NZ plays local government catch-up

New Zealand is well on its way to developing a local e-government strategy. But it will be more of a roadmap indicating where to go than a set of government-inspired directives, says local e-government chief Mike Manson.

New Zealand is well on its way to developing a local e-government strategy. But it will be more of a roadmap indicating where to go than a set of government-inspired directives, says local e-government chief Mike Manson.

Manson, the IS manager of Palmerston North City Council, was responding last week to a UK report on local governments’ online efforts. The report says New Zealand needs to develop an e-government strategy if the country is to catch up with other nations.

The Local e-Government Now: a Worldwide Review report, to be published next month, claims to be the first worldwide analysis that focuses on the online experience of local authorities, looking at what has been achieved and needs to be done. Carried out by the UK-based Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) and Society of IT Management (Socitm), it involved UK officials visiting projects in New Zealand selected by Mike Manson, president of the Association of Local Government Information Managers of New Zealand. They were the sites for Dunedin City, Auckland Region and Hutt City.

The UK comparison of 14 nations nevertheless rates New Zealand highly, saying the country has a rich, diverse range of local online initiatives, with a small population that shows much initiative and flexibility. However, IDeA project leader and e-government adviser Martin Ferguson says that while New Zealand is “doing well with local initiatives”, like other countries it’s making “patchy” progress overall. The country lags others, such as the UK, in not having a national strategy.

Manson largely accepts Ferguson’s comments but points out that an e-local government forum last month resolved to create a national strategy plan. This would include feedback from various stakeholders and groups. UK representatives have been invited to visit New Zealand to offer advice.

Meanwhile, other countries can learn from Dunedin’s “excellent example of developing a vision for transformation and then implementing it”, Ferguson says. “[And] Auckland region offers a fascinating story of how to develop a culture of shared service development using the airline alliance concept as a framework,” he says.

In turn, Ferguson says, New Zealand could learn from work around security and authentication in Germany, and national strategy, standards and support in England.

Other countries are making patchy progress, Manson agrees, but says local councils in New Zealand work together well and are working with the e-government unit of the State Services Commission to further progress, such as adopting government metadata standards to give local initiatives a set of dedicated rules to follow.

Manson also notes that in the UK about $1100 million has been allocated by central government for its e-local government strategy whereas the work here is being done within existing budgets.

“New Zealand has got the ability to be innovative and move quickly because of our size and flexibility. We would like extra government funding to make a big difference,” he says. “That is yet to be seen, but they are appearing to be listening.”

• The report will soon be sold through the local government information managers’ body, ALGIM New Zealand.

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