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Is web-based interaction reshaping the organizational dynamics of public administration?: A comparative empirical study on eGovernment.

Batlle, Albert and Waksberg, Ana and Aibar, Eduard (2009) Is web-based interaction reshaping the organizational dynamics of public administration?: A comparative empirical study on eGovernment. In: Proceedings of the WebSci'09: Society On-Line, 18-20 March 2009, Athens, Greece.

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EGovernment is often broadly defined as encompassing all uses of ICT within public administrations and government agencies and units. Some of these uses have more recently been considered triggers of important transformations in the way governments carry on their activities: particularly those uses involving the Internet and the so-called web 2.0 resources. These can be seen as providing new windows of interaction that foster communication and exchange of data with other social agents (citizens, firms, other institutions, etc.) and, within a single administration, among its different units, departments, or agencies. Since eGovernment has also been linked, at least in the prospective literature, to important changes in the inner workings and organisation of governments - in fact since the middle of the 90s it has been repeatedly seen as an ideal vehicle to overcome some of the long-standing traditional problems of public bureaucracies – we want to explore the relationship between these new governmental uses of the web for improving interaction and some of its traditional organisational features. Since we want to avoid some of the pitfalls of present approaches, we begin our paper by discussing some problematic features of current research on eGovernment – which might also be useful for other areas of Web Science. Although a very rapid growth of the literature analysing eGovernment is apparent in the last decade, current research on eGovernment is considerably heterogeneous and shows very variable standards of methodological rigour, empirical foundations and analytical orientation. Some general trends can be identified though. Interdisciplinarity is rare and most works take a single disciplinary approach, whether in public administration, political science, organisation theory, computer science – when dealing with interoperability issues –, or management. There is also a clear tendency towards speculating about potential benefits, and taking thus a quasi futuristic stand, implicitly avoiding critical examination of present achievements through empirical studies. At most, some analyses focus on ‘best practices’ but tend to disregard contextual variables, making generalisation or comparisons very difficult. In fact, most empirical studies have mainly dealt with on-line features of governmental sites – taking some simple indicators, such as the number of available on-line services as proxies for eGovernment progression. Few of them take into account the more important issue of the relationship between on-line and off-line features; web pages are mostly taken as perfect mirrors of their home institutions. The focus on on-line elements has also contributed to an overemphasis on the supply side of eGovernment; the analysis of demand, actual uses or users has only recently been undertaken by some studies. There is a surprising lack of theoretical basis in many works. Although eGovernment deals indeed with government, many studies do not make any use of political theory in order to better understand the political context in which eGovernment takes place. For instance, the question whether some of the alleged potential benefits of eGovernment (in terms of cost efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, availability, responsiveness, participation…) will restore citizens’ trust in government needs to be addressed using some theoretical tools that actually go beyond current eGovernment approaches. Finally, most analyses take a very simplistic view of the relationship between technological innovation and social or organisational change, falling into the old trap of technological determinism. Organizational change is thus considered a mere consequence of the use of technology, following a quasi mechanistic and linear causal model. Therefore, we have embarked on empirical research that seeks to understand the above mentioned relationship: the links between the new windows of interaction between governments and citizens that have emerged with the intensive use of ICTs (such as email, online forms, forums, chats, call centres, etc) and the organisational structure and informal dynamics (information flows) of public administrations, and how this in turn is reflected into the delivery of public services. Our research will specifically focus on the destiny of the increasingly vast amount of aggregate information, produced by these interactions, about citizens' preferences and behaviour regarding public services - in other words, the citizens' explicit voicing about services, such as opinions, complaints and suggestions, as well as their implicit "messages" which can be observed through the "tracks" left by them while using online or telephone services, such as web logs, key word searches, the portal's presence online, etc. Consequently it becomes extremely relevant in this context to ask whether this class of information is being used by governments with the intention to better serve their constituency, whether it is pressuring them to be more open, horizontal and collaborative, and whether it is shaping and transforming the delivery and quality of public services, through simultaneously reorganising the administration and re-constructing the user. The citizen may in that way be becoming, besides the "final user", the engine of the transformation process, through his or her patterns of online service use and demands. Our work is essentially an empirical effort to answer those questions, but also draws on the literature on e-government and information government, theories on ICTs and organisational change, and the research body on network society and network administration, to aid the analyses of information flows between governments and citizens, and within the administrations, in order to understand the nature of present transformations. It takes as case studies the departments of Health, Education and Citizens' Attention Service of the regional governments of Catalonia, Quebec, and Sao Paulo. Research on the subject may be benefited by thick qualitative methods with a focus on one particular case, but we believe that a comparative study approach, with semi-structured interviews, documental analysis, questionnaires, and statistical analysis, might address the questions raised in this paper in a more effective and significant way. The choice of case studies were based on their similar levels of political and financial autonomy and on their similar offer of services; furthermore, they represent three different styles or models of political administration, public sector culture, and economic and e-government development, which will enrich the comparison and analysis.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords:eGovernment, web-based interaction, organizational change, comparative study
Subjects:Web Science Events > Web Science 2009
ID Code:160
Deposited By: W S T Administrator
Deposited On:24 Jan 2009 08:45
Last Modified:25 Oct 2011 16:37

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