Technology, government and the invisible hand

Another shout from this blog to the Economist, this time for its special edition on technology and government.

On the whole a well-written feature which takes in a range of international case studies; the real value of which is to be found in its brevity amidst otherwise verbose analysis.

One aspect I liked was this idea of ‘government in competition’ or, more accurately, government lacking competition that would make it strive for better effectiveness and efficiencies. In the nearby blogosphere, Simon Dickson also raises this facet of the feature and goes along with its conclusions.

I also appreciated this ‘government in competition’ thesis, but was surprised that the author of the feature (or the usually very savvy editors) didn’t take it in a different direction.

These days governments face greater competition that ever – indirectly, yes, but also, importantly, in the direct sense. State governments have to compete with supranational as well as regional (or national) institutions. These regional governments within a state – like here in the UK – have to compete with one another (for example, not only to get access to the budgets but to justify them too).

If we believe the Economist – amongst others – governments have to compete with one another for citizens in this age of uber-globalisation. They also need to compete for investment from fickle businesses. Governments need to compete within themselves. When there is only so much resource to go around and the best staff have to be retained and kept engaged, it’s team vs team, division vs division and department vs department.

In this genuinely competitive climate, using the web (and other forms of ICT) to do better governance and democracy is a must for any government looking to find and maintain a competitive edge. My argument is that the lack of e-government progress in a particular country isn’t because a governments doesn’t feel the competition, it’s because they don’t know how to take it on. It’s the give-in and hide indoors approach, which we all know isn’t healthy.

You could contend that no one is likely to move their family or business to another country just on the qualification of that country’s standing in some e-government chart. Perhaps – it wouldn’t be the sole reason but read the rest of the special edition and you’ll find that its an important factor.

After all, we don’t use Amazon solely because we can buy books from it.

Oh… and congrats to Jeremy who got a name-check in the feature. See, it has all been worthwhile; where to now?

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