This is a guest post by Mick Phythian. In many ways, it makes a similar point to the series of essays on this site entitled ‘What Politicians Need to Know about social public information’ – but a good deal more formally. We hope it helps to clarify the question in hand.
Since the ‘Government Direct’ Green Paper in 1996 there has been a great deal stated about the benefits of electronic government. However, there remains much confusion as to what electronic government actually is. There have been many attempts at definition, of which few align. Whilst some include its use for democratic revitalisation, participation or transparency, others don’t. In contrast to many proponents of e-democracy, it is the view of the author that e-government is purely an additional channel of service delivery, and many commentators have forgotten that where democracy exists is the world, it is representative democracy. So, how does democracy fit in with e-government?
Having said that ‘e’ is a service delivery channel, it is understating it to some extent. E-government can be a useful tool, facilitating all potential channels whether they be face-to-face or telephone, however this only works if the need for human mediation in the channels is employed and accepted for some applications and some citizens.
When e-government kicked off, targets were established. Unfortunately, there were no baselines or benchmarks to establish whether all this effort and money were making life better for citizens, businesses or public servants. Who asked the citizens or businesses what were their priorities for things that could be done electronically? Who asked at a central government level? Who asked about local government services? Who asked about health? We’re at least thirteen years down the line now, so what do we do?
We need to encourage feedback from the users of all services across all channels! In many cases there are legislative, policy or similar changes required, it’s not all just about throwing up web pages. If things don’t appear to be changeable, then say so – feedback on the feedback!
What about participation etc? Well, get the channels facilitating feedback, get the service providers and politicians accepting feedback (and doing something about it), and things just might change!
A model of what I’d envisaged in my research and developed through it can be found in this Citizen Engagement Exchange Nov 2010(pdf) document- the title emphasises the feedback loops. I also posted a list on my website of applications that might be initially employed for this and the late, little-lamented ‘avoidable contact’ national indicator, although the applications are only developing and the main requirement is cultural change and political will.