Local Governments as E-Governments: Meeting the Implementation Challenge
Streib, Gregory D., Willoughby, Katherine G., Public Administration Quarterly
The Internet has become an important way for individuals, private companies, and governments to get information, to communicate, and to do business. Research shows that local governments have been slow to respond to these developments. In this article we examine the ability of local governments to implement the changes needed to become cyber-governments. We develop a model that examines the strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered before embarking on E-governance reforms. We also examine the hurdles that local governments will need to cross in order to achieve success.
Much has been said over the past two decades about the mounting responsibilities of local governments and their resource constraints. Recent years have brought the challenges of devolution and reinvention, and now the gauntlet has been thrown down once again. Local governments must meet an entirely new set of standards and responsibilities arising from the automation of government-to-government, government-to-business, and government-to-citizen interactions. As one observer notes, "E-government advocates believe that an electronic tidal wave is about to sweep away the old stereotypes, leaving in their place sleek, responsive federal, state and local agencies and departments modeled on the nanosecond philosophy of private-sector E-tailing" (Schultz, 2000). A tidal wave is probably a very accurate metaphor for what is about to hit local governments. In fact, it is perhaps too late to ask if they should try to emulate Amazon.com. Comparisons between E-commerce and E-governance are now inevitable.
While the pressures on local governments to transform themselves in extraordinary ways are mounting, many questions remain about the appropriateness of different options and the ability of local governments to make the leap into cyberspace. Local governments are extremely diverse in size, service mix, and structure. Prior research has documented variations in local government fiscal capacity (Gargan, 1987), chronicled on-going efforts to improve management capacity (Poister and Streib, 1994; Berman and Wang, 2000), and raised fundamental questions about the ability of local governments to handle additional responsibilities (Streib and Waugh, 1991; Tannenwald, 1998).
This article seeks to aid the transition to E-governance by providing a realistic overview of the types of implementation challenges that lie ahead for local governments. This should be helpful to public officials contemplating information technology options as well as academics who have an interest in the implementation literature. The explosion of new information technologies is a landmark event in the history of local government management. It will surely "test" our knowledge of the local government environment as well as our understanding of how these governments function.
WHAT DOES E-GOVERNANCE INVOLVE?
At the present time, even the definition of E-governance is unclear. We have entered a period of history when technological change is extremely rapid and unpredictable. The impacts of new developments are either uncertain or clouded by E-hype. In the case of private business, it is hard to reconcile the enormous potential of online retailing with the lack of profits at Amazon.com (Lorek, 2000) and the widespread acknowledgement that there is, in fact, no new economy (New York Times, 2000). On the other hand, there is real evidence that E-commerce is booming. The top 500 companies produced online sales revenues of $183 billion in 1999 (McCormick, 2000). There is also evidence that many online retailers are realizing high levels of customer satisfaction (American Customer Satisfaction Index, 2000).
While local governments have different responsibilities than private companies, they are indeed service providers. Local governments can use information technology to their advantage (Huffman and Talcove, 1995; Verton, 2000) and stunning E-governance investment has been forecasted (Stone, 2000). …