Making the link

E-Government for Better Government
OECD Observer

Can technology bring better government? Anyone who has filled a tax return online would probably answer yes. But is that enough? The answer is, probably not. A new report, E-Government for Better Government, the second phase of an OECD project launched in 2001, suggests that while in principle, e-government instruments can improve efficiency, increase citizen awareness and help promote new initiatives, it is not enough just to open a website. The basic key challenges remain the same in the real world as in the virtual one: how to be more agile, responsive and accountable.

Information technology offers an array of tools for e-government, but the report finds that government websites are too often driven by IT solutions and technical imperatives, not to mention political visibility, rather than user needs. True, filing tax returns has been a plus, but depending on the country, citizens looking for other information, for instance, how to apply for a passport or simply understanding the implications of a healthcare reform, can be led through a confusing “web” of portals, pages and links that take time to read. What to do with information once retrieved, who to contact, and waiting for a reply can be a headache.

One reason for this muddle is that responsibility for government websites is too often designated to different people: some countries have a department for information technology, others run it through the ministry of finance, or public administration, or through a special board. Few offer a single channel or blueprint that everyone follows. Should they try?

Not necessarily. As the report points out, e-government reflects the eclectic nature of IT, and while delivering every service through one seamless delivery channel might sound tidy to suppliers, users might want custom-made delivery. Improvements may be needed; as the report notes, e-government should not be confused with e-democracy. But governments may think of other solutions, such as putting their services online in “networked” ways that grab attention and take advantage of the Internet. For instance, they could link to other sites, even blogs, that contain links on finding work placements or training programmes, or how to apply for residency papers, etc. In short, better use of networks is smart e-government.

ISBN: 9264018336. See the New Publications pages or for ordering details.

©OECD Observer No 252/253, November 2005

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