Leadership counts

Government has many vital roles, including ensuring stability, peace, equity and justice. In every country, a relationship of trust, accountability and predictability between the public and private sectors is essential. Today's global information society increases the potential and importance of such relationships.

Government's most important role in an information society is to create an environment that encourages private-sector action, while protecting consumers and citizens. The second essential activity is to transform government operations using the power of information technology to decrease costs and improve service.

As the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development notes, "By making governments more accessible and more accountable, e-government can help to improve citizens' trust in those that govern them."

Understanding of these notions is spreading. One innovative example discussed in a recent survey of 53 emerging economies conducted by McConnell International LLC comes from Estonia, which pioneered a network-based document system in August 2000. After a decision that all cabinet meetings would be conducted online as well as in person, senior government officials were provided with laptops to prepare digital materials for the paperless meetings.

Under this system, agendas are updated during meetings, documents are linked to further sources of information and ministers can consult with other ministry officials, all via the Internet. Efforts such as these familiarize government officials with the advantages of IT. Without a hands-on approach to IT at senior levels of government, policy-makers will neither understand what the technology can do nor appreciate the kind of light-handed regulation that its volatility demands.

Government action to create an information society is often aided by the collaborative efforts of public/private committees. In some cases, support for the creation of such committees comes from the highest levels. Latvia's National Board on Information Society, for example, which includes educational, scientific and business experts, is currently managed by Latvia's prime minister.

In Tanzania, a nonprofit, public/private partnership, eThinkTank, was formed in the absence of government IT leadership. While one private-sector company organized the first meeting of eThinkTank, all of the public and private partners that now participate in the group own it. This model worked, and in less than one year, eThinkTank has received recognition, legitimacy, funding and support from its national government, international governmental organizations and international nonprofit organizations.

The need for e-government leadership will continue to grow as competition among countries intensifies, as will the need for environments and officials that welcome creative public/private partnerships.

McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget, is president of McConnell International LLC (www.mcconnellinternational.com).

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