Citizens, Not Consumers

Citizens, Not Consumers

Cory Allen Heidelberger (Dakota State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-390-6.ch004


E-government and t-government programs too often see government as service provider and citizens as customers. T-government should view government and citizens as one decision-making entity. This chapter (1) critiques the citizen-as-consumer perspective as a cause of citizen alienation, (2) contributes a theoretical model based on citizen participation to guide development of t-government systems to act as social decision support systems, (3) highlights examples of e-government systems that encourage citizen participation, (4) sketches one possible t-government implementation of the model, and (5) addresses challenges the model and systems based on it may face.
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The idea of reengineering through technology is critical. We didn’t want to automate the old, worn processes of government. Information technology (IT) was and is the great enabler for reinvention. It allows us to rethink, in fundamental ways, how people work and how we serve customers.

—U.S. Vice President Al Gore, 1997

During the 1990s, Vice President Gore promoted the expansion of e-government capabilities and the Internet in general. Like many public officials, he recognized the potential of the Internet to transform the way government serves its citizens.

As Vice President Gore introduced the 1997 report on the Access America Initiatives to reinvent government, he used language that indicated another transformation, a conceptual transformation in the view of citizens. Twice in this 1200-word document on e-government, Gore (1997) refers to the customers e-government will serve. Nowhere in this opening statement does the word citizens appear.

Vice President Gore did not invent the concept of viewing citizens as customers. He was not the first nor the last government official to apply the language and paradigm of e-business to e-government. Gore’s statement is but one instance of a perspective very common among government officials, IT professionals, and researchers: that e-government is just a subset of e-business.

This chapter will identify the prevailing misconception in e-government programs of citizens as mere consumers of services provided by government and the harm that incomplete conception can do. This chapter will explain that t-government—application of information systems to support all functions of government, including the function of citizens as participants—should move away from that incomplete conception to a genuinely citizen-centered social decision support model. Applying the emancipatory and participatory ideals of neohumanism to e-government can form the axiological basis for the creation and implementation of web-based computer-mediated communication systems in regional and nationwide parliaments and legislatures connecting legislators, citizens, lobbyists, and organizations in social decision support systems (SDSS). Such a paradigm shift will truly transform e-government by increasing government transparency, citizen participation, and citizen sense of “ownership” of government information and decisions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Emancipatory Discourse: Conversation in which “distorting tendencies” have been removed, primarily by giving all participants equal opportunity to speak, question, argue, respond, etc. (Hirschheim & Klein, 1994, pp. 89–90).

T-Government (Transformational Definition of E-Government): Application of information systems to support all functions of government, including the function of citizens as participants in government.

Emancipatory Ideals: Principles focused on realizing “the full creative and productive potential of individuals” and replacing inequitable control structures with organizational democracy (Hirschheim & Klein, 1994, p. 85).

Neohumanism: Paradigm seeking “emancipation and the realization of human potential” (Hirschheim & Klein, 1994, p. 109).

E-Government (Conventional Definition): application of information systems to “deliver government services to citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders” (AMCIS, 2008).

Horizontal Integration: Replacement of monolithic organizational structures and silo-like functional divisions (vertical integration) with collaboration and cross-functional teams.

Social Decision Support System (SDSS): Information system designed to help citizens and policymakers gather information and make decisions on societal-scale issues.

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