By: Raquisha Givens, Hussain Punjani, Andrew Schwegler, Savannah Viar
It has been overwhelming stated that our world is becoming smaller with the use of technology. With the click of a mouse, we can connect to people on the other side of the world. Technology has allowed the Earth community as a whole to become intertwined in ways that could never have been imagined a mere twenty years ago. With these ever-increasing connections amongst people, governments throughout the world have taken note and have begun to use these connections in order to increase government interactivity amongst its citizens. This process is known as e-governance.
A true scholarly definition of e-governance is “E-Governance comprises the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support public services, government administration, democratic processes, and relationships among citizens, civil society, the private sector and the state.” (Dawes, 2008) With that definition, it is easy to identify what exactly e-governance is however in this paper we will discuss not only what e-governance is, but also how e-governance is used in daily government activities and the what the future of e-governance holds.
Before we begin to talk about e-governance and how governments use it now, let’s talk about the differences between e-governance and e-government. The difference is not all that complicated but it is something that must be identified for one to accurately understand government and its use of information and communication technologies (ITCs). E-governance is the broader concept of the two and refers to all government activity that takes places in a virtual landscape. E-government however only specifically refers to the use of the Internet with government technologies.
Communication Changes that have led to E-Governance
During the 1960s television was a new medium with great potential. Researchers believed that television was able to “contribute to a more informed, inclusive, nonpartisan democracy.” (Gurevitch et al. 2009). Television was able to reach a broad audience and inform those who otherwise would have limited access to information including political news. Studies showed that through exposure to political broadcast voters acquired significant information about issues and proposals (Trenaman and McQuail 1961). This led to the formation of a long-standing relationship between the television and politics. In the beginning, politicians would provide the information and the media would package and present it to the people. Over time many reporters and editors were becoming more dubious of the information they were receiving and began to take a more investigative approach to gathering and delivering the news. Once the media became more analytical of political news politicians began to hire professionals to help fashion their messages and image to the public. This led to a shift in the focus of political news from the issues and policy proposals to the personalities and behaviors of the politicians.
About a decade after the introduction of television a new medium emerged known as the internet. The internet vastly captured audiences from various backgrounds and has since caused a decrease in television viewers and newspaper readers. In 2008, one study showed that the number of people who cited the internet as their main source of campaign news has increased by twenty-three percent since 2004 (Pew 2008). Citizens were no longer a passive audience, they were given an active voice to not only respond to the news they were given but to create mass public messages as well. Politicians adjusted to this new form of communication by using the internet to their advantage in conveying their message to a larger, more active, and engaged audience.
E-Governance as an Instant Feedback Mechanism
Government data is more widely available now than it ever has been before. From initiatives within the Obama administration to the now ever more common leaks, transparency is at an all-time high. This idea is widely referred to as “open government” and covers the increasing availability of government data as well as government participation and collaboration with citizens and non-profits (Chun 2010).
This two-way dialogue that has been elevated by the advent of newer, social web technologies engages and empowers citizens. Simply looking at an archived event hashtag (a tag used to organize events on Twitter by linking them together in a search query) on Twitter like #HOFDebate, which was used for the 2012 presidential debate at Hofstra University you can see that collective engagement was incredibly high. Anytime a candidate would make any claim, the collective user base would come right back with a refutation and provide their own facts.
Though, the sentiments and fact-checking aren’t just being broadcast out into the ether. The Obama administration uses a web application created by Gina Trapani (“Introduction”). to track and create reports based on how public sentiments project themselves on to social services like Twitter and Facebook (Wilkinson 2010) This application allows them an “easy ways to survey constituents, analyze and share response sets as well as track and archive conversations” (“Introduction”). Basically, this boils down to powerful analytics on what people think in aggregate instead of the more traditional way of handling interactions one at a time. Governments can even use such a tool to track sentiment geographically and see how legislation and programs are being received on a state-by-state or district-by-district level.
E-Governance from Constituents
The growth and spread of technology have been vital for the empowerment of citizens around the world. The advancement and widespread availability of media devices have allowed constituents to make a difference and allowed them to voice their own opinions. Socio-economic barriers that were previously present, such as uncertainty, lack of time, lack of support and fewer resources have now dissipated through the medium of technology and its widespread use. (Butler, 2002)
Furthermore, this reformation has allowed citizens to come together and build influential networks as seen with Anonymous. Anonymous is known to be a group of hackers and social activists that have made major change through releasing sensitive information and hacking into systems. This legal form of protesting without a true identity has also made it hard for the government to suppress it because of the anonymous nature of the protest. Anonymous was the catalyst in the reopening of a Maryville rape case, where anonymous was able to initiate large-scale attention which led an independent investigation (Carroll, 2013). This example reveals that these activists were acting as governance in their own ways to bring about reform and change. Additionally, Anonymous also aided them in the Egyptian revolution, as they were able to help dissidents access government blocked websites. Through the medium of cell phones and social media, the protestors were able to increase support of the uprising and make it a public protest for the world to see. (Brisson, 2011) This technology helped fragmented citizens come together and create a strong activist political union that was influential and was able to overthrow their oppressive ruler. These examples reveal how technology served as an aid to help bring reform and justice to individuals who were previously suppressed by the government.
Unlike what the government was able to do in the past, currently, the government is not able to suppress information due to even single individuals who can make a major impression and difference through their acts. This ideology that a single individual has the power to make an impact is seen with Julian Assange and his organization called WikiLeaks. Assange released confidential information about the US government and the Pentagon Papers. Another key player was a part-time contractor for the NSA, Edward Snowden. Snowden was able to release controversial information about the NSA, the Prism Program, the British GCHQ and Israel’s ISNU Organizations. The release of this information enraged the public and led to revolts and protest from the citizens. However, these examples were strong displays of how single individuals can leak information through the use of technology and media regardless of government information suppression.
