Government clients lament the bureaucracy’s slow-moving systems so often that it has become tripe. What stops cities, counties, and the federal government from keeping up with the times in a way that corporate companies seem to find the means to do? Keep reading to learn more about the barriers that may be affecting the government’s technological shift, then dive into the potential routes that some governments have explored, such as e-government, digital government, and government services 2.0.
Government 2.0 is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0—to better solve collective problems at a city, national, and international level. E-government is swapping out inefficient services for digital ones to increase transparency in government. Digital government is a complete integration of technologies to a seamless feedback loop of user experience and government output. This is where government systems are compatible with the ever-changing technological landscape, open data is prioritized, and government services are digitally streamlined to optimize convenience.
In an increasingly globalized and virtual world, it’s important to know how to steer your services in this direction from a government administrator’s perspective, or how to navigate them from the citizen’s perspective.
Reasons Why Governments are Slow to Fully Rely on the Newest Technology
Cost is one barrier that prevents progressive technological advancements in government. Funds from taxes or rates for services typically flow in at a consistent rate. There are rarely large influxes of funds for one-time uses, and if there are, the funds are earmarked for certain projects. The potential for negative optics around what may be viewed as “lavish” technological spending often leads governments to take more of a just-in-time approach. Simply put, digitization of public services often doesn’t make the budgetary cut.
Another reason governments are slow to switch over to the most updated technological systems is private information. This applies in two ways. First, tech systems need to meet a high security standard to be government-approved. Legal restrictions on what types of health and criminal data can be shared, for example, make bureaucrats wary of relying on firewalls that hasn’t been double- and triple-tested for security pitfalls. Second, shifting organizational structures in any way can make tasks more complicated and time-consuming in the short run. For instance, a case manager who takes out time to acquaint themselves with new technology may fall short on addressing an emergency for a citizen in crisis. Additionally, the case manager’s information may be more easily accessed by the public and by different levels of government. While transparency is legally mandated and important to hold officials accountable, it makes government decisions more of a community-wide collaborative decision. This takes away some discretionary power and local autonomy of public servants.
When citizens solicit government services through an electronic hub, or interact with a program administrator via cell phones, they are participating in e-government. Many industrialized countries already employ some level of e-government. Emerging economies are transitioning as well. It is the application of information technologies to government functions and procedures in order to increase efficiency, transparency, and citizen participation. In practice, this looks like using government administrators’ using direct message to transfer clients to those best equipped to answer their question. Or it could look like a constituent virtually tuning into a local representative’s town hall via Zoom.
Government agencies’ transitions to online websites and tools can be helpful. However, when done in silos, it can be difficult for users to navigate through unfamiliar tools. A coordinated approach that not only relies on tools, but also weaves digital compatibility into the fabric of government, creates a digital government.
Digital government is a more developed version of e-government. Not only does a digital government utilize electronic platforms and information technologies, but it fully integrates those tools into the user experience. The OEDC views digital government as “the use of digital technologies as an integrated part of governments’ modernization strategies, to create public value.”
In the United States, the Obama White House pursued digital government as a way to center open data. Publishing real-time data is a way for citizens to be more involved in the political process and to hold governments accountable to their promises. Digital government paves the way for government to contribute to technological innovation. The Obama Administration aimed to use digital government to “enable the American people and an increasingly mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.”
Government Services 2.0
Today’s internet is categorized by social media, constant information sharing and interconnectedness among users, and user-created content such as YouTube videos and memes. The way people use the internet in the 21st century is referred to as “Web 2.0.” There was no particular upgrade that shifted us way from “Web 1.0” to “Web 2.0,” but this categorization allows us to distinguish between a time when people passively consumed internet content to now, when we actively engage with real-time electronic information.
Some local governments provide maps that automatically share information about where the closest food pantry is based on the user’s location. This is an instance of government 2.0; the user is interacting real-time with online information.
Government Services 2.0 is the application of this concept to citizen’s interactions with public officials and political representatives. Constituents consume politicians’ messages from Twitter and make political value judgements accordingly.
What Tools Should Your Government Use?
Online portals are the baseline for governments looking to digitize. In 2020, the United Nations (UN) conducted a study on e-governments around the world and found that of the 100 countries studied, 14 did not offer their constituents online portals. For those countries without a portal, start by mapping what services are offered throughout your jurisdiction and coordinating them in a user-friendly way via a portal.
On the other end of the technological spectrum, the UN report details using artificial intelligence to respond to community needs: “algorithms and AI applications such as machine learning have the potential to help city governments address key challenges associated with huge and fast-growing populations.” Hangzhou’s (China) real-time traffic management system uses artificial intelligence to monitor traffic and direct traffic signals to respond accordingly. The system has helped reduce congestion, road accidents and crime.
If your government has the resources to invest in the middle of these two options, opt for using big data in your operations. São Paulo has a technology-driven garbage collection system. All stakeholders in the waste system must report details of their operations through an electronic form. The system relies of data analytics to “monitor and track all private stakeholders that are part of the urban cleaning system—those disposing of, transporting, handling or recycling solid waste,” according to a UN summary.
Untangling Different Information Technologies in Government
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated our shift to a digitized world since government administrators were unable to talk face-to-face with clients. According to the National Governors Association, only 12 states in the US had significant public-facing performance management systems pre-pandemic, yet by the end of 2020, all 50 states had created COVID-19 dashboards to track public health and emergency response data. Posting a public data dashboard for citizens to interact with real-time government outcomes is digital government. This is the most integrated use of technology into service delivery.
Comparatively, e-government is less intensive. This is when governments use some level of electronic tools. In this form of digitization, government agencies may make case-by-case transitions from in-person interactions to digital ones. Citizen participation and efficiency increases.
Government services 2.0 is a specific kind of technology integration that mirrors “Web 2.0.” This is a broad framework that references the type of interaction that users have with online services. Are they commenting on blog posts? Retweeting legislators’ posts? Hundreds of thousands of people shared tweets, quick messages, and photos. More people saw headlines and politicians’ accounts. But counterintuitively, this did not translate to an increase in voter participation, one study finds. The 2008 election was the first to garner a widespread social media presence. But the Portland State University study found that it can’t be claimed that voter participation increases directly as a result of Gov 2.0. This suggests a more complete shift may be preferable.
The post-2008 White House advocated for a complete shift to digital government through executive orders. The goal was to not only have citizens interact with information technologies but to mold government procedures and practices to digital values of open data, transparency, and efficiency. This leads to public services that match the private sector in its usability and compatibility with advanced technology.
How Information Technology Affects Governments Today
As another example, schools often use electronic government to address school bullying and threats. The app, Safe2Say, is an anonymous youth violence reporting app. Students can submit a report through a tip line that is triaged to the correct authorities. This falls into the e-government realm because it’s a technological tool that allows students to interact with government officials efficiently.
One aspect of digitization to be wary of can be seen in this last example. While touchpoints with citizens increase through the ease of technology, there must be a person on the other end of the online interaction. There must be a response to each tip sent in through a bullying app to avoid adverse consequences.
The opportunity to upgrade your government’s technological system is endless. However, unintended consequences and prices are also boundless, so officials must weigh these options carefully before jumping in. If these unintended consequences are avoided, e-government, digital government, and government services 2.0 can be deciphered and utilized by governments.
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