McDonough: Ideas too good to sit on

An international conference on government provided ideas for changing the status quo

I have spent many years observing how governments worldwide handle administrative problems, knowing that their experiences offer lessons for others. October was an opportunity for gathering more lessons when representatives of 22 countries met for the 41st annual International Council for Information Technology in Government Administration conference in Malahide, Ireland. I’ll share as many of those lessons as I can.

One interesting observation concerns transformation.

IT can transform the delivery of government services, but it has a limited effect on transforming government as an institution in any fundamental way.

Changing demographics and other factors have a greater effect. Transformation — when it occurs — happens incrementally.

Change comes through small breakthroughs, often far apart in time, instead of through grand design and big bang events.

Another observation that had conference goers buzzing had to do with chief information officers and how many CIOs’ aspirations are unfulfilled. Many seemed to feel that managing shared services, infrastructure and technology could be handled by lower-level managers. The CIO position needs to morph into something else. The possibilities include cross-jurisdictional management officer, chief transformation officer, chief business intelligence officer or a combination CIO/chief financial officer position. Take your pick.

Social networking also was a popular topic in discussions of government transformation.

Some governments already are using social-networking tools, including blogs, Really Simple Syndication, podcasts, text messaging, video and photo sharing, and wikis. Governments have not gravitated to Second Life, FrontPage and MySpace to any great extent. However, the Canadian police have begun using Second Life as a recruiting tool. And some government organizations said they planned to use Facebook to create an inventory of employee skills and competencies. Others will use Google Maps to market government services.

Social networking caused less concern to some conference goers than providing a single online location where citizens could gain access to all government services. Japanese officials reported that their government is setting up electronic post office boxes for all residents as the delivery point for government services. Australia already has a similar e-delivery system.

The conference offered another useful tidbit about assessing e-government readiness. The United Nations has developed a questionnaire for that purpose.

The high-level metrics it uses to make that assessment include penetration of technologies, legal enablers and constraints, and consumer and business adoption rates. The UN also assesses government policies, vision and leadership; the political, social and economic cultures; and telecommunications infrastructure and pricing.

The conference was a great venue for collecting ideas about how other governments worldwide are transforming the way they perform public service.

McDonough led GSA’s then-Office of Information Technology Policy. He has been a leader in watching how governments worldwide use IT. He can be reached at  


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