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Challenges in E-governance

Monish M. Singh

Information System Policy, MSIS_730L_256_10S

C. W. Fisher, Ph.D.

May 6, 2010
Challenges in E-governance 1

Abstract

Despite number of benefits there exists numerous IS, sociological and ethical issues that act as a

barrier to realizing the full potential of e-governance. From an IS perspective, lack of some

prerequisite infrastructures including high literacy rate and wide availability and accessibility of

computers and internet technology, technical issues such as the use of proprietary or open

standards and usability of the system seem to be the major challenges. Similarly, some

sociological factors that affect the success of e-governance include a proper legal framework and

managing change. Finally from an ethical perspective issues like digital divide and privacy and

security concerns seriously impede the e-governance initiatives.


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Introduction

The emergence of internet and rapid development of processing and storage capabilities

has provided a perfect platform for the use of ICT (Information and communication

technologies) across society and in business operations. E-governance is such “application of

electronic means for the interaction between government and citizens and government and

businesses, as well as in internal government operations to simplify and improve democratic,

government and business aspects of Governance” (Backus, 2001, p. 1).

Marchionini et al. (2003), highlighted access to information, transaction services and

citizen participation as three applications of IT in government services (Marchionini, Samet, &

Brandt, 2003, p. 25). Providing access to information which is the most common e-governance

initiative provides an effective and convenient information platform for the citizens and increases

transparency and accountability on the part of government units. Moreover, online presence

reduces the distribution cost and removes the delay between information production and

distribution (McNeal, Hale, & Dotterweich, 2008, p. 215). Transaction services on the other

hand provides a speedy, transparent, accountable, efficient and effective process for performing

government administration activities that can result in significant cost savings for government

(Backus, 2001, p. 1). Finally, with the wide presence of internet, e-governance initiatives can

increase citizen participation and political engagement across economic, educational, geographic

and cultural boundaries and create a more participatory democracy (McNeal et al., 2008, p. 215).

However, there exists numerous IS, sociological and ethical issues that act as a barrier in

realizing this potential of e-governance to lower the cost of administrative operation and create a

more vibrant democratic and knowledge society. The following sections analyze these

challenges in e-governance implementation.


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ICT Infrastructure

Successful implementation of e-governance requires the pre existence of ICT

infrastructures that can support such dynamic initiatives which has been a major obstacle

especially for developing countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal. This infrastructure

includes wide availability of communication networks, accessibility of computers and internet

technology, skilled workforce to support such projects and high literacy rate among the citizens.

According to Adhikari (2007), only 1% of the population in Nepal is using Internet and less than

10% people are connected to telephone network ( p. 245). Lack of such basic infrastructure to

support e-government projects creates a serious barrier for its successful implementation.

Developing countries also have a high turnover rate with well trained IT personnel leaving the

country due to lack of scope resulting in inadequate human resource to support such e-

governance projects. Similarly there exists a digital divide between richer countries and

developing ones highlighted by the fact that high income economies have 416 personal

computers per 1000 people and low income economies only 6 per 1000 which holds back e-

governance initiatives (Ndou, 2008, p. 13). Along with this, various political, social and

economic factors such as lack of political stability, clear vision among the leadership and proper

IT policy seriously hamper the ability of developing countries to reap the full benefits of e-

governance (Ndou, 2008, p. 16).

Technical Issues

Rapid development of web technology with the emergence of web 2.0 platform and

underlying AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) technologies support the creation and

exchange of user-generated contents as well as development of more dynamic and interactive


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web pages (Zappen, Harrison, & Watson, 2008, p. 17). However, it also adds to the challenges

for e-governance as governments have been slow in adjusting to these rapid developments that

facilitate new paradigms of openness, interaction and influence (W3C, 2009). Similarly, the

proliferation of mobile devices and development of new devices like iPad and e-book readers

highlight the advent of totally different platform for interaction, information dissemination and

transaction between the government and the citizens.

So, from an IS perspective, the major technical challenge lie in choosing the technologies

and standards that can support multi channel delivery, reusability of government information and

interoperability. For multi channel delivery, the challenge lie in understanding the existence of

various devices, their limitations, their usage type and then coordinating and integrating these

various channels to provide a consistent look and feel to the users. Similarly, the availability of

open and proprietary formats and their underlying advantages and disadvantages pose another

challenge for e-government projects. Traditionally Public Sector Information (PSI) generated by

public organizations has been published in different formats depending on the convenience of

government organization publishing it which has created a barrier to use for the various

interested parties (W3C, 2009). Hence the use of open formats to publish government data can

make it more accessible and readily available to all and even allow reuse through APIs to create

data mashups. The open and unobtrusive data can be adapted by users to their personal needs

such as xml dataset or RSS feeds being transformed into assistive technologies for people with

disability (W3C, 2009).Show Us a Better Way competition sponsored by UK government and

one provided by Sunlight Foundation are good examples of independent body using APIs to

collect vast amount of public data from government and presenting it in multiple views to

promote inclusion, transparency and accountability (W3C, 2009). Similarly, the use of open
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standards can also facilitate interoperability which is the exchange of data and sharing of

information and knowledge between citizens, business and administrations. However, due to

lack of assessment methodology for selection of standards, the workload to select standards for

e-government services is considerable and governments have usually opted for their own

national interoperability framework depending on their choice of technology. This has resulted in

IDBAC program of Europen Union to develop a Common Assessment Method of Standards and

Specification to share best practices and expertise among the member nations for efficient

development of e-Government services (W3C, 2009).

