- By Bruce McConnell
- May 21, 2001
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
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
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
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).