Open by design

March 6, 2012

A very recent paper by Yu & Robison entitled The New Ambiguity of “Open Government” highlights one of the ongoing difficulties of the whole e-government and ‘open government’ debate, and so, for me, it’s not a new ambiguity but something inherent in the whole scheme of things. I’d already mentioned one of their papers in the ‘Invisible Hand’ in 2008, so the authors weren’t new to me either. Essentially, the paper proposes that there is an issue of semantics around the term ‘open government’ or ‘open data’, in that it can be open in at least two different senses – political or technical openness provides access to data, whilst philosophical openness provides transparent government, and it is possible to have the former without the latter. Robinson & Yu argue for clarity between the two in any usage. They try to remove the ambiguity around technical openness by labelling one ‘adaptable’, as Tony Roberts, as I related recently in Open Warfare,  uses the expression ‘ actionable’.

In contrast Fishenden & Thompson, also co-authors in 2010 of “Better for less: How to make Government deliver IT savings“, have written a paper entitled “Digital Government, Open Architecture and Innovation: Why Public Sector IT Will Never be the Same Again“, which largely ignores the semantic trap and instead creates another term ‘open architecture’. Building further on the Digital Era Governance (DEG) concept proposed by Dunleavy & Margetts, they recognise the failings of the New Public Management (NPM) dogma and the fact that it is still ingrained in government, whilst claiming that ‘open architecture’ will bring us nearer to DEG. I suggested in Accountability in 2010 that NPM was far from dead when the current public service leadership had all grown up with it, and were thoroughly tainted with its concepts, and as institutional isomorphism teaches us, it’s pervasive. In terms of ‘open architecture’ , we already have TOGAF, and that’s been there a while now, too. What we need is both philosophical/political openness so that the citizen can see why nothing is changing, along with the technical openness so that data, systems and architectures can ‘plug and play’.


The paradigm trap

June 6, 2010

In my research I’ve been critical of the influence of New Public Management (NPM) on government, and on e-government.  Another recent paper I’ve discovered that supports my view and also strongly criticizes the producer-customer paradigm that NPM enforced upon government, is by Hazman Shah Abdullah & Maniam Kailianan, Universiti Teknologi, Mara, Malaysia.

The paper, “From Customer Satisfaction to Citizen Satisfaction: Rethinking Local Government Service Delivery in Malaysia” from Asian Social Sciences, Vol 4, No. 11, Nov 2008, is essentially asking that rather than the producer-customer paradigm, government employs a government-citizen paradigm, which is more appropriate.

As the paper states on page 89 “The Government-Citizen Paradigm encapsulates the essence of the Producer-Customer Paradigm but offers more opportunities and scope for the improvement process. It focuses on the services as well as the policies, on the instrumental values as well as social and political values and it serves the customer but also highlights their role as citizens.”

Matters in Malaysia are obviously little different from the western world when the authors highlight that:

“There is increasing evidence that the new generation raised in an economically munificent environment with limited participation in civic and political affairs especially at the local level, is all too happy with and, at times, consumed with modern technology and self, and is disconnected with the government (Putnam, 2000). If this trend continues, local government will be deprived of its representative quality. Without continuous and massive citizen engagement with government, administrative state is likely to rise to the fore. Salaried professional officers will become, by default, policy makers removing policy from the realm of politics to administrative experts.”

This is something the last government tried (unsuccessfully, in my view) to resolve and which the latest administration claims to want to deal with. An additional observation in the paper, page 90, is that “Collective and sustainable satisfaction should be given greater premium than immediate and individual satisfaction. The market-based model promotes a contrarian view and value system.”

Whilst it’s sad to realize that the tentacles of NPM embraced the world, it’s good to see that solutions are being sought in every nook and cranny to engaging the populace in their governance.


Accountability

February 9, 2010

A report to appear amidst the grey literature in February is one from Localis entitled “For Good Measure – Devolving Accountability for Performance and Assessment to Local Areas“.

However, what worries this practitioner/researcher amongst all the proposals for a bright, lighter world is an issue raised in 

Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H, Bastow, S and Tinkler, J., (2006). “New public management is dead. Long live digital-era governance.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 16(3): 467-494.

