Exploring Local Governance and E-Services in Qatar

Exploring Local Governance and E-Services in Qatar

Nada Abdelkader Benmansour (Qatar University, Doha, Qatar), Noora Ahmed Lari (Qatar University, Doha, Qatar) and Bethany Shockley (American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE)
DOI: 10.4018/IJPADA.2019100101
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Properly implemented, e-government enables improved government efficiency and greater engagement with citizens. The State of Qatar has implemented many e-government initiatives but little has been done to investigate their progress. This study aims to bridge the knowledge gap by shedding the light on a specific e-government initiative: the Baladiya application system, the electronic service for municipalities. It uses qualitative data from semi-structured interviews conducted with the director of customer service in each of the municipalities in Qatar. An inductive approach allowed findings to emerge. E-government provides a broad array of services to local users however three main aspects remain problematic. First, the high quantity but low quality of information received from users via e-government hinders the customer relations. Second, while services are readily available, e-government channels are not widely adopted. Finally, the complex process for service delivery contributes to create a relatively opaque user experience.
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The intended impact of e-government is better government. Properly implemented, it promises better service provision, improved efficiency, and greater engagement with citizens. However, the evidence for these benefits is mixed; it varies both by country and by program (Foley and Alfonso, 2009; Weerakkody et al., 2011). In fact, many countries around the world, including some Arab states, have not been successful in securing these outcomes (Lui and Yuan, 2015; Salem, 2006). Like other wealthy development-minded states in the Arab Gulf, the State of Qatar has implemented a number of e-government initiatives (Al-Kubaisi, 2018). Little is known about the implementation progress and resulting challenges as research on this region, and Qatar in particular, is still in the nascent stage. This study aims to bridge the knowledge gap by conducting a qualitative analysis of the municipal e-government system in order to understand how citizens interact with local government. It focuses on the perspectives and experiences of local government officials who are familiar with the day-to-day operations of the service provision and customer usage of e-government tools.

E-government encompasses a broad range of activities, including the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), to improve the activities of public sector organizations and to provide better public services to citizens and businesses (Ebrahim and Irani, 2005). In addition to increases in service quality and efficiency, it also purports to make government services more accessible and to foster transparency and accountability (Norris and Riddick, 2013; Bolivar et al., 2007). Even though the scholarly research has strongly questioned the unbridled optimism about e-government, countries in the developing world continue to implement these innovations (Norris and Reddick, 2013; Lui and Yuan, 2015).

However, as with any innovative governance tool, the promised gains of e-governance are not achieved automatically but are contingent on the complex realities of the policy design, the implementation, and the local context and to users’ adoption of e-government services. In reality, since decisions about government’s use of information technologies are often made by top managers in order to serve the organization as a whole, e-government often results in the preservation of the status-quo organizational structure and power dynamics (Kraemer and King, 2006). In the case of Qatar, a highly centralized state, e-government may not necessarily lead to increased decentralization and democratic transparency. Rather, as revealed by the subsequent analysis, the lack of decentralization acts as a barrier to realizing the full potential of e-government since citizens have been somewhat hesitant to adopt digital methods of communication implemented from the top-down.

Still, while e-government is by no means a harbinger of democracy, it may help local governments identify user needs, thereby boosting government efficiency (Norris and Reddick, 2013). In fact, the results show that all interviewees held positive perceptions of the e-government initiative, confirming that it speeds the processing of requests and reduces service delivery time. On the other hand, these benefits are contingent upon users adopting and properly using e-government mechanisms, which is problematic in Qatar. As will be subsequently shown, low adoption is due in part to a lack of clear information for local service users about which office to address complaints and requests. The process of service delivery and citizen feedback is generally opaque, calling for government action to raise awareness of e-government services.

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