Steve Hodgkinson, former CIO of the Australia’s Victoria state government, sees the discipline of e-government as a “chimera”.
The word has two meanings which make it especially suitable as a metaphor; it can mean an illusion, something difficult to rescue from the land of myth and bring into reality, or, alternatively, a specific beast of Greek mythology that has three heads — that of a lion, a goat and a snake.
Hodgkinson sees the three heads, pulling in different directions, as a metaphor for the inputs, outputs and outcomes of e-government.
The outputs of e-government still tend to be agency-specific, he says, whereas the outcomes, if you agree with the current direction of Australian and NZ
e-government policy, should tend towards joined-up government.
Hodgkinson, born in New Zealand, knows a lot about joined-up e-government. As the Victorian state’s CIO, he had “an explicit mandate to co-ordinate e-government initiatives across all government agencies in the state.”
Hodgkinson has left that position and for the past two months has been public-sector research director for analyst Ovum.
The operations and information flows of government departments still carry the legacy of 20 or 30 years of management theory, based on the principle of “divide and conquer”, he says. The idea is that problems are easier to manage if considered from a restricted departmental perspective.
“That works well as long as citizens are prepared to accept that departments are isolated — that if you go to two departments for service it’s normal for one to have no knowledge that you’ve even been to the other.
“People have become used to large organisations presenting a unified structure that crosses geographical and functional boundaries. At the same time the problems of society have become more complex and agencies can’t deal with them separately.” He cites the welfare of a young person, which may at various times involve health, social welfare, justice and work-promotion agencies working together.
Inputs make up the third head of the chimera: “that’s people, processes and technology. Input is a dirty word in government. Departments are tasked with outputs, no-one tells them how to achieve those outputs. That would be constraining your autonomy.” But in reality “you can’t manage outputs without managing inputs.”
There are obvious synergies to be gained by departments sharing similar inputs, including information technology where appropriate.