Similarly, another challenge is to keep upgrading the usability of the system to keep up

with new technologies. With the emergence of web 2.0 technologies and social media, users

have been accustomed to wield technology in far more active ways by constructing contents,

building and cultivating social networks. The failure of e-government sites to meet their

expectation has resulted in rapid decline of enthusiasm for government web sites. Baumgarten &

Chui (2009) highlight ineffective governance, lack of web-related capabilities and reluctance to

allow user participation in the creation of applications and content as the major three obstacles

that limit the impact of e-government efforts (p.27). Hence, to ensure the success of e-

governance initiatives in today’s era of wide social connectivity, agencies should regard web

development as an integral part of the services they provide (Baumgarten & Chui, 2009, p. 28).

Similarly, to support web initiatives, a dedicated product management team consisting of

designers, developers and information architects responsible not only for initial development but

also ongoing improvement of usability and functionality should be created (Baumgarten & Chui,

2009, p. 28).

Change Management
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E-governance services not only save cost and improve the service quality but also

revolutionize and reinvent the government processes and functions (Ndou, 2008, p. 14). It further

leads to change in roles and responsibilities of administrative officials which can even trigger a

resistance from them. E-governance services are offered around customer’s needs rather than

organizational structure of government agencies resulting in the public institutions which used to

be at the center of the bureaucracy losing their importance (Alpar & Olbrich, 2005, p. 108).

Alpar & Olbrich (2005), highlight that since administrative services will be provided through a

web portal, it becomes irrelevant for a user which different institution is carrying out these

functions (p.108). Managing this organizational change will be critical for the success of e-

governance. Moreover, the hierarchical cultural value of a government bureaucracy which is

more rigid to change also acts as a significant barrier to e-governance initiatives.

The success of dynamic projects especially like e-governance depends on the successful

management of change. According to Ndou (2008), addressing resistance means ensuring the

existence of incentives for employees to learn and change and establishment of plans and

strategies that encourage and promote employee participation throughout the change process (p.

14). Similarly, such employees that are engaging with online communities should be provided

with appropriate training and support in the use of tools and techniques to help them better

interact and design public policies. W3C (2009), highlights the need for clear leadership with

practical knowledge, seniority and experience at senior level to overcome this barrier by

successfully leading and managing change.

Legal Framework
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For a successful implementation of e-governance initiatives, government should ensure a

proper legal framework for the digitized operations. This is especially critical as e-government

initiatives move from information dissemination stage to more transaction stage. Appropriate

legislation and regulations needs to be placed even before e-government initiatives can advance

to address the privacy and security needs. Without the legal equivalence between the digital and

paper processes, the use of e-government services and processes will remain minimal. However,

since the decrees that govern each of the administrative processes of a public authority mainly

regulate the creation of an output rather than provide instruction about the output, it is difficult to

model government processes (Alpar & Olbrich, 2005, p. 109). And re-engineering the public

workflows without a model that respects the legal constraints may lead to systems that are not

useable as it may break laws or because their strict following of law makes them so inefficient

that they do not represent any change to their former state (Alpar & Olbrich, 2005, p. 109).

Moreover, ignorance of current legislations may lead to incorrect development of e-government

projects and waste of resources and the cost for re-developing especially for agencies with few

resources can be substantial (Lau, 2003, p. 6).

On the other hand existence of legal frameworks can also create a barrier to collaboration

across agencies and organizations making the accountability rules unclear for shared projects.

Similarly, the data sharing across government could be impeded by legislations enacted in order

to protect the privacy and security of citizen’s data (Lau, 2003, p. 6). So, according to Lau

(2003), the main challenges lie in addressing how existing regulations should be clarified and

explained to e-government implementers and understanding how it impacts the implementation

of services (p.6). Consistent with Lau, Almarabeh & AbuAli (2010) suggests consulting with the
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users to assess problems with existing laws and reforming processes by simplifying regulations

and procedures (Almarabeh & AbuAli, 2010, p. 32).

