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Building an International Digital Government Research Community

Given the growing influence of global economic, social, technical, and political forces, digital government research is expanding to include international dimensions.


For most people, the idea of “government” is linked to a particular place. We associate government with a town hall or capital city and with the laws and policies that apply to the people and organizations located in a specific area of political geography. For instance, municipalities provide fire protection to their residents, states issue professional licenses to people who live or work with the state, and the national government defines what it means to be a citizen of a country. At the same time, we know that governmental jurisdictions and programs often overlap within a single country. Taxes, emergency services, transportation networks, and public schools are just a few examples.

This pattern of overlapping governmental policies and activities increasingly goes beyond national borders. For example, any global business that collects personal information from customers must comply with the privacy laws of multiple countries. If you live and work in one country but are a citizen of another, special international tax agreements apply to your income. The radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip or bar code in passports are checked by immigration officials all over the world. Government managers negotiating contracts with private sector companies are often not only outsourcing work, but also “off shoring” it, along with associated accountability, to people and subcontractors subject to different laws in other countries. International law enforcement, intellectual property rights, and global trade and finance all operate simultaneously under the rules, practices, and cultures of different nations. Broad socio-demographic trends like migration of jobs and workers, global health concerns such as swine flu and AIDS, and the environmental impacts of human activity are all concerns for governments on every continent. All of these international activities have at least one thing in common: they involve the collection, use, and management of information.

Digital government as an emerging global research domain

Over the past fifteen years, a global field of inquiry has been emerging at the intersection of government, society, and information and communication technologies. This domain is characterized by different labels, including “e-government,” “e-governance,” and similar terms (see Yiltze, 2007; Brown, 2005; Grönlund and Horan, 2004). The different terms stem in part from the development of the concept over time. In the early 1990s, government reform efforts were closely linked to the creative use of information technology to transform bureaucracy, including efforts to redesign back office work processes and support them with new applications of technology focused on citizen services. This push was typically labled “e-government.” The view of e-government has gradually expanded to “include not only services and administration but also democratic processes and the relationships among citizens, civil society, the private sector, and the state. Collectively this broader view constitutes what is coming to be understood as “e-governance” (Dawes, 2008). E-government focused on the use of information and technology to support or improve existing public policies and government operations and to provide comprehensive and timely government services. E-governance, is seen as a more fundamental effort to redistribute power across all sectors (Roy, 2005) and thus involves concerns for participation, inclusion, and democratic processes. In this report, we use the term “digital government” – a term coined by the US NSF in 1999 – as an umbrella to represent the full array of concerns related to the relationships between ICT and the public sector. Accordingly, “digital government research” attempts to illuminate and explain this phenomenon by focusing on the intersection of computer and information sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and government challenges and needs. “International digital government research” in particular, examines phenomena and concerns that are relevant beyond the borders of a single country.

International digital government research focuses on topics and problems that cross the jurisdictions, cultures, or customs of different countries.

Today, digital government research is going on all over the world. So far, this work mostly has been confined to studies conducted within the geographic and political contexts of individual countries. However, given the growing influence of global economic, social, technical, and political forces, the questions, risks, and opportunities embedded in digital government research are now expanding to international dimensions. Brown (2005, pp. 243-244) emphasizes the importance of understanding the state’s relationship with e-government in an international context, suggesting, “[i]n the electronic environment, governments have access not only to each other, at all levels of administration and without regard to the formalities of inter-state relations but also to their respective citizens. In the same way, trans-national public sector institutions extend their reach into the constituent countries, and trans-national private and non-governmental actors come into contact with governments and interested citizens around the world. National sovereignty remains a cornerstone of the international system but the context in which it operates and the tools with which it is expressed are altered.” International digital government research is unique, in that it explicitly focuses on understanding topics and solving problems that cross jurisdictions, cultures, or customs of different countries.