Defining e-government

Do you think about your refrigerator and consider it "technology"? Of course

not. Maybe our grandparents did, but we don't. Today, when the Net Generation

thinks about the Internet, it doesn't consider it "technology." Baby Boomers

do, but to the N-Gen, it's just a way of life.

Don Tapscott illuminates those differences in his 1999 book Growing

Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. The Internet is indeed turning

conventional wisdom on its head.

Think about it. Alternative suppliers are just a click away, so businesses

are obsessed with building strong customer relationships. Similarly, the

N-Gen has grown up knowing that they can't trust the authenticity of information.

As a result, they check sources on everything. The days of relying on the

broadcast media is over — at least for those entering the work force now.

To them, all sources are suspect until corroborated and analyzed, including

information provided by the government.

What happens to democracy in all of this? This largest-ever generation

is not going to make important decisions based on image or 30-second ads.

They are not comfortable being passive recipients of mass-media broadcasts.

They have become accustomed to continuous debate while constantly questioning

basic assumptions. They don't have any patience with hiding or obscuring

the information needed to determine truth.

But isn't this actually a huge boost for democracy? An informed electorate

is in the best interests of our society. We must be careful, though, not

to frustrate these new voters. They will participate actively in American

governance, but only if they can do so in a way that fits their around-the-clock,

multitasking, truth-seeking approach.

For those reasons, we should look to the Net Generation to help us define

"electronic government." A dot-com mentality is necessary as we experiment

with how emerging technologies can play a positive role in our governance

structures. We should expect that interim and eventual stages will be different

from the structure that is in place today.

What should we do to prepare?

* Develop a business model that will support a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week

operating capability, institutionalize the knowledge of the existing work

force and make room for ideas that are second nature to this emerging generation.

* Celebrate innovation. Establish a "Giraffe Award" — following the

example of Thurman Davis, the deputy administrator at the General Services

Administration — to recognize people who "stick their necks out." Let's

recognize agencies, programs and civil servants who try something new, even

if it fails.

* Create a union/management task force that includes members of the

N-Gen to identify how we can start to make the government more effective

and the work performed by civil servants more relevant to society today

and in the years ahead.

Getting ahead of this monumental generation shift will ensure that our

democratic system remains strong and that our government truly operates

in the service of the people.

—Piatt is the chief information officer at the General Services Administration.


Other columns by Bill Piatt

"Internet, interagency"[Federal Computer Week, April 17, 2000]

"Citizens @" [Federal Computer Week, March 6, 2000]

"Embrace the new economy" [Federal Computer Week, Jan. 24, 2000]

BY Bill Piatt
May 08, 2000

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