Because of their potential contribution to improved public service delivery, the development and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is growing. It is also believed that accessibility will result in the use of ICTS to help improve the legitimacy and transparency of political institutions. This transformation process should be continual and gradual, increasing efficiency of service delivery and, by changing public opinion, inspire trust in both directions.
Thus public feedback would be further developed in a way that increases citizen satisfaction, thus making ICT a potential tool to improve administrative efficiency. Indeed, it has already brought many changes in ways of working with consequencial organizational changes (Gasco, 2003). ICTs have shaped the role and activities of government. Digital processes have resulted in the emergence of a new notion in public administration – e-government.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines e-government as: 'The use of Information and Communication Technologies, and particularly the Internet, as a tool to achieve better government' (OECD Report 2003: 23). This essay will concentrate on e-government as a modernization factor in public services delivery. Brown puts it eloquently: 'knowledge-based government in the knowledge-based economy and society' (Brown, 2005: 242).
However some authors claim that accessibility may be further questioned possibly leading to a 'digital divide' between those with access to technology and those without (Bellamy, 2003). With regard to Bellamy's allegation, Brown adds that e-government is intended to take substantial measures to help marginalized and disadvantaged groups of society through the knowledge economy, use and modification of ICT (ibid). Modification by itself may be understood within the context of solutions to be taken to maximize the benefits of ICT.
Section I: (Potential of ICT to improve public service provision) will identify the extent of the change of services provision through five stages of e-government. It will also highlight the new notions that have appeared in the e-government field such as e-democracy and online voting. Section II: (Impact of ICT and Modernization of Government as a citizen/community oriented government) will consider the impact of ICT on government operations, particularly how ICT has affected public service delivery and changed public attitudes about its effectiveness.
It will also highlight the institutional changes taking place in e-government and expand on the modernization of government as citizen oriented. Section III: (Difficulties to Tackle and Future Perspectives) will focus on the various difficulties and different barriers that need to be tackled in order to benefit from the potential of technology and innovation to improve services delivery. I Potential of ICT to improve public service provision Slowly but steadily ICTs are pushing society, government and business to create and advance new types of interactions between citizens, politicians and customers.
This part of the essay will try to assess these interactions together with mechanisms of public participation and services delivery within the main stages of e-government. Information: is the simplest form of e-government. Governments display information for citizens and the challenge is to provide accurate, useful, relevant and up to date information (Belanger & Hiller 2006). Information may consist of new regulations, pay dates, holiday information etc, which may be useful for all citizens not merely government / civil-servants.
Two-way communication: is online communication of government with its citizens which becomes increasingly important within the democratic process. Citizens nowadays are getting more and more engaged online in citizen to government, citizen to group and citizen to citizen interaction as well as engagement on all the most important social, economic and political issues (Riley, 2001). As already mentioned ICTs may be accepted as tools to increase efficiency of service delivery. Here it appears to be increased by extensive participation of citizens in the decision-making process.
Some authors speak about the emergence of civil society and participation as important roles in the implementation of ICTs and their further development. For example Australia has taken steps to increase input from civil society with the formation of a Roundtable for Australian Civil Society (RACS, 2003) in order to deliver a statement from Australian Civil Society to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). In this regard Taylor suggests: '[G]overnments can create considerable public value if they are able to reproduce themselves as networks instead of hierarchies' (Taylor, 2004: 117).
Transaction: – individuals interact and conduct transactions with government online. For example the renewing of licenses, paying taxes and fines. Online provision of these services not only reduces costs and improves quality of services provided, but also significantly reduces the waiting lines (Belanger and Hiller 2006). Integration: all government services become integrated offering access to the services of all departments or agencies by linkage via a single portal, resulting in joined-up government with joined-up services, data and networked citizenry (Bellamy, 2003).
By reducing time-consuming face-to-face interactions and integrating online and back-end systems to support customer requests, governments and agencies involved save money and time with the potential for further improvement of online services. Participation: includes provision of voting online, registration online or available services to make comments online. It may also be considered as a variation of the two-way communication stage. However its importance in the emergence of e-democracy and e-voting as pervasive themes in the field of electronic services delivery, necessitates viewing it separately.
The most notable example for e-voting is the 2000 U. S. presidential primary. However, other countries such as Sweden and Brazil have also run online voting experiments (Mechling, 2002). Indeed, ICTs enable the removal of obstacles to accessing information and enables citizens to actively take part in public matters. For example since 1997 the British government established systematic arrangements for public consultations requesting all departments to comply with this e-consultation toolkit. MPs were also encouraged to be involved in online forums and to develop e-mail links.
The democratic applications of ICTs are remarkable with encouraging signs of e-democracy being given significant attention by its inclusion in policy agendas (Bellamy, 2003). To achieve further increases of efficiency and re-engagement of citizens with governmental and democratic processes, e-government needs 'central direction and high-level organizational and political support (Smith, 2004: 125). However, citizen satisfaction demands flexibility, integration and ease of access to services.
As Moore puts it eloquently, 'public officials should be 'explorers commissioned by society to search for public value (Moore 1995:299). So there should be a balance between strong leadership and management whilst meeting public demands for more open policy making. Fountain suggests that the idea of e-government initiatives is not to eliminate bureaucracy but to readjust it: '[I]ntegrating initiatives so that citizens notice a positive difference is an iterative and complex process' (Fountain, 2001: 103).
Some have negative perceptions of the reliability ICTs and may claim that ICTs can bring further dependency. However, Smith makes a good point suggesting that e-government initiatives aim to encourage citizens and electronic interactions have a recognised potential to 'cut through bureaucratic obstacles to holistic government, aiming to use technology rather than be driven by it' (Smith, 2004: 130). There is an assumption that beyond stage two, the emphasis is no longer on technology but on 'organisational processes structures, culture and the socio-political environment…
' (Pearce, 2004: 142). Significantly, as long as the overall use and access to ICTs extends, the challenge to manage ICTs push governments further into the tasks of general management. This general management leads to the emergence of modernised citizen oriented government. Furthermore Benjamin and Levinson claim that: '[N]ew technology is not enough to increase productivity. Organisational and process changes must also be made' (Benjamin and Levinson, 1993: 23). The importance of government and management improvement for better service delivery and democratic processes will be reviewed next.