Digital Divide

Digital divide which is the gap between the citizens who have access to the internet and

those who do not is one of the major reasons why e-government projects fail to live up to its

potential. McNeal et al. (2008) highlight digital divide to be related to socioeconomic factors and

point that despite some progress towards digital inclusion, gaps exists based on income,

education, age and race/ethnicity (p. 216). Furthermore Lau (2003), point out that these groups in

society with lower levels of access are the ones that are already disadvantaged and require a

higher level of ongoing interaction with the government (p. 3). However, due to complexity of

such interactions despite the need for government information and services, they may not benefit

from the enhancements to service quality and greater choices through online service (Lau, 2003,

p. 3). Similarly, in their study Nicholas, 2003 & Strover 1999 (as cited by McNeal et. al, 2008)

found that internet access has not been adopted equally across regions and geography and

especially in rural areas has been constrained by state policies that protect monopolies of rural

telephone companies that further exacerbates digital divide (p.216).

Lack of technological skills among the citizens is one of the major reasons for such

digital divide. Pew Internet & American Life Project (as cited in McNeal et al, 2008) in their

survey highlight that 46% of their respondent did not use Internet because “Internet is too

complicated and hard to understand”(McNeal et al., 2008, p. 216). According to the authors, the

technology skills necessary to use the internet were lacking among individuals who are older,

less educated, Latino, African American or less affluent (p.216). McNeal et al. (2008), in their
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research concluded “e-government as a double edged sword, motivating citizen initiated contact

of government for some (young and the women) whereas magnifying existing gap based on other

factors” (p.226). Furthermore, van Dijk & Hacker (as cited in McNeal et al, 2008), pointed out

certain psychological variables like age, gender and literacy as the strong predictors of digital

skills that affect the ability to develop technological skills (p. 216). With rapid digital revolution,

such lack of e-literacy among the citizens pose a real danger of dividing the world among

“information rich” and “information poor” and e-governance projects have the potential to either

equalize the access or further increase the barriers to participation (Almarabeh & AbuAli, 2010,

p. 32).

As a recommendation for digital inclusion, Reddick (2005) suggests placing kiosks in

public places in order to provide access to online services for citizen without access to internet

(p. 53). Similarly, Almarabeh & AbuAli (2010) recommends combining access with training,

emphasizing local language and content tailored to different communities and giving special

attentions to groups difficult to integrate including elderly and immigrants (p. 32).

Privacy Concerns

Success or failure of e-governance projects depends on the level of trust citizens have on

such initiatives. And without addressing the privacy and security concerns of its citizens,

government cannot build and maintain trust to support dynamic projects that promote e-

governance. Furthermore lack of trust in online transactions has been regarded as the important

barrier to wide adoption and usage of e-commerce and e-business services (Mullen & Horner,

2004, p. 190). Moreover as we move to e-governance services involving transaction and

interaction, data sharing increases and creates a valid concern regarding privacy and data security
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among the users. So, the main challenge in e-governance implementation is to respect the

accepted privacy principles while still providing services to the citizens through internet and

other technologies (Lau, 2003, p. 3). As government collects vast quantities of citizen data, it

should also act as a responsible custodian of such personal information and protect the privacy of

citizen’s data (Almarabeh & AbuAli, 2010, p. 32). It should lead the culture of privacy

protection and security by developing public policy and passing data protection laws that address

the privacy and security of user’s data in digital world and developing (Lau, 2003, p. 3).

Similarly, as government moves its core processes to the internet it also increases the risk of

internal and external threats. Since such security breaches can easily shatter the trust on e-

governance projects, governments should also focus on developing robust internal architecture

and using state of art technologies to protect citizen’s data.

Conclusion

E-governance initiatives have the potential to provide government information and

services more efficiently and effectively as well as engage citizens into the political process to

increase the overall political participation and trust in the government. However, failure of these

initiatives can even cost governments millions of dollars and enormous waste of time and

resources.

There exists number of IS, sociological and ethical issues such as ICT infrastructure,

technical issues, change management, legal framework, digital divide and privacy and security

concerns that seriously hinder its success depending on the level of e-governance project

envisioned. Backus (2004) further highlights political stability, level of trust in government,

importance of government identity, economic structure, government structure, different level of


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maturity and constituent demand as the factors that needs to be taken in account to examine the

risk of implementing e-governance solutions (Backus, 2001, p. 4). And proposes a “Think big,

start small and scale fast” approach that combines short term steps (projects) and long term

goals(vision) for a successful implementation of e-governance (Backus, 2001, p. 4). However

like with any complex project, e-governance initiatives need a common vision among all the

stakeholders including political leaders and agencies and a strong leadership at various levels

that can contribute to that vision, define priorities, filter citizen’s need, make decision and

provide the will to carry them out (Lau, 2003, p. 9).

The benefits of e-governance do not materialize by simply digitizing information and

placing it online. Instead the challenge lies in understanding the use of new ICT tools to

transform the culture and the structure of government in order to provide better services to the

citizens. And only with a common vision, strong leadership and strong sense of purpose can

these challenges be met and the full potential of e-governance to optimize government services

and to create a more participatory democracy and knowledge society realized.

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