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Designing the Digital Government of the 21st Century: A Multidisciplinary Workshop


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Information technology has been a vital component of government operations for decades. It plays a crucial role in public sector administration, decision-making, and service delivery in the next millennium. The technology tools we have today, such as digital communications and advanced networking, are already transforming some areas of government. In an effort to expand this trend of moving government toward the promise of transformed public services, the National Science Foundation (NSF) established the Digital Government Program. The program fosters connections between government information service providers and research communities, seeks innovative research to improve agency, interagency, and intergovernmental operations, and advocates enhanced interactions between citizens and government.

As a grantee of the program, CTG held a multidisciplinary workshop in October 1998 to elicit a number of pertinent recommendations for the Digital Government Program. This report is based on that workshop and outlines steps NSF can take to help develop a digital government for the next millennium.

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The workshop recommended eight practical government needs that should be focus areas for future Digital Government research. These include:

Interoperable systems that are trusted and secure. Current development methodologies cannot deal well with the scope and diversity of users, customers, and stakeholders involved in large government information systems. Research is needed to understand the potential for and the limits of system integration in technological, organizational, and political terms.

Matching research resources to government needs. Applied research is not often rewarded by academic value systems. As a consequence, researchers often pursue theoretical research instead of field work. The best forms of research will involve a variety of activities that lead to ideas government can use directly.

Better methods of IT management. This includes such areas as management of software development and upgrades, leadership and management of outsourced development and operations, and ways to deal with a shortage of IT skills.

Citizen participation in democratic processes. Internet technologies can facilitate a more personal involvement of citizens in the institutions and processes of government. To what extent, and with what consequences, will this capacity enable greater involvement of the citizens in their own governance?

Electronic public service models and transactions. With the proliferation of the Internet among government agencies and citizens, it is possible to offer new services, integrated services and self-service in ways and places never before possible. New methods of authentication, record-keeping, security, and access are all needed.

New models for public-private partnerships and other networked organizational forms. Given the diversity of players involved in delivering government services, developing effective IT systems may require new coalitions of partners at all levels of government and between government and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Intuitive decision support tools for public officials. With the advent of technologies and data standards that encourage information search, selection, analysis and sharing, how will executive decision making processes be affected?

Archiving and electronic records management. With most information now residing in electronic rather than physical files, issues such as record definition and content, version control, public access, and ongoing preservation affect the ability of government to function efficiently and maintain history and accountability.

In addition, the workshop participants made several recommendations about actions the National Science Foundation could take to further the goals of the Digital Government program. These recommendations included:

  • support research at all levels of government and between the public and private sectors,
  • investigate issues of governance and democratic processes in the digital age,
  • develop methods that address service integration and environmental complexity,
  • seek innovative funding models for Digital Government initiatives,
  • link research and practice to unite academic and government innovations projects, and
  • include government program managers in the research selection process through a practitioner advisory group and roles on review panels.