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Should E-government Be Transformational and Participatory?

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Transformation | Participatory | E-democracy

Transformation generally means a fundamental, rapid, and wide-ranging change and, accordingly, sounds rather evolutionary than revolutionary. But "transformational e-government" is rarely defined clearly in e-government stage models. A final stage of e-government "would transform governments themselves, would fundamentally transform relations between governments and the governed, and ultimately, would produce electronic democracy" (Norris and Reddick 2013: 165). This transformational thesis includes not only transformation (Baum and Di Maio 2000), participation (Hiller and Belanger 2001), and democracy (West 2005), but also even integrated (joined-up) or one stop services (Hiller and Belanger 2001; Layne and Lee 2001; Ronaghan 2002; West 2005). A transformational e-government would facilitate "joined-up and citizen centric e-government services" (Weerakkody and Dhillon 2008) and provide "platforms for different stakeholders to collaborate, participate, share resources to undertake work... to engage citizens in policy modeling through e-participation ..." (Weerakkody and Reddick 2012: 2). This transformation requires radical rethinking or fundamental reengineering of government business processes rather than simple automation (Weerakkody Dhillon 2008: 4) and visions of transforming participation and institutional change rather than a "service-delivery mentality" (West 2005: 9-10). Examples of the ultimate stage are government portal (integration), online survey and use of social media (e-participation), and online registration and voting (e-democracy). Are these online services really transformational? What is wrong with the service delivery mentality?

This transformation or participation cannot, however, be conceptually juxtaposed with static information, interaction, transaction, and integration stages along the same continuum in that the former, unlike the latter, does not say anything about a learning pathway, degree of integration, or technological sophistication. This transformation thesis appears to simply reflect aspiration for or hype of e-government, and/or technological transformation (as opposed to organizational or political transformation) without any logical explanation for why. From a historical perspective of information systems maturity modeling, DeBri and Bannister (2015) argue that the last stage is aspirational and has not been observed empirically (p.2225). It is implicitly assumed that new and more sophisticated technologies are always better and preferred (Course and Norris 2008).

The transformational stage is not distinct clearly from other stages. E-mail contact and online forum, for example, may be not only interactive but also participatory. Online voting and surveys in the transformation (e-democracy) stage is transactional by its nature. E-government information and services are subject to such constraints as integrity, security, and privacy; unlimited interaction and integration are neither always desirable nor likely in the public sector. Also transformation itself is relative to its status quo or baseline. For instance, online tax filing service (transactional) and release of public mangers' property information (static information) might be perceived as revolutionary in a society but not any more in others. A Wiki-like collaborative service sounds transformational now but will become ordinary one as people are used to it later. In short, transformational e-government nirvana is at best a virtual image or mirage that has misled e-government scholars and practitioners significantly.

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