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E-Government set to fail unless a joined-up approach is adopted now

The current lack of a joined up approach to e-Government will result in its failure, according to those involved with e-Government projects. The groups took part in consultation forums for The Virtual Research Institute into e-Government (VIEGO) project run by experts at Brunel University, in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance.

Co-ordination between local and central government needs to be addressed if e-Government is going to successfully engage local communities. A lack of integration will result in real differences in the standards of online services across Government departments, from paying car tax online to library services. Citizens and public sector employees have high expectations based on their experiences as consumers - they will not engage if services are inconsistent. The cost of failure will be a more expensive and inefficient public sector.

Five in-depth workshops were held to capture the experiences of those involved in e-Government initiatives and to identify and prioritise research issues on e-Government implementations. They also encouraged debate about priorities and considerations for the future. As a result, the consultations have helped to identify funding priorities for policy makers. The findings will be used to set the national e-Government research agenda until 2011 by developing an integrated roadmap for future e-Government implementations.

The consultations highlighted the fact that a multi-disciplinary approach to researching e Government is required to implement effective e-Government systems. This involves a deep understanding and management of systems, information, policies, processes, security and change.

Other Key Findings
All participants (elected local government representatives, managers, independent consultants and public sector employees) were interested in getting a clearer view of what users of e Government services want, how to provide e-Government services and how they may be evaluated and measured. The VIEGO project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) also revealed:

- Research should be devoted to creating a common set of data processes and formats so that information can be shared between local governments or between local and central governments.

- There is a fundamental need to understand how to create flexible systems that can adapt and change with demand, and corresponding methods of evaluation. Constant change is a natural occurrence in twenty first century government and it impacts people, processes and systems in equal measure.

- There needs to be a greater understanding of factors that affect participation from citizens and stakeholders. Strategies need to be devised to address these issues, both internally and externally, in particular, social entrepreneurship.

- E-Government initiatives must be developed to appeal to all cultures and races in the UK and must capture citizen demographics as well as stemming the digital divide.

- Security, privacy, trust, authentication and identity management were all raised as key issues.

Professor Zahir Irani, principle investigator, Head of the Brunel Business School and co-chair of the workshops, says: “E-Government is not a collection of isolated projects, but an ongoing activity like human resource and treasury management. Building and maintaining a body of knowledge within and across agencies is vital. Methodology and support for knowledge management, identification of best practice and institutional learning are all needed for success.“

Dr Paul Jackson of CIPFA, and co-chair of the workshops explains: “The aim of VIEGO is to widen the breadth of the e-Government research agenda and to expose critical themes for future research. From our workshops, it is clear that key stakeholders need to have a stronger voice in the drafting of e-Government policies and the development of relevant technologies. The strongest theme that emerged from these consultations was that co-ordination and integration of inter-governmental agencies at all levels is critical to e-Government success. Steps need to be put in place now to ensure these issues are addressed.“

Dr Tony Elliman, co-investigator, Reader in Information Systems and Computing and co chair of the workshops, says: E-Government technology is expected to transform the public sector for the better. But it is not enough to provide money and technology; the will to change has to be there at the grass roots. Government is about people - citizens, their representatives and public sector employees. These people must engage with e-Government. IT professionals can lead the horse to water but they can't make it drink.“

The five consultation meetings took place, in London (two meetings), Cardiff, Manchester and Edinburgh between March and May 2006. Care was taken to ensure sufficient UK regional coverage was obtained, including participation from the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Executive.

The full report can be downloaded from