Digital Government: overcoming the systemic failure of transformation

Paul Waller and Vishanth Weerakkody: “This Working Paper contains propositions regarding the use of digital technology to “transform” government that significantly conflict with received wisdom in academia and governments across the world. It counters assertions made in countless political, official and commercial statements and reports produced over past decades….

The “transformation of government” has often been proposed as an objective of e-government; frequently presented as a phase in stage models following the provision online of information and transactions. Yet in literature or official documents there is no established definition of transformation as applied to government. Implicitly or explicitly, it mostly refers to a change in organisational form, signalled by the terms “joining-up” or “integration”, of government. In some work,

In some work, transformation is limited to changing processes or “services”— though “services” is a term unhelpfully applied to a multitude of entities. There is in academic or other literature little evidence of any type of “transformation” achieved beyond a change in an administrative process, nor a robust framework of benefits one might deliver. This begs the questions of what it actually means in reality and why it might be a desired goal.

In essence, what we aim to do in this paper is to develop a structured frame of reference for making sense of how information and communications technologies (ICT), in all their forms, really fit within the world of government and public administration — exactly the challenge set by Professor Christopher Hood in his 2007 paper:

“But we need to have a way of assessing current developments in administrative technologies with those of other eras, such as development of telephones, cars, radios, and fingerprinting in police work in the early part of the twentieth century, or of exact methods of measurement on excise tax collection in the eighteenth century. And if the analysis of the changes such developments bring is to amount to anything more than a breathless tour d’horizon of the latest technological gizmos in public policy (much though governments themselves have a liking for that sort of approach), it needs to be related to some foundational analysis that is, in some way, technology-free and rooted in the nature of government as a social and legal phenomenon.”

After a brief historical review, the paper starts by considering what governments and public administrations actually do: specifically, policy design and implementation through policy instruments. It redefines transformation in terms of changing the policy instrument set chosen to implement policy and sets out broad rationales for how and why ICT can enable this. It proposes a frame of reference of terminology, concepts and objects that enable the examination of not only such transformation, but e-government in general as it has developed over two decades. …(More)”