Wednesday, April 02, 2008

eGov 2.0

I attended an interesting World Bank videoconference event yesterday on "Next Generation Organizational Models for e-Government." First I keep marveling at the technology that enables the participation of so many different locations across the world -- I think 13 different locations were connected via videoconferencing for the event. I still remember a few years ago when there were always technical difficulties with some of the sites, especially when such a large number of sites were connected. Whether the technology has evolved or the people have mastered the technology, the last few events I have attended or watched via webcast have been close to flawless. It is now a well-oiled machine with participants completely comfortable with the medium, including simultaneous translation (for Russia) that was so seamless that it took me a while to realize that it wasn't the speaker I was hearing but the translator.

Congratulations to the team putting these events together! It is really a testament to their extensive experience doing it over and over and improving continuously.

Now to the theme of yesterday's event. I really heard two themes. The first one was about the organizational structure needed to support successful e-Government initiatives. It is better to have a centralized body or to decentralize responsibilities for e-Government? If there is a centralized body, how large should it be? What should be its responsibilities? How can countries maintain a certain level of e-Government expertise (capacity) in a decentralized environment? Can a matrix organization model help to address some of the challenges?

The discussion reminded me of a chapter in Richard Heek's "Implementing and Managing eGovernment: An International Text," where he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of centralized vs. decentralized approaches and the evolution towards hybrid models.

In essence, this first theme was a more traditional discussion around how to structure e-Government support organizations within a government structure, including some discussion of the role of the private sector.

The second theme I heard revolved around the potential impact of web 2.0 technology and the emergence of new organizational models potentially leading to eGov 2.0. I used the words "potential" and "potentially" in the sentence above because while the ideas are being discussed, there are very few governments that have taken the lead in applying web 2.0 technologies and business models.

A lot of the discussions around web 2.0 focus on the social networking aspects and how the technologies enhance participation and engagement of the people (especially youth at this point). The potential impact of web 2.0 in terms of participation and engagement with government entities was mentioned but I was more struck by the potential of web 2.0 in terms of the application of new business models, new approaches to revenue generation. A key obstacle to the implementation of e-Government initiatives in many emerging countries has been the lack of funding and the limited base of taxation. In such contexts, innovative revenue generation models are certainly going to be welcome.

Clearly, there is still going to be a huge problem for countries where PCs and the Internet are not widespread yet. Both access to computers and the bandwidth are going to be key. Perhaps we need to start talking about m-Gov 2.0 (next generation mobile government).

For more information about yesterday's event at the World Bank, see the eDevelopment site.

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