Technology as Enabler of Institutional Reform in Government

Technology as Enabler of Institutional Reform in Government

Vincent Homburg (Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch272

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Information technology and public administration are an odd couple. Students of information technology have long neglected arduous issues of public sector reform and public policymaking (Borins, Kernaghan, Brown, Bontis, & Thompson, 2007; Homburg, 2008; Orlikowkski & Barley, 2001). Likewise, public administration scholars have rarely paid attention to information technology beyond treating it pragmatically (Gruening, 2001), at the periphery of governments’ core activities of policy making and policy implementation. This situation of disciplinary negligence, however, has changed since the advent of the admittedly voguish term electronic government (“e-government”). E-government refers to a practice in which governments throughout the world embrace information and communication technologies in order to transform the machinery of governance (Bekkers & Homburg, 2007; Borins et al., 2007; Chadwick & May, 2003; Dunleavy, Margetts, Bastow, & Tinkler, 2006; Heeks, 2006).

The relation between technology and transformation is not as straightforward as might appear at first sight (Williams & Edge, 1996; Weerakkody & Reddick, 2013), for at least two reasons. First, the clamor for transformation and reform was first heard in the beginning of the 1990s (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992) without technology playing a role. Rather, the focus was on organizational and managerial changes, in particular focusing on establishing customer orientation and use of market-type mechanisms (Guy Peters, 1996; Hood, 1991; Pollitt, van Thiel, & Homburg, 2007), that later blended with the emergence of new technologies that actually enabled the envisaged transformation. Second, e-government practices throughout the world display a huge variety of forms, shapes and effects that are not easily attributed to technology alone. In the national policies of the United Kingdom and the United States, for instance, the focus is on achieving one-stop service shops that enable transactions with citizens on the basis of clearly defined “service themes” (Chadwick & May, 2003). At municipal levels in Sweden, on the other hand, e-government takes the form of electronic interactions between municipal commissioners and citizens, in such a way that citizens can watch video broadcasts of city council meetings, and can submit questions to commissioners during the half-way break (Grönlund, 2003). In other contexts, the e-government phenomenon is seen as instrumental to a dazzling array of labels like “e-governance” (6, 2004), “open government” (Bertot, Jaeger, & Grimes, 2010; Linders, Wilson, & Bertot, 2013) or “government 2.0” (Eggers, 2005).

The above discussion makes clear that the use of ICTs in government has moved from being a peripheral concern, to a topic that concerns the core activities of government, policy making and policy implementation, and that e-government is intrinsically linked to transformation and reform of governments. It does not, however, make clear how to circumscribe and define “e-government,” where the trajectory of transformation leads to, and what obstacles and dilemmas can be witnessed in practice. The remainder of this article addresses these issues.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Front Office: Part of the organization that is specialized in interaction with society (citizens, companies) and that is responsible for, among other things, managing the government-society interface.

JUG (Joined Up Government): Aspiration to aspiration to achieve horizontal and vertical coordination (“cross-cutting approaches”) in and among public sector organizations.

NPM (New Public Management): Management ideology with which private-sector business management techniques (performance management systems, benchmarking, autonomization) are introduced in the public sector.

Back Office: Part of the organization that is specialized in meeting information requirements of front office processes and is responsible for, among other things, registering and exchanging information between public, private and hybrid organizations.

Institutions: Values, norms, normative frames of reference, taken for granted assumptions and practices.

E-Government: Redesign of information relations of a public agency with stakeholders in its environment.

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