New Questions for E-Government: Efficiency but not (yet?) Democracy

New Questions for E-Government: Efficiency but not (yet?) Democracy

Alexandru V. Roman, Hugh T. Miller
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8358-7.ch114
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E-government's rise to prominence in the early 1990s was met with great enthusiasm amidst the promise that information communication technologies (ICTs) might fulfill the demands and expectations for improved democratic governance. Since then, significant progress has been made in terms of information provision and delivery of public services; yet, dialogue, a core dimension of democratic governance, remains largely unrealized within the digital context. This study employs content analysis within the frame of a check-off research protocol to determine if the population of state websites has the capacity to support digital democratic dialogue. The key question is whether there is an emphasis within the milieu of state websites to support e-dialogue outside the provision of information and e-services. The analysis suggests that efficiency rather than dialogue is the primary focus in the design of the state websites. Is, therefore, e-government a new development in the historical effort to enforce efficiency as a core value of governance?
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Is E-Governance Possible?

E-government, also described as digital government, typically refers to government’s use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for purposes of governance (Dawes, 2008; Fountain, 2001; Brown, 2007; Moon, 2002). Similar to a number of other terms in public administration, scholars might employ the construct differently, emphasizing certain assumptions over others (Dawes, 2008; Hardy & Williams, 2011). For example Backus (2001), Lenihan (2005), and Lee, Chang and Berry (2011) draw a clear distinction between e-government and e-democracy. In broad terms, the former refers to using ICTs for provision of services, while the latter refers to supporting citizen participation in governance. Dawes (2008), Ahn and Bretschneider (2011) and United Nations (2003/2010), on the other hand, refer to the use of ICT to support citizens’ involvement in governance as e-participation, which does not assume the possibility of a conceptual difference between democracy and e-democracy.

E-governance, on the other hand, “comprises a set of technology-mediated processes that are changing both the delivery of public services and the broader interactions between citizens and government” (Torres, Pina & Royo, 2005, p. 534). Or as Milakovich (2012, p. 9) defines it: “digital governance is a broader umbrella term referring to the networked extension of ICT relationships to include faster access to the Web, mobile service delivery, networking, teleconferencing and multi-channel information technologies to accomplish higher-level two-way transactions.” Hence, e-governance could be thought of as the art of public governance within which the role of ICTs is emphasized. There is an intimate link between participation and democracy that should be noted here. It is theoretically tenuous to refer to the use of ICTs to support citizen participation in the design of policy as e-democracy is theoretically tenuous. This would imply a subtle assumption that the solutions for eluding democratic challenges might be found within improved applications of technology. Only involvement that is intended to lead to changes in policy can be considered as authentic participation; opinion polls and rhetoric driven public discussions can hardly be referred to as anything more than consultations (Hampton, 2009).

E-government became a policy priority in the governance literature as a core dimension of the reinventing government movement, which was importantly informed by new public management (NPM) perspectives (Fountain, 2001; Milakovich, 2012). The actual formulization of the concept was shaped in the 1993 Reengineering through Information Technology Report, part of the National Performance Review initiative (Dawes, 2008; Lenk & Traunmüller, 2002). It permeated into public administration largely through e-business and e-commerce initiatives coming from the private sector (Moon, 2002). ICTs were delineated in the dominant discourse as the key to engineering an agile government that would mimic the best business practices (Dunleavy et al., 2006).

E-government has gained a salient role at the core of public administration practice and it receives significant academic attention. Moon (2002) identifies digital government as an integral part of current efforts to reform government. While, Brewer, Neubauer and Geiselhart (2006) argue that the use of technology has a great impact on public administration, both by creating chaos and by providing solutions. Ke and Wei (2004) and Lee, Tan, and Trimi (2005) associate e-government with improved service availability and accessibility, as well as overall betterments in processing efficiency. In the long run technologically permeated governance is expected to have lasting transformational impacts on both government and society (Brainard & McNutt, 2010; Fountain, 2001; Kettl, 2002, 2005).

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