Want E-Gov? Pick Up the Phone

"One piece of good news is that Britons seem to like the idea of being e-citizens. Few, however, have tried it"

by / May 5, 2005
This article -- from the May issue of Government Technology's Public CIO -- is used with permission.

In an attempt to find out which electronic channels work best for local governments -- and what local citizens think of the channels available for using e-government services -- the United Kingdom's Office of the Deputy Prime Minister conducted a study called the e-Citizen National Project.

It's really about why some people adopt e-services and others don't, which we looked at in the Spring 2004 issue of Government Technology's Public CIO. Writer Bill Eggers found that in the United States, our various levels of government have serious work to do to attract more people to e-government.

The same situation exists overseas. "One piece of good news is that Britons seem to like the idea of being e-citizens. Few, however, have tried it," writes Michael Cross in The Guardian.

The report highlights two groups of potential users -- the "progressives" include male, high-income earners with access to technology, and the "contenteds," who are happy with local government and comfortable with technology. But the report says these two groups need online government services the least, while the poor, minorities and other disenfranchised groups who need the services most aren't using them.

That is partially because this segment of the population simply does not have access to the technology that Britain's local authorities want them to use when it comes to e-services. Nor do they particularly care to use computers to interact with government.

Buried within the report is this fact: The most universal "e" channel in the UK is the telephone, to which 94 percent of the population has access. That percentage is about the same here in America.

This leads to the subject of our cover story. He has become master of the telephone-as-e-government channel for citizens. Gino Menchini, New York City CIO, together with his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, understand that e-government works when it serves the needs of the entire population, not just the "progressives" or the "contenteds." That's why they launched NYC 311 two years ago.

New York City isn't the only local government to realize the decidedly unsexy telephone is the perfect tool for citizens to access digital services. Chicago and Baltimore are two other notable examples. But by its sheer size, and because of the resources it has put into the service, New York City has taken 311 with all of its back-end integration to a new level.

Spend a few minutes with Menchini, and you realize why the mayor of the largest city in the United States entrusted him with this mammoth task of digital transformation -- and why it works so well. He is an energized, fast-paced executive who understands IT and how city government works, loves his job, and has respect and trust from the man who hired him. To find out just what makes Gino Menchini tick, Contributing Editor Blake Harris spent some time with him. And now you can by reading this profile of the man and his work.
Tod Newcombe Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology.

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