e-gov ain’t that bad

A post “E-government: A solution without a problem?” by Suw on the Headshift site paints an unnecessarily black picture of e-government spending in the UK. Tom Raggett fights back against much of the post with some excellent comments.

For example Tom states that the local e-government budget for five years was £675m for 388 councils, which sounds rather reasonable considering all that it is achieving including putting a huge number of services online.

Suw at Headshift states:

E-government is an excellent example of how the well considered application of social tools would help matters no end. Instead of a locked down, controlled website such as E-Citizen, they should implement a public consultation website with an open blog that allows users to quickly and easily leave comments.

I’m not really clear why it’s perceived that e-gov doesn’t use social tools (such as groupware or email). But complaining that the E-Citizen site is password protected misses the point somewhat – the site is for practictioners working on the project, it’s not a site for the general public. In other words the site is those social tools they’re after.

As for a public consultation website with a blog. In theory yes, but managing a blog for such a project (considering the potential number of comments it might generate) is going to be problematic. In fact blog comment systems are very limited and not all that great for large quantities of discussion. If we want policy makers to heed electronic comments we need to develop specific processes and software to facilitate the funneling of opinion groups into some sort of discourse.

Of course Louise Ferguson has a point, a massive number of people aren’t that interested in interacting with their government through the Internet. But this is now, as our society continues to develop and younger generations ‘come of age’ the proportion of citizen comfortable with e-government will only grow. It’s important that we start work on these facilities now, and there’s still a minority using them already. However this work should not detract from providing key services to those who most need them.

Finally, as the Headshift post mentions, we do need to keep a close watch on where IT vendors may be trying to lead the government as there have been enough flops already. But this problem is more one of ensuring that there are enough competent buyers of IT in government as opposed to ensuring the competence of the sellers.

All of this debate was catalysed by a rather harsh article by Simon Caulkin in the Observer titled “E-Binge will cost use dear”. He makes some fair points about targets being overemphasised leading to people forgetting underlying intentions. But e-government is a slow process, it’s supposed to be helping to catalyse deeper changes in how services are conceived and delivered. It’s not going to be quick at all, and mistakes will be made. Patience, e-gov will come through in the end!

What’s really rude about the article is, as Tom Raggett noted, Caulkin promotes a Kable report and uses figures from it without once mentioning that Caulkin wrote the report himself. Not good. Self promotion is part of the business, but so is a decent amount of disclosure, why Mr Caulkin didn’t say “In research I did for Kable I found that…” I don’t know. People ‘forgetting’ to disclose interests is a hot button for me. But I’ll save that for another post!

Comments from the previous version of this blog

Added some responses to your points in the comments

See http://www.headshift.com/archives/002064.cfm for some responses to your points
19:49:01 GMT 31-08-2004 Lee Bryant

Jason – I know this was some time ago. But as I pointed out also to Tom Raggett, Simon Caulkin did a much longer Observer piece the week before in which he made it quite clear he’d worked on Kable’s “What do they mean by yes” report about Gershon (which is probably why all this stuff was no his mind). There’s only so many times one can get a mention…
Anyway, his second piece quoted a lot of other Kable research about spend on government IT, which is quite seperate, and he had no involvement in.
I should keep his good name clear, given that stuff hangs around in cyberspace for ever. if you still have a problem with this please contact me – W
17:44:59 GMT 07-12-2004 William Heath

Clearing good names

William – Thank you for the clarification about Simon’s disclosure in his earlier article.
I would certainly prefer people erring on the side of caution by disclosing when in doubt. However let’s give him the benefit of the doubt 🙂
10:11:43 GMT 07-03-2005 Jason Kitcat