Wondering why it sometimes seems so blankety-blank hard to get anything done these days? Everybody will have their own take on it, to be sure, but for a lot of folks calling shots in the public sector, it’s often about: theory, practice, and the gap therein.
There are a couple of terrific think pieces floating around the World Wild Web these days that nicely set out the challenges of governance in the digital age. They both come courtesy of highly reputable technology firms – IBM and Cisco, respectively – and they both identify assorted components basic to high-level strategic thinking in e-management terms.
IBM identifies six drivers of e-government between now and 2020. By and large, they’re neither new nor, we’re constantly told by specialists in each, impossible:
1. Changing demographics
2. Accelerating globalization
3. Rising environmental concerns
4. Evolving societal relationships
5. Growing threats to social stability and order
6. Expanding impact of technology.
“These nearly universal drivers,” writes IBM, “will require ‘perpetual collaboration’ that starts with intensified, multi-directional communications, and shared operational and technical standards. Beyond those core essentials, effective strategies also hinge on government commitments to facilitate efforts involving multiple agencies (within and across borders), and improve partnering with transnational organizations.”
It’s inspiring stuff (easily located at http://www.ibm.com/us/; drill down to perpetual collaboration).
So is a set of seven principles of Government 2.0 generated by Cisco (at www.connectedrepublic.org), to kickstart another discussion on the next steps in the evolution of e-government. Those seven principles, set out in good wiki style, include:
1. A less hierarchical public sector
2. A collaborative, joined-up public sector
3. A “public purpose” sector
4. Empowered citizens
5. A feedback-driven public sector
6. Open and transparent government
7. Facilitative government.
None of this is necessarily easy for the public sector; both papers raise touchy issues, like public-private partnership, for example, or silo-smashing consultation. Equally, however, for imaginative managers with a yen for the Next Big Thing, it amounts to a kind of checklist to keep everyone on course in the new age.
And of course this kind of big-picture thinking is everywhere these days. Jonathan Zittrain is out there with his mournful eulogy on the “generative Internet.” Lawrence Lessig is still poking at cyberlaw, and Don Tapscott is still sketching cyberlife in both business and government. And every other management journal you pick up these days seems to have something to say about digital governance somewhere.
But that’s the big picture. There’s a little picture too, and it can drive you crazy. For example: If e-government is to fulfil its promise, from what’s been dubbed simple i-government to the community-minded web 2.0 tools that have been surfacing everywhere, Canadians will need the right tools. And those tools include the so-called (by eMarketer Daily) triple play of voice, video and Internet access that comes via today’s broadband technologies.
That shouldn’t be a problem, to be sure. Statistics Canada says 88 percent of people who accessed the Internet at home in Canada in 2007 did so with a high-speed connection, up from 80 percent two years earlier. But these issues are also competitive, and the fact is that Canada has been slipping on the world broadband stage. Second only to South Korea among OECD countries as recently as six years ago, it is now 10th, with 26.6 broadband subscribers per 100 people. (Denmark leads, at 35.1 subscribers per 100).
Beyond which: There are indications, in the U.S. at least, of an upper limit to the acceptance of broadband technology in the first place. The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently found not only that the percentage of low-income Americans with broadband connections has dropped, to 25 percent in April from 28 percent a year earlier – but that two-thirds of those with slower dial-up connections said they weren’t interested in switching to broadband. In fact, fully one-fifth said nothing would make them change.
Against those kinds of considerations, though, lies another factoid highly pertinent to those who would decide on What Is To Be Done, e-government-wise: broadband-based or not, Canadians still love their Internet. Personal Internet use in this country grew by five percentage points from 2005 to 2007, according to Statistics Canada.
That’s what you call a window of opportunity, one better dealt with before it closes – in terms of broadband, among other things.