A history lesson!

Part of the long exercise of doing academic research involves an initial and continuing review of the literature around the research area. In researching electronic government this potentially covers a wealth of material including politics, sociology and information technology for a start, and it doesn’t all come in historical sequence.

Just recently I fell over a short article in the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)‘s journal ‘New Economy’ from the year 2000 (volume 7, number 1, March 2000, pp 41-45), which made me wonder if the author, Damian Tambini, had visited the Oracle at Delphi when he wrote ‘The Ulysses Effect: Targets in electronic service delivery’?

He argues that target setting in the area of electronic service delivery (ESD) could be both a strength and weakness, he calls this the Ulysses effect due to the bravado of the Blair government in nailing a set of targets to the mast and having to face the whatever happens as a result. This foresight would shortly fail, making the challenge even harder, since the government then proceeded to make the targets even harder, bringing the 100% target date forward from 2008 to 2005!

The problems Tambini envisaged back in 2000 included data protection, privacy and access – I don’t believe these were ever satisfactorily resolved in the timescales and we are now bearing the brunt of a very late Government Connect in local government as a sort of solution.

One thing he does remark is that the ‘flexibility and fudging’ required in a choppy sea of technology would mean that improvments might not be as effective in improving  ESD as expected, which I don’t think it has been but mainly due to a lack of process improvement, which was not given the necessary impetus in the plans. He also realised that government advisors had done far too much comparison with the banking sector, which had resulted in naivity as to deliverables and also that costs would be added in the short term to maintain the exististing channels.

Tambini’s vision can then be compared with the editorial from the Computer Law & Security Report 22 (2006) by Dr Stephen Saxby when he quotes a speaker from the Ministerial eGovernment Conference in Manchester in 2005 as saying: “I’m bored with eGovernment. There’s so much bad eGovernment around and it has made things worse. If we don’t learn the lessons we will carry our mistakes into the transformation era.” I would ask whether we have learned and admitted the lessons from eGovernment but whilst Saxby contends that ‘public value’ is the aspect of transformation that has the opportunity to change services due to its focus on user needs, I suspect that there is a lot more to it than that, a particular area being having flexible and developing measures from the citizen view to replace that 100% target that I believe even in 2008 has only been reached by a great deal of fudging.


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