Where, in the conclusions, on p.488 they ask “whether managers and political elites, long-educated and socialized in NPM approaches, will actually be able to change direction radically enough to fully exploit the potential of DEG reforms.” Where DEG is Digital Era Governance, a model that is e-government done the right way round without all the New Public Management (NPM) baggage of targets and boutique-bureaucracies that have undermined it. A particular concern of mine is that the existing local government management have grown up with NPM and got their jobs by supporting the regimen of performance indicators and inspection, how will they manage without it?

However, the report, along with providing a history of audit in local government requests a reduction of the increasing burden that it places on local authorities, such as the quantity of performance indicators and the indicators employed. Instead, the authors request the involvement  of  citizens (or as they describe them – residents). This needs the new regime to be prepared for co production, cooperatives and communication.


Happy birthday

February 12, 2009

The 12 February 1809 saw the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, it was also the birth date for Charles Darwin, who may be described as the great emancipator of the mind with his theory of evolution. Human beings were no longer constrained to the belief that they were created a few thousand years before but were the product of millions of years of natural selection. They also both share the honour of having their portraits on currency notes in general circulation in their respective countries! What is the connection to e-government? Well, I believe that we need freeing from the slavery of managerialism and NPM to be able to transform government, along with needing to make the citizen the focus of the eco-system of government for them to survive as citizens. Happy birthday to the great emancipators!


Au revoir NPM

January 17, 2009

A paper published on PublicNet by Michael Duggett, described as a career civil servant with the National School of Government, who from 2001 to 2006 served in Brussels as director general of the IIAS, entitled The Thinning of a Theory, is a useful start in considering New Public Management (NPM), which is at the roots of e-government. In terms of academic accuracy the paper originally appeared in PMPA Review No 41, June 2008

In my opinion Duggett’s paper is a very mild scavenge upon NPM, which is, I suppose, only to be expected from a career civil servant who has been implicated in it for so many years. This is especially clear when he states, for example, that “perhaps e-government has sometimes been oversold.” With the reacceptance in many quarters of Keynsian economics as a result of the current fiasco brought on by the same free-marketeers that brought us NPM, I think that rather than a thinning down, a long, hard review is required, particularly by those who are covered by Duggett’s statement -”practitioners have on the whole been the victims of NPM theory.” So let the victims, who are primarily the citizens, who NPM calls customers, also review the additional costs and burdens to them. Duggett may argue that as a result of NPM the state has taken a small amount less wealth in the period, but I suspect there has been a siphoning off of a large amount of wealth via consultants and others as a barely visible sideline to the state.

I also say ‘au revoir’, since so often these things return reinvented with a new snappy title!


Bread and circuses

July 15, 2008

Juvenal in the Satires referred to the political practice of populism as the people abdicating their duties for ‘bread and circuses’, this compares with the emphasis placed in traditional Roman society upon ‘civis Romanus sum’ or ‘I am a Roman citizen’, by which the privilege of being a member of Roman society was balanced by the acceptance of rights and duties.

What has this to do with e-government? Its back to the current practice of describing citizens as customers! By talking about customer need, satisfaction or whatever I would contend that we are in danger of offering them ‘bread and circuses’, and forgetting to associate it with the privilege of citizenship and all it entails, such as the duties.

This was captured in a Canadian document of 1996, ‘A Strong Foundation – Report of the Task Force on Public service, Values and Ethics’ from a group chaired by John C. Tait QC. Tait’s task force picks up on the tensions between treating citizens as user, customer or client and makes a number of important points such as on page 36:
“In every public service transaction or activity, the true public servant must be alive to issues of equity and fairness to a degree that is rarely required of private sector managers.”
Tait’s report also identifies the conflict between New Public Management (NPM) and public administration but importantly does not state that we mustn’t use the expressions but be actively aware of the tensions they introduce. We can call the citizen a customer but ensure that both the public servant and the citizen are aware of their respective duties and obligations.

With government’s concern over active citizenship I purport that it is time to focus on the expectations of citizenship and that this can be used to encourage feedback on services and assistance in improving or developing them.


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