (http://egov.epfl.ch/).

e-Governance is an open area for innovation and solution pooling, which at this moment seems only to be in its infancy. A lot remains to be done to really harness ICTs as tools, as they should be, instead of being steered by them, as it unfortunately happens to often.

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