Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Digital Government and Service Delivery: An Examination of Performance and Prospects

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Digital Government and Service Delivery: An Examination of Performance and Prospects

Article excerpt


Since the emergence of electronic or digital government two decades ago, the delivery of public services online has been a centrepiece in efforts to leverage the Internet and improve the performance of the public sector. Prodded by comparisons to banks and online retailers, governments at all levels have been enticed by the dramatically lower costs of a transaction online versus one involving mail, a telephone call centre, or in-person service facility. Yet such comparators have also masked a much more complicated story in Canada and elsewhere featuring a complex public segmentation externally and the internal technological and governance challenges of re-organizing and offering services in more virtual and integrated formats (Roy 2006; 2008; Borins et al. 2007; Kernaghan 2013).

The advent of mobility further complicates this landscape since the term can be interpreted in one of two (partially related) manners: first, as a newer online channel via mobile devices that accentuates the search for efficiency as information inquiries and transactions gravitate to such platforms where apps are beginning to rival portals as the main gateway to government services (here again not unlike the evolution of banking and retail); or secondly, as a wider paradigm shift associated with the advent of Gov 2.0 where mobility denotes new forms of public participation and collective engagement in shaping both service design and service evaluation (Roy 2013). Consistent with this second stream, the refashioning of service delivery within an "open government" context reflects this more outward orientation where innovation and collaboration rival efficiency as guiding principles and objectives (Roy 2014a; 2016; Gaseo 2014; Francoli and Clarke 2014).

Drawing upon three inter-related typologies of public sector governance (traditional public administration, new public management, and public value management), this article examines the evolution of a partially digitized sector service architecture, its mixed performance to date and the shifting challenges that lie ahead. Following this introduction, section two presents these three typologies and how they illuminate the emergence of electronic service delivery in Canada. Building on the outward and participative of mobility offered above, the third section of this article probes its more recent emergence within a "Gov 2.0" context and how provincial and federal governments have begun to respond: the inter-relationship between service delivery and open government is a key focus in this regard. Section four then considers the interplay of these various dynamics for the public sector more holistically across jurisdictional boundaries: in a federal environment, to what degree have inter-governmental relations shaped service performance and to what extent do such relations matter going forward? Section five provides some future research directions stemming from this discussion and analysis, followed by a brief conclusion.

Digital service: three governance typologies

The evolution of the service dimension to digital government reflects a set of organizational, technological and cultural cross-currents within the public sector that stem from various layers of digital government reforms in recent years on the one hand, and the traditional foundations of public sector governance on the other hand. These cross-currents can be summarized as tensions between mobility and machinery, the latter reference to the hierarchical and bureaucratic-centric paradigm underpinning traditional public administration (Roy 2013).

Working outside of the confines of digital government--but nonetheless in a complementary manner, Stoker (2006) presents three co-existing typologies of public sector governance that depict these tensions and their implications: traditional public administration (TPA), new public management (NPM), and public value management (PVM). …

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