E-Governance from Governments
Technology has broken the barrier between constituent and representative, as this profound technology has empowered citizens in the political process. This has allowed constituents to engage in direct communications, altering from recipients of the system to participants in the governance process. Communication and political dialect are transforming to become two-way conversations, as more citizens are able to have access to their representatives. This new technology has allowed the representatives to become more available and accountable to their constituents. This has been seen with the Democracy Project in Denmark, which created an online portal where citizens could learn about their government, engage in open debate and directly ask questions to their representatives. This program served as a catalyst and engaged the public as there were record amounts of voting for that period. (Unesco, 2005)
Furthermore, as overall education levels have risen and citizens have become more educated, this has led to more criticism about the Government. The increase in the citizen’s education levels has led to calls for better transparency and increased accountability. E-governance tries to accomplish these goals by increasing information through various technology sectors. By increasing the diffusion of information through many mediums, allows for increased transparency and accountability. Mexico has taken an active role in fighting against corruption by implementing Compranet. This program is an electronic system that keeps account of all federal government procurement services, such as hiring contractors, purchasing units, and supplies (Estrada, 2002). This allows the Mexican citizens to check on their government’s purchase’s effectively cutting down corruption while instilling government trust in the Mexican Public.
With an exponentially increasing population, the demand for government services has greatly risen. E-governance tries to address this demand this by cutting down excess programs, which fundamentally sends the citizen to the direct service. This improvement of government services allows for better choices, faster delivery of services and an efficient and effective system. This is seen as select markets are adopting for citizens to text emergency services, this allows for ease of access, which is good for the consumer. (FCC, 2013) Furthermore, this increases efficiency and performance, which in turn can be beneficial for the government.
As governments grow and adapt to changes, they must change with the current time. These governments are transforming for a technologically driven future of governance and must change accordingly. However, the implementation of this process must be taken in short term and long-term objectives. Forcing the direct conversion would be a hassle and difficult for the citizen and the government, but by taking short-term objectives, the government is able to test certain variable and factors, while the citizen can ease into the transformation. This example can be seen the Affordable Care Act and its countrywide implementation. Because the transition was not well planned, the long-term goal failed to be accomplished because the implementation process was not done in small increments, allowing for citizens to adjust and for the process to be implemented.
Problems with E-Governance
While e-governance might be widely embraced as a great way go about increasing “cost efficiencies and improving service delivery” (Dadashzadeh 2010), there are serious issues with both the delivery methods for e-governance and its implementation. Additionally, how such a large government develops such large online programs is in direct opposition to the standard approach to development taken in most industries.
Broadband internet is currently in approximately 70% of American households. Furthermore, reliable broadband isn’t even available in much of the country. This leaves much of the country out in the cold as government services are moving in droves to the lower-margin venues found on the internet.
Even if broadband was everywhere, implementing functional web applications on a universal level is difficult. Private industry leaders like Apple have enough problems with keeping their relatively simple sites and services online when they release a highly sought after product (Zibreg 2013). It is no wonder that an application which a majority of Americans are required to visit would go down.
These issues, highlighted by the rollout of healthcare.gov, have to do with implementation at such a large scale. Governments have a built-in user base of all their citizens who need to enroll in new online social programs such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or the UK’s Universal Credit program. As such, the programs deal with much wider rollouts than private web applications.
The Affordable Care Act relies heavily on web services in its implementation. The cornerstone of this can be seen at the program’s national online healthcare exchange. This exchange, found at Healthcare.gov, was launched on 1 October 2013. From the outset, it was maligned by technology issues and attacked viciously by its opponents. The problems with the exchange, however, are very real and very commonplace in the realm of e-governance. Healthcare.gov was not afforded the luxury of being able to go through phased development. Instead, the online exchange was engineered to be able to handle an immense load in theory—something that was impossible to sufficiently test in the closed-off world of government development.
The flipside of this can be seen when the Obama administration took over whitehouse.gov, they added many new features and replaced the old content management system with the open-source Drupal project (Scola 2009) While the website was much simpler than healthcare.gov, it was also designed in a much different way. They took proven technology and design techniques which they modified to make more interactive. Then, in a bold move, they released the new code back to the community to critique and examine (Jredding 2012).
The revamped Whitehouse.gov was also handled by an industry leader in web development on the Drupal platform who produced the site without much interference. Similar things can’t be said about Healthcare.gov design because it was handled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS was not required to solicit bids from industry leaders like the Whitehouse.gov project was. Instead, they brought on a chosen collection of sub-contractors (Auerbach 2013). This is often referred to as “designing by committee” as the various contractors are all developing their pieces of the application separately and relying on multiple rounds of bureaucratic feedback in order to get it working properly. In total, there were 47 different companies working on the project (Sullivan 2013).
Because of its short lifetime, e-governance has only begun to scratch the surface on what the government is capable of using information and communication technologies. However, the future is bright for this new and upcoming form of government. For example, in Pakistan, it is custom that once a voter casts their ballot for them to receive a text message confirming their vote. This is a new form of technology to assure voters that their vote has been counted and is the stepping-stone to the idea of texting in your vote, which saves time and other valuable resources. Other forms of e-governance that are e-taxes which takes the process of doing taxes to a completely online or computer-driven service and e-procurement which cuts out of the middleman on large government purchases because it allows them to communicate directly with the businesses that they are working with. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this new form of government is its use as a fact checker and how it allows for a more transparent government system that is there to serve its citizens.
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