Although the question of measurement is crucial when defining any concept, little attention has been devoted to a comprehensive view of information and communication technologies (ICTs) applications, spanning qualitative and quantitative assessments. Due to the lack of a clear definition of e-government, many differences can be noted in the way in which digital policies have been interpreted by academics and practitioners. Coined by the U.S. programme for reinventing government under the Clinton administration (National Performance Review), the term e-government refers to a public sector reorganisation which aims at increasing the efficiency of the public administration and reducing its budget through the use of new technologies. In the words of Douglas Holmes (2001), e-government is “the use of information technology, in particular the Internet, to deliver public services in a much more convenient, customer oriented, cost effective and altogether different and better way. It affects an agency’s dealing with citizens, business and other public agencies as well as its internal business processes and employees” (p. 2). Yet many definitions go beyond the role of e-government in improving the provision of public services. Indeed, the label e-government supports other definitions, not necessarily limited to the computerisation of the public administration (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992). The concept of e-government seems to contain both the redesigning of public services system and a wider transformation of the relationship between private and public actors, so that the restructuring of public administration–influenced by the ideal of a new public management–is combined with the renewal of the democratic decision-making process. Digital policies are presumed to be a key element in improving online service quality and other factors, casting a new role for the citizen-costumer. At the same time, although e-government is becoming a catch-all concept, from an analytical point of view, official reports produced by international actors show a significant convergence in the way in which this is evaluated and measured. Diffusion of e-government practices are often closely related, and limited, to features of public administration Web sites, with reference to dimensions of openness and interactivity (La Porte, Demchak, & De Jong, 2002). Other studies focus exclusively on how citizens and businesses perceive the quality of public e-service, with reference to customer satisfaction, benefits conceived in terms of value and utility of services offered and opportunity of use as strategic factors for performance efficacy and efficiency (Graafland-Essers & Ettedgui, 2003; Stowers, 2004). Only recently a new approach has taken shape, which concentrates more attention on socio-political aspects of the intensive use of new technologies.
It can be assumed that measurement is a relevant component of any form of rational decision-making, acting as a mechanism for improving allocative decisions and technical efficiency (Townley, 2005). However, only recently has performance evaluation become a central part of the activity of the public administration.
The increasing interest in the measurement of government activities goes back to the second half of the 20th century, and is strongly related to the growth of public sector expenditure. It was a product of the more general turn to “planning,” a key element during the period in question (Boivard, 2005). In the 1980s, the introduction of market principles in public bureaucracies, the process of privatisation, the contracting out of public services and their management though performance contracts gave significant momentum to evaluation.
Key Terms in this Chapter
E-Governance: A concept and emerging practice, seeking to realise processes and structures for harnessing the potentialities of information and communication technologies at various levels of government and the public sector and beyond, for the purposes of enhancing good governance.
E-Democracy: The use of the ICTs for increasing the transparency of the political process, for enhancing the direct involvement and participation of citizens and for improving the quality of opinion formation by opening new spaces of information and deliberation.
E-participation: The use of information and communication technologies to broaden and deepen political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their elected representatives.
Performance Measures: Benchmarks which indicate the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of a current or past activity, unit or organisation.
Benchmarking: An interactive process by which the activities of an actor are evaluated in relation to best practices.
Monitoring: The systematic collection of information to provide indications on how a programme or service is performing.
ICTs: Acronym for information and communications technologies. It is a general term that describes any technology that helps to produce, manipulate, store, communicate, or disseminate information.
E-Rulemaking: A “notice and comment” method, following three steps: announcement, comment and publication. The agency publishes a notice containing a proposed law and the interested public is invited to send comments and proposals via e-mail during a fixed time period, so that the agency can analyse and consider these comments in its final version of the law.
Governmental Openness: A governmental strategy leading citizens to play a stronger role in interacting with government and in controlling its activities, making decision-making more transparent. It may also be considered a measure of government accountability, in that government agencies can be continuously assessed by citizens through everyday interactions.
E-Consultation: The use of the Internet to disseminate the developments in a policy field to the wider public, experts and interest groups, and to invite them to respond.
Good Governance: The processes and structures that guide political and socio-economic relationships, with particular reference to a set of eight major characteristics: participation, consensus, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, inclusiveness and the rule of law.