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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Daugaard Promotes E-Government... but for Consumers or Citizens?

Seeing Dennis Daugaard is making a campaign stop at the Madison 9-12 meeting next week reminds me that I still need to finish reading his big economic plan (now nicely available in plain text as well as PDF). I've had some fun picking through some of the good, the same-old same-old, the stinky, the wrong, and the explosive parts of the plan.

Now I get to a part that I can't help but give props to. Daugaard's plan includes a plank on digital government, or e-government. Daugaard notes that Game Fish and Parks, the university system, and the state legislature are already making good use of the Internet.

...But too many of our interactions with the state are still paper-based and require a trip to a state office. I will inventory the most common interactions that people and businesses have with state government. The state will create “step-by-step” online portals to guide users to the correct website or state office. Ideally, users should be able to complete common interactions with state government entirely online.

Online services are significantly more convenient – they can be accessed at any time and from any place. They can also result in considerable cost savings – although they require an upfront investment, they will lead to increased efficiency [Daugaard campaign text, 2010].

I don't think I can take seriously any candidate, from local auditor up to governor and president, who doesn't recognize the urgent need to rewire government with the greatest information technology ever created. (Hey, Governor Rounds, are you on e-mail yet?)

My only quibble with the Daugaard proposal is that it appears to be stuck in the mindset that views government as a business and citizens as consumers. The Web is great for services like purchasing licenses, paying taxes, and reserving campsites. Improving and increasing such services online can indeed make government more efficient.

But we mustn't (and Daugaard mustn't) forget that government is not simply some office to which we pay money and from which we receive services. The government is us. Government is a system we design and participate in. The Internet increases our ability to participate in government on a regular basis, to act not simply as consumers but as engaged citizens.

So sure, more license tags online are great. Now, Mr. Daugaard, how about using the Internet to promote participatory budgeting, as they've done in Brazil, Germany, the UK, and even Iowa? How about inviting the public to handle legislative redistricting, as Ohio did last year? How about...

...but wait a minute. What am I doing using the Internet to give politicians ideas on how to engage citizens in government affairs? Aren't the politicians supposed to come up with all the answers and then convince us to buy them? ;-)

p.s.: Mike Knutson hits on a related theme: Let's think of the Internet not simply as a way to provide services to consumers, but a way to engage citizens in deliberation and decision-making.

Update 15:10 CDT: Read more on civics and the Web from Axel Bruns, who reports on Andy Williamson's keynote from the 2010 Conference on E-Democracy in Krems, Austria:

So, what is it that we do, and how can we do it better? As societies, we have shifted from a culture of community to a culture of individualism; we are no longer just citizens but also (and perhaps primarily) consumers - including of government or democratic services. This is a problem - our behaviour as citizens should still be different from our behaviour as consumers, and if governments treat us simply as the latter, this undermines the democratic process. This applies especially also to online government services, of course [Axel Bruns, notes on Andy Williamson's EDEM 2010 keynote address, "Towards Real Citizen Participation in e-Democracy," Snurblog, 2010.05.06].

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