Tuesday, November 23, 2004

E Governance

MelbournePhilosopher

This post is just to provide an introduction to e-governance to the few of you who may be interested. e-governance refers to both publishing government documents to the web, and allowing feedback via the web. While this is to some extent done already, and entirely possible under todays technical infrastructure, the government is as usual a cautious adopter.

There is an overview page on MelbournePhilosophy.com - http://melbournephilosophy.com:8080/jspwiki/Wiki.jsp?page=AustralianEGovernance. This has a few links to some current inquiries and e-governance portals.

Geeks for many years have heavily promoted e-governance as something that could fundamentally change the nature of government. It would potentially allow the return of more power to the people, returning to a more linguistically correct meaning of the word "democracy". I believe this assumes an unrealistic level of interest in government, but it is true that for the first time ever, this is technically feasible.

What e-governance could probably enable here and now rather than in some arbitrarily restructured form of government is greater interaction with small community groups. It is being more strongly adopted in local councils rather than parliamentary government, which is just fine. It has been a long-standing philo-political motto that a problem should always be solved as closely as possible to the source - i.e. one shouldn't go to John Howard with a plan for a speed bump. It's more effective to enable local councils to deal with local issues. e-governance has the potential to make local councils more agile in understanding community issues, and allowing better interaction with the community.

Underlying all of this is the untested assumption that people will be able to use computers more easily than interacting via traditional means. I think in the long run this is probably true, but in the short run probably false. This is one of the great and recurring barriers to technology adoption everywhere. It's a lot of work to set up, then it gets underused by the very people for whom it is being enabled. Initially, technology seems to most people to be scary and weird. However it is also the best way forward.

It seems to me that the greatest barrier to e-governance is not technical at all, but social.

-MP

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