Service Delivery and Citizen Engagement

There was a very good paper published recently at Online Opinion by Martin Stewart-Weekes from Cisco about improving citizen engagement.  With my previous work history at NOIE and DCITA researching the use of information and communications technologies for e-business and e-government, I found the article engaging and insightful. 

He talks about three insights from the history of e-government:

  • The challenge for success is not technical, but cultural and organisational;
  • That it only really becomes compelling when it becomes invisible;
  • That the past focus has been on lifting the reach of service delivery rather than deepening the relationship with the citizenry.

Martin notes that the recent development of Web 2.0 technologies offers the potential for greater openness and collaboration in policy making and for more effective electronic engagement (and he references a new book by Peter Chen who I know from old CIRCIT days and early work on electronic democracy).  Martin further adds that these new technologies could transform the way that we are governed and concludes with the point that as with many disruptions, the future is unclear and is yet to emerge. 

The history of disruptive technologies is that the incumbents who stand to lose out tend to hold on for as long as possible until a tipping point is reached.  Web 2.0 technology has not reached that stage as yet but the prevalent use of social computing by youth and its increasing use in the business sector demonstrates that this tipping point is coming.  The introduction of these technologies will be messy and involve failures as well as some successes.  Early endeavours are likely to dip in to the co-production environment but not fully embrace it or as Peter Chen states, ‘Web 2.0 is – theoretically – about citizen empowerment, co-production and devolution, but [current] “government blogs” sounds a lot like e-democracy 1.0: a top down model of supply with “if we build it, they will come”.’ 

While the use in Australia of Web 2.0 for engagement in policy development or in political interaction is nascent, the article provides a link through to a New Zealand Network of Public Sector Communicators who are providing some interesting perspectives on the use of Web 2.0 technologies in Government.  For an Australian perspective, AGIMO earlier this year released a set of 8 principles for ICT-enabled citizen engagement.

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