September 2, 2005 By Jerry Mechling
These governance issues have become increasingly important within the environmental data management community. In response, efforts have emerged to formalize authority. After cooperating informally for several years in developing the National Environmental Information Exchange Network, the EPA and states have established more explicit relationships. A leadership committee and an operations committee now exist with specified authority to manage the network's growing workload.
As different communities face similar issues -- much as the colonies struggled under the Articles of Confederation -- what structures should they consider? When consensus decision-making can't keep up with the demands, how can communities resolve conflicts and hold together?
In the private sector, companies and industries respond to such issues because of pressures for efficiency. While governments also like efficiency, they tend to be driven more by concerns for equity and legitimacy. Politics lie at the heart of government reforms. Constituents who influence elections command attention. Thus, as e-government moves to the territory of cross-boundary transformation, good analysis must include political analysis. The efficiencies offered by technology-enabled reforms must align well with the larger forces on the political scene.
Here are four key tasks for successful cross-boundary transformation:
Identify communities ripe for change. Which IT-based reforms within which communities of interaction should be the top priorities in terms of risk versus return? For this we need not just a "business case," but also a "public value case." We need to spot cross-boundary opportunities for better efficiency, equity and legitimacy. We need to understand how to mobilize support and keep the citizen/customer at the center of attention and value creation. If we fail to analyze the right issues, including the political dimension of those issues, we won't be able to make good choices.
Develop organizational models for a cross-boundary world. When informal cooperation isn't enough, what authority structures should be considered? For example, how should we organize technology staff within government? When and how should we establish cross-boundary organizations -- perhaps like the statutory boards of Singapore, the Crown (state-owned) corporations of Canada, or new units such as the Department of Homeland Security? When and how should we create public/private groups like the National Automated Clearing House Association's committees that developed the QUEST standards for distributing government financial assistance through the banking network? When should we outsource activities that are no longer part of government's strategic core?
Develop cross-boundary funding models. Given economic and demographic trends, governments need new revenue and budget models. Budget analysis typically fails to look for multi-agency, multi-year innovations, yet these are the big targets for a cross-boundary future. Also, even though government revenues have been falling off a cliff, we have yet to seriously explore how information technologies could open up new possibilities for low-cost fee and tax collection systems. Digital government needs bold new funding models.
Develop standardized yet flexible information infrastructures. What makes IT so attractive is its ability to benefit from both innovation and standardization. Start small and scale fast. With standards as a critical tool for cross-boundary coordination, how do we avoid moving too late, or too soon? How do we balance the rights of private actors -- intellectual property -- against the rights of the community -- fair use? How do we get efficiencies of scale, yet remain flexible?
Cross-boundary transformation is inherently difficult. What makes it doubly difficult is the fact that, for many leaders, the bloom is off the technology rose. E-government was the future five years ago. But for the many reasons we know too well -- the dot-com bust, a major recession, the rise of terrorist threats and concerns about national security --
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