New horizons

February 17, 2010

In my Internet wanderings, I  fell over a recent speech by the Rt Hon Jim Knight MP entitled “Future of Government in the Digital Space“, apparently given at the DotGov Live conference in London on 20 January 2010. In some ways I thought I’d fallen through a black hole since, despite talk of Twitter and Fix My Street in the eleventh paragraph he clearly states:

“The Prime Minister recently asked me to be the Ministerial lead for Government on meeting the target to get virtually all public services online by March 2014, following the publication last month of the Smarter Government White Paper.”

Now, as part of the introduction to my dissertation I have carefully prepared a timeline for e-government and I clearly remember writing that in the year 2000 the then Prime Minister set the target date, in line with the European Commission’s Lisbon agenda, for electronic service delivery as 2005 but unlike the other countries committed us to every possible transaction!

I also remember the celebrations and congratulations in Whitehall in 2005, or maybe early 2006, when the target was stated to have been reached and the unit responsible disbanded!

Now a key lesson I thought we had learned following the first ten years of e-government is the UK was that electronic service delivery is more than sticking a web front end on every service. To borrow an expression from my acquaintance Dan Champion, when he talks about the difficulty of true web accessibility – “it’s not a binary state.” In other words, it’s not black and white. The same can be applied to electronic service delivery (ESD). It is only truly ESD or e-government when the citizen completes the transaction end-to-end without humans fudging about in the middle.

If the web transaction creates an email that arrives on someone’s desk that involves rekeying data into an existing “old world” application, it’s a fudge. It may be a reasonable fudge if that particular transaction only occurs once in a blue moon and the cost of automation makes it not worthwhile, but in that case it’s not end-to-end ESD, its grey and not a nought or one!

As things currently stand there are a lot of grey transactions, which must remain until we restructure government and processes. To talk about getting virtually all public services online by March 2014, when I’ve no idea what he means by “virtually” or “public services”, especially after the billions spent in the run-up to 2006, is a strange statement. I thought Jim Knight was around in those years.

Most importantly someone’s forgotten that e-government may involve binary but of itself it isn’t, it’s a grey amorphous blob that needs resourcing end-to-end, and that includes rationality amongst the law-makers, to make it easier!


I Googled ‘twitter’ and ‘e-government’ and found enlightenment, well almost!

March 1, 2009

Idling away and wondering how to lauch myself on the world of ‘tweats’ I Googled ‘twitter’ and ‘e-government’ and found the following e-pamphlet: “New Labour’s Digital Vision: A Survey of E-government in the UK since 1997”, I then backtabbed and found the site – http://www.knowledgepolitics.org.uk – and the interesting group of researchers e-huddled within.

The content of this very piece was the stimulus for PhD, this second time around anyway! It was having spent so many years trying to fulfill the Whitehall dream and then seeing it for the puff of smoke it was, I felt the need to analyse.

In my opinion this paper, like so many others about UK e-government, might have benefitted from:

  • some input from practitioners – most of the references are to the media or government documents
  • a review of the academic literature – there has been some good research including that by McLoughin & Cornford and Cornford & Richter (see references below).
  • taking a look further back – e-government was actually started by the Conservatives, Nu-Labour picked it up taking along the New Public Management baggage, which was probably the downfall of e-government
  • looking at the bureaucracy – there was little central control, which was actually needed, and a lot of money wasted as a result. The Ministerial control was continually in flux – the Labour brains behind e-government, Liam Byrne, never had power in that arena.

In addition, one thing that seem to be missed was pointing any fingers at Tony Blair. It was his continued raising of the bar that set the ridiculous target (100% services by 2005), presumably to outdo colleagues abroad. Fortunately, other governments were better advised and maintained some rational restraint. The paper almost admits that we never met the targets and accepts that “the reality never met the rhetoric”, however it can’t see the wood for the trees and that essentially e-government is all about using ICT to facilitate improved services to the citizens, which will only be done by improved processes, and much of what has occurred in the past ten years has obfusticated processes and frequently changed them making improvements difficult.

The author is right to criticise it as a failed experiment, but is wrong to use decentralization as a cure. Part of the problem is too much autonomy at Whitehall, whilst continually bullying local government from the CLG/ODPM/DTLR/DETR/DoE. Central government want to get the mote out of its own eye to employ a biblical metaphor.

Incidemtally, if you are “twitterpating” I can be found at http://www.twitter.com/greatemancipato

References:

McLoughlin, I., Cornford, J., (2006). “Transformational change in the local state? Enacting e-government in English local authorities.” Journal of Management & Organization, 12(3): 195 – 208.

Cornford, J., Richter, P., (2007). “Customer Focus in UK e-Government: Or, Putting the Politics back into e-Government.” International Journal of Business Science and Applied Management 2(1): 34 – 46.