Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Citizen Participation and Engagement in the Design of E-Government Services: The Missing Link in Effective ICT Design and Delivery

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Citizen Participation and Engagement in the Design of E-Government Services: The Missing Link in Effective ICT Design and Delivery

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Enid Mumford championed an ethical, socio-technical, and participatory approach to the design of ICT systems. In this paper, we focus on the development of e-government as an example of such a system. First, we present an extension of Mumford's ideas about the benefits and process of participation, based on an analysis of recent citizen engagement initiatives. We then examine the extent to which e-government reflects the principles she espoused. The evidence collated indicates that e-government development is currently characterised by a technocentric approach with minimal engagement of citizens. We discuss the implications arising from this analysis, and explore the benefits that governments could achieve from adoption of a socio-technical, participatory approach to e-government development. The crucial enabling role of capacity building is highlighted. Providing citizens with the necessary skills and capabilities to engage effectively offers the key to the successful development of systems such as e-government which impact our lives in the 21st century Information Society.

Keywords: socio-technical systems theory; participatory design; e-Government: citizen engagement; capacity building

Introduction

Enid Mumford recognised that work systems require the successful integration of the values, interests, and needs of different stakeholders if they are to function well and positively enhance human experience (Mumford, 1983, p.20). She championed an ethical, practical, and participatory approach to the design of computer-based systems, and developed a systems design methodology (ETHICS) that embodied these principles (Mumford, 1983). The authors endorse her approach and, in particular, share Mumford's strongly-held belief that computers should be used in all areas to enhance the quality of human life. We have applied this both to our past work in the former HUSAT Research Institute over more than 20 years (e.g., Damodaran, 2001) and to our current work relating to the design of information systems (IS) intended for use by the general public.

E-government is an example of such an information system. Governments in many countries, including the UK, are investing significant sums of money to develop e-government systems as part of their programmes to deliver public services. E-government systems offer a range of potential benefits both for governments and for citizens, for example improvements in information sharing between services and agencies; improved speed and efficiency of the processes that underpin services, and greater variety, choice, and convenience of access for customers (ODPM, 2004). Many governments are also hoping to exploit the potential for improved communication with citizens to enhance the democratic process, encourage wider citizen participation, and reduce social exclusion. Yet despite the significant investments made, and the new and improved services that have in many cases been delivered, citizens do not always understand the benefits and, in the UK at least, have been slow to take up e-government (Accenture, 2006).

In this paper, we provide an analysis of e-government development based on and extending Mumford's approach. We then consider the implications arising from this analysis, particularly focusing on the benefits that governments could achieve from adopting a socio-technical, participatory approach to e-government development. We begin by revisiting the two fundamental concepts that underpin her work, socio-technical systems theory and participatory design.

Key concepts in Enid Mumford's work

Socio-technical systems

Socio-technical theory, while influenced among other ideas by open systems theory (von Bertalanffy, 1968), arose originally out of the pioneering work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in the 1940s and, in particular, out of a study of coal mining in County Durham, UK in the 1950s (Trist and Murray, 1993). …

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