Introduction

Our real problem, then, is not our strength today; it is rather the vital necessity of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

by / November 20, 2003
At first glance, this issue of Visions, which focuses on sustainable development, might appear a departure from the future-oriented themes we typically cover. After all, what does sustainable development have to do with government technology? We hope after you read this issue, the connection will be clear.

In some ways, the various themes we have covered in Visions represent a natural progression. Over the years we have published the magazine, our thoughts about technology have evolved. That also seems true for many people we have interviewed. In the early 1990s, for instance, there was an almost youthful enthusiasm about technology. The Web was new, and no one really knew how it would mature. Some even proclaimed we had entered the "Internet Age."

Today some of that early enthusiasm has abated, and the Internet has become more ubiquitous -- more than I realized until recently. A couple of months ago, in my spare time, I worked on a project photographing homeless and runaway kids living on the street. They were dirty, covered with the deep grime that only comes from sleeping in the open and living out of a bag. Some were gaunt and hungry. Some were strung-out and panhandling for drug money. But there wasn't one who couldn't give me a current e-mail address to send scans of the photos. For these kids, the Internet is a fact of life.

Clearly Visions has witnessed a wonderful time in history when an important new technology blossomed, optimism ran high (if at times too high) and innovation seemingly sprang from everywhere. Our effort in all this has been looking to the future and discussing new possibilities for government and society.

Visions' various themes have emerged from a few fundamental questions about information technology. How is this new technology changing society? How does government need to respond to these changes to continue doing its job effectively and efficiently? Above all else, given the new possibilities information technology presents, how do we innovate in government? How do we provide better governance for an Information Age?

The last question is perhaps the most difficult. It demands that we do not simply accept the social effects of technology as inevitable, arguing that we can make a positive future no matter what the impact of new technologies.

To realize the possibilities takes fresh thinking and imagination. To their credit, many government institutions have exhibited degrees of this. They did not simply seek to automate existing processes, but sought to use IT as a springboard to examine and reinvent how they did business in many sectors. Of course, there could still be more of this.

However, at this issue's core lies the most important question. How do we use the new tools of information technology to help meet the most serious challenges -- challenges likely to demand increasing amounts of money and attention from government?

It is fairly safe to predict the two most serious threats facing governments this century are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, and environmental calamity because of man-made climate change.

Therefore, the most important discussions we could have about IT are how we could use it to solve these two challenges while maintaining the freedoms of a democratic society.

In a previous issue of Visions we covered terrorism. Now we turn to the other challenge: sustainable development. We find that here, as with efforts to combat terrorism, IT has a key role to play -- a role that has yet to fully emerge.
Blake Harris Editor
Platforms & Programs