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Partnership with civil society is a key to transformative E-government

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Bahrain UNPSA 2013 E-governmentE-governance leadership is about involving citizens and civil society in public decision-making processes and in service delivery. This message is underpinning the main theme Transformative eGovernment and Innovation: Creating a Better Future for All of the United Nations Public Service Forum, Day and Awards Ceremony which took place in Manama, the Kingdom of Bahrain, from 24 to 27 June 2013.

Focusing on Transformative e-Government and Innovation: Creating a Better Future for All, the Forum highlighted a paradigm shift about the role that civil society and the private sector can play in contributing to good governance. In this respect, governments are transforming the way they operate in order to adapt to new ways of engaging citizens and delivering services. Whereas in the past citizens were seen as passive receivers of services and governments were the main providers of solutions, today we witness a shift in how services are being conceptualized, managed and delivered. Where citizens are involved in public decision-making processes and in public service delivery, there is an increased sense of ownership and greater sustainability of public initiatives, as well as more creative ideas on how to do more with less.

Mayor challenges governments are facing today

At the beginning of the 21st Century the governments are faced with an increase in citizens' demands for (1) effective, equitable and citizen-centric services; (2) greater levels of transparency and accountability of what government does, and (3) greater citizen engagement in public decision-making processes. On the other hand, governments are faced with a rising set of domestic as well as international challenges. At the domestic level, countries must tackle multiple crises, including the economic crisis, climate change, natural disasters, food and water shortages and expansive waves of international migration. At the international level, governments must deal effectively with globalization processes, including the financial crisis, and issues related to international peace and security.

Transformative power of E-government

The potential of ICT tools and applications, internet and mobile devices for good governance, dialogue between citizens and governments (e.g. Porto Alegre Participatory System), transparent access to government information and services and new partnerships with civil society, has created a wave of technological innovation and government transformation. The adoptive challenges of e-government go far beyond technology; they call for organizational structures and individual skills, new forms of leadership, transformative public and private partnerships.

Democratic challenges of digital society

While providing enormous opportunities, e-government also represents many challenges, such as establishing strong leaderships to implement innovative initiatives and to successfully implement them through motivating, influencing and supporting their staff, their constituencies and their people. On the other hand, rapid development of digital technologies is generating new risks for contemporary complex societies such as digital inequalities, internet censorship, internet privacy and net neutrality.

Partnership with civil society

Governments are now required to become catalysts for change instead of mere service providers and to facilitate networked co-responsibility among stakeholders by engaging and empowering communities to take part in finding solutions for their problems. It is increasingly being recognized that governance is more than government, and that civil society and the private sector are not just customers of public services or stakeholders, but that they can and should be agents of change who can actively be part of the solution by working together in a constructive manner with their governments to solve local and national challenges. Partnership with civil society is contributing to inclusive and responsive e-government strategies, citizens centred service design and delivery and better public awareness in e-government (trust).

Capacity building is needed

In order to establish connection between top-down e-governance approach and grass-roots digital democracy, an independent, community based and sustainable non-governmental intermediaries and public-private partnerships are needed. Using internet for strengthening democratic participation, civil dialogue, citizen's activism, community building and grass-roots campaigning is becoming widespread by non-governmental and civil society organisations. However, advocating for more open and inclusive e-government on one hand and critically reflecting on institutional, top-down technocratic e-government oriented approaches by bureaucratic / political elites on another, requires considerable resources in terms of expertise, time, personnel, know-how, finance etc. Therefore capacity building and networking among non-governmental organisations focusing on digital society issues from human oriented perspective is needed to perform as a competent e-governance stakeholder as well to fully exploit already available channels of e-participation.

Simon Delakorda

Sources:

1. Delakorda, Simon. 2013. Theoretical approaches to non-governmental organizations as democratic actor of electronic public sphere (PhD Colloquium paper submitted to 5th International conference on eParticipation, 17-19 September 2013 Koblenz, Germany).

2. Delakorda, Simon 2013. Conceptual and practical considerations for NGO e-participation at local level in Europe. In Local Citizen Participation across Europe, ed. Joerg Forbrig. Central and Eastern European Citizens Network (to be published).

3. United Nations. 2013. Overall Aide Memoire (pdf). Public Service Forum Day and Awards Ceremony "Transformative eGovernment and Innovation: Creating a Better Future for All". 24-27 June, 2013 Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain.

4. Wikipedia. 2013.

Additional information:

The Global Network on Public Administration (UNPAN)
The eGovernment Authority of Bahrain

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