Friday, 6 February 2009

Managing in the Information Age - Essay by Bogdan Craciun


About Bogdan Craciun

How does eGovernment change the relationship between Governments and their citizens?

We witness an important change in the public management practice: the shift from Government to Governance. This shift in thinking and practice makes that the role of the central Government in decision-making to be reduced, while the co-ordination and negotiation with local governmental and non-governmental bodies became the main role for Government. In the new concept of Governance the civil society is no longer a passive actor. The participatory governance assumes that citizens are in the same time, beneficiary of the services provided by the public management and assessors of these services. The Government, represented by its public managers, does no longer make decisions for community but with community and within community.

This new relation is considered to make better use for public money and to improve the quality of services that are provided customized for the needs of the community.

This change of roles in the relation between public management and citizens makes that new instruments are required: monitoring and evaluation from the community point of view. This process ends in an important feed-back, which is used as mean for modifying the service deliveries accordingly.
In order to understand a phenomenon, is required a large amount of data. The facts are connected; the relation between them is not a “singular cause-singular effect” one. The holistic view of social events asks for extensive information, for a data base where the basic facts to be mixed and connected in order to find a meaning.
eGovernment provides both the public Managers and the citizens the possibility of finding the meaning. Data collection is no longer a burden; the focus of the activity shifts to understanding of reality.

The applying of new concepts of citizens’ participation is based on an intensive communication, with two channels that interact in exchanging information. The eGovernment is an essential tool in this communication process.

From the citizens’ point of view the main benefit of eGovernment is the accessibility and the possibility for getting involved and making the individual voice heard. For public management the main benefit is the monitoring and evaluation that citizens can provide. It is well known how difficult is monitoring and evaluation especially when the outcomes cannot be precisely defined. The system of evaluation needs data and facts that must be interpreted. The feed-back from citizens could provide directly the interpreting without wasting time. If the Governmental institutions are able to perceive the citizens comments, either good or bad, as a way of changing for better the present, then the communication facility brought by eGovernment mechanism could help improve the timing and the content of the feed-back actions taken by Government, as a result of new intercommunication process with citizens.
I consider that eGovernment could be perceived as a device for adaptation of the governmental institutions to the social environment and to what is happening in the real world. It is well known that the governmental policies are constructed on forecasts, on
modeling and on large presumptions. In order to have a correct dimensioned policy, the government needs signals from reality, and these signals could totally differ from initial presumptions when the policy was formulated.

Through this facility of dialogue of eGovernment, the public management is turning a new page in the book of institutional effectiveness and efficiency in relation with citizens. The performance as required by present standards could no longer be a chase for illusory. Performance standards could become a meeting point for citizens that pursue better life style and for Governmental institutions that pursue serving the public interest, by better understanding the problems that the citizens are facing, and even taking into consideration solutions proposed by citizens. At this point the eGovernment could make the connection between the social dynamic and the governmental policies, thus the social needs’ changes are noticed in due time. The eGovernment improves not only the accountability of the public institutions, but it also proves that good results do not rely only on a good forecast, but on responsiveness and active feed-back to present state and changes.

The perception of enhanced openness boosts the confidence of the people in the governmental institutions. And this is by far one of the most important changes in the relation between Government and citizens that the eGovernment could bring.
If Governance is about consulting and involvement of citizens, eGovernment facilitates networking, both at the level of community and at the level of the partnership between government and local communities as well.

The eGovernment is a proper mechanism of keeping the balance between centralization and decentralization. It is well known that finding this balance is, in fact, the secret of an efficient public management. By knowing the needs of local communities (decentralization), the central government could prioritize and balance the resource allocations towards the domains that the politics orientations consider to require most attention. Because we should not forget that the Governments are responsive to the electorate! The failure to fulfill the electoral promises usually ends in losing the next mandate. The eGovernment is, for any government, regardless its political color, a method of finding out in real time, before the time of “great final sum up”, if there are carried out the right actions, in a proper way. From this perspective, the eGovernment solution enables the “unique” solution to problems encountered, impossible to be done without it.
eGovernment could make people to trust their Governments, and Governments, in return, could benefit of people’s help. The innovation required for improving Government’s activity is always a practical solution for a faulty situation. And who can know better the situation than the citizens that are daily experiencing it? If we just remember our own feelings as citizens towards Government at Election Day, we can understand that generally the reason we change our political options is because of the failure of those who enjoyed our confidence, who promised something and where not able to deliver the promises.

The eGovernment could be involved in all stages of Governance: planning, negotiation, mediation, decision-making. The relationship Government-citizens evolves, through this transparency to open debate arenas, where the decisional
power of institutions to allocate resources is contra balanced by the decisional power of communities to vote and support a certain policy or even political group. The decisions cease to bear the mark of one authoritarian mind and conception. The decisions are results of what I could call as “decisional market”, a process where the interests of public managers and of citizens merge or get into conflict. The eGovernment gives to both end users (public managers and citizens) the possibility to express themselves, to explain, to try to influence, in one word, to interact. The public institutions have the chance to connect to real people’s needs and even expectations. This new adaptability of the “system” is believed to promote equality and avoid discrimination.

But it is very important to note that eGovernment could enhance the quality of communication between Government and citizens only if, at the both ends of the communication line, there are people interested in the success of this communication.
eGovernment is an artificial, human created, communication structure. It exists as long as people use it. In the same way, in which an unused path in the woods disappears under the wild vegetation, the eGovernment new systems need people’s implication and perseverance in order to have any result. Otherwise all the effort is useless and good intentions of flexibility, accessibility and permanent connection that eGovernment provides, can easily transform into pure wishes.

One of the constraints on eGovernment is the high level of technology involved. There are needed careful considerations when implementing it. Otherwise instead of promoting equality, could cause a new type of discrimination – the technological one. People need both devices and skills in order to use eGovernment. If this aspect is not taken into account, the results obtained from the system could be erroneous: when only the computer literate citizens can access the eGovernment, is obvious that the non-computer-literate’s opinions are not taken into consideration. And many times exactly this category of citizens is the one that eGovernment should be concerned more. In this case, in the relationship between Government and these citizens could appear an “impenetrable wall” that could affect the communication between them.

One of the greatest benefits of eGovernment is the easiness and promptitude of data collecting. The sociological sciences show that the way human interpret specific objective data depend a lot on a subjective point of view. Shall we remember the usual interpretation of the glass half filled with water that could be considered by some of us as half full, by others – half empty? The informatical devices available cannot overcome our inner perceptions and preconceptions. The eGovernment cannot be expected to do on our behalf more than we can do ourselves.

The eGovernment sends citizens a clear and direct message from the Government that it is available for communication, collaboration and ready to be transparent for its own actions. This means that the relationship between Government and citizens could be based on trust and mutual involvement and responsibility.



Commission of the European Communities (CEC) – Commission Staff Working Document, Annex to the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, “2010 eGovernment Action Plan: Accelerating eGovernment in Europe for the Benefit of All”, [www], 2006, (29th of April 2007)

Heeks, Richard – eGovernment for Development
Basic Definitions Page, [www], 2004, (29th of April 2007)

Creative Commons License
Managing in the Information Age de Bogdan Craciun este licenţiat printr-o Licenţă Creative Commons Atribuire-Necomercial-Fără Opere Derivate 3.0 România.

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