Governing electronically

I met Dr Paul Henman at ECEG 2009 where we were both delivering presentations. At the time Paul mentioned he had a book due for publication, so having heard his presentation and finding the subject matter dear to my researching heart, I ordered a copy through my university library as soon as it was published. It finally arrived at the start of June!

The book is entitled Governing Electronically: E-government and the reconfiguration of public administration, policy and power and is published by Palgrave Macmillan. It’s priced at £57.50 for 288 pages, so I recommend ordering through a library, as I did!

If you look at Paul’s link you’ll realise that he is Australian and so the case studies employed in the book are around Australian government. Paul is also a sociologist and a teacher of social policy but has degrees in mathematics and computer science, so not the average sociologist and can cover the broader topic with more than sufficient understanding.

The paper Paul presented at ECEG 2009 was entitled “The Contribution of e-Government to the “New Conditionality” in Social Policy” and this book is a broader exploration of the topic. Conditionality is a concept from international aid where aid is supplied to a government subject to that government changing its policies or instituting reforms. In the “new conditionality” it can be seen as requiring a change in conduct and this can be applied to individual citizens and their families, as well as whole countries.

One of the many interesting issues raised is how technology has facilitated frequent and rapid changes in government policy, along with increasing the volume of primary legislation, all only deliverable thanks to the power of computers.

Henman also observes that rather than moving users from the old channels to the new ones, the total numbers of contacts have actually increased, facilitated by the ease of contact provided by the contact centers, web sites and other media.

In considering the role of conditionality and politics one wonders what role technology might play in the new UK government. Are they truly going to back away from the social control provided by technology and ‘big government’, when the new conditionality permits such centralised power? Can we see a slimmer legal framework supported by less technology, and obviously costing much less? I’m not sure, but time will tell…

Coincidentally I’ve been asked to join the committee for ECEG 2011, which is at the University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia. There is a call for papers on the website.

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