Sociocultural Context of E-Government Readiness: Selected Problems

Sociocultural Context of E-Government Readiness: Selected Problems

Lech W. Zacher (Kozminski University, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-671-6.ch004
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E-government is not only an innovative idea but, more and more in a growing number of countries, a practical activity of high priority. It reflects the emergence and development of information societies (IS). Socio-cultural context is a framework of e-government strategies and practices. The context will determine the effects of such efforts. It is important to consider and understand the socio-cultural characteristics and functioning of society while its e-government undertakings are planned and introduced. From this point of view, the presently emerging worldwide information societies can be grouped in classes. It may help to analyze the classes’ needs and possibilities and to formulate proper e-government agenda to be implemented. The real specificities and diversities among classes make the IS development multi-trajectory. In this diversified world, the effects will vary greatly. This chapter has tried to identify and briefly analyze the challenges for e-government strategies and practices from the point of view of socio-cultural context. It is argued that this context should be treated dynamically – as changing and as creating potential for change leading to further advancement of IS. Thus the discourse on the sociocultural context of e-readiness is summarized. Some conclusions and recommendations are formulated, especially with reference to diversities and specificities of IS classes.
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E-government readiness has several dimensions. Readiness on the side of government depends on government’s propensity to use information-communication technologies (ICTs) to exchange information and provide services to citizens and business. Such propensity, which is psychological, political, social and cultural in character, varies from society to society. Psychological, political, social and cultural factors and conditions can act in positive or negative directions with regard to e-readiness. Either way, it can be assumed that governments play the role of enlightened leaders and are under the influence of the external world (that is, the networked world). However, governments may strive for democratic governance or prefer tough rules based on control of people, surveillance, and manipulation. Moreover, they can be effective in both cases. ICTs can be used in both ways.

So the historical heritage, norms and values, social and religious customs and attitudes, orientations (e.g., proactive, future-oriented, openness), social aspirations and national ambitions, social structure, level and span of education, competences in administration and business, technological culture, political and legal systems, media status, advancement of civil society, relations with other countries etc. are non-technological determinants of e-government readiness of all its stakeholders – public administration, business and civil society. These factors constitute the socio-cultural context of e-readiness of both government and society. It is worth noting that business has an economic motivation and arguably a more “natural” technology-driven propensity to use ICTs.

To make government and social e-readiness work properly and effectively, all factors and their feedbacks should be considered by all stakeholders, including central and local public authorities, business, and NGOs, while the stakeholders develop strategies, plans, and policies and while they react to various pressures and challenges imposed by ICTs and globalization. Socio-cultural context ought to be treated dynamically—as changing and as creating potential for change. Unfortunately, quite often this context is overlooked or underestimated what diminishes possible advantages and positive effects for all sides involved in ICTs applications and diffusion in all spheres of social activities and life.

The fundamental component of e-readiness is technology—computers, telecommunications infrastructure, and ICT organization and management. Tools and techniques of e-government are connected with the use of some hardware, software and orgware. The latter has evident political and cultural dimensions. Security and privacy standards also have legal dimensions.

E-government is nowadays necessary in order to take advantage of ICTs for better public administration, for more effective business performance, and for citizen activism. However, it is costly. After the initial period, e-government functioning should be measured and evaluated from the point of view of all stakeholders. Moreover, failures, incompatibilities, negative side effects, and exclusions should be also identified and recognized, and strategies and policies toward diminishing or liquidating the unintended effects elaborated and implemented.

Media and educational institutions (being in fact the components of socio-cultural context) can play an important role in ICTs assimilation and use in the public and private sectors.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cultural ability (capacity) to capitalize on ICT development and applications: refers to all IS stakeholders, to organizations, social groups, individuals; their innovativeness, entrepreneurship, level of proactivity, efficacy, future-orientation, aspirations, technological culture, educational advancement, managerial skills etc. constitute this ability.

E-Inclusion: a set of policies and activities leading to “e-inclusive society” where every person has equal opportunities to participate, including those people who are physically, mentally, socially or economically disadvantaged.

E-government readiness: can be understood in two ways as readiness of a government to use ICTs to exchange information and provide services to business and citizens

E-Transformations of Societies: all social changes driven by various electronic devices and systems (mostly ICTs) used in all areas of human activities and life (including e-economy, e-banking, e-trade, e-media, e-government, e-democracy, e-health, e-learning etc.). E-transformations stimulate e-government readiness.

E-Government: institutionalized practices and activities using ICTs to provide information and services by public administration to the society and to interact with various stakeholders (like business, NGOs), also within government itself.

Information Society (IS): a society, which predominantly deals with production and applications of information in all fields of economy and social activities and human life. Many particular indicators are elaborated. It is assumed that the mass info-activities in IS are based on sufficient technical infrastructure, access, computer literacy, cultural capacity, efficiency etc. There are closely related terms as: information-rich society, cyber-society, e-society, network (or networked) society, virtual society, digital society, information society based on knowledge.

IS classes: the real world’s societies are very diversified in terms of the advancement of IS characteristics and indicators. The most advanced countries create ICTs and use them widely and effectively. They are pioneers in ICTs production, diffusion and applications (they are often called high-tech economies/societies). The second class comprises two subclasses: the emerging powers and the transitional countries. The third class are countries which are less advanced, not participating sufficiently in e-development, if so – only in enclaves. They are subject both of digital exclusion and divide.

Multitrajectory IS development: the great diversity of determinants and conditions, also of strategies and policies of various information societies makes their development multi-optional and de facto multitrajectory; this diversity determines their differentiated progress on the way towards a “mature info-society”.

E-readiness stakeholders: all subjects involved in the development of e-government, namely central and local public authorities, businesses, NGOs – together with their plans, strategies, policies, also attitudes, reactions and behavior.

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