Closing the distance between citizens and governments?

To date electronic government has made important inroads in transforming how services are delivered to citizens.  The landscape of government institutions has been transformed together with the experiences of citizens around the world in using government services.

Am now using more the language of services given that this is an ideology that seems to go well with e-government stakeholders, it seems to create a bonding, a common vision, a similarity with the private sector, it seems to attune governments to the realities of businesses and it gives purpose to the use of information technology.

As a result of important transformations in central and local governments, there is a perceived degree of increased transparency and accountability. The perception might not be generalisable across a country, a region or a continent, but at least the perception is that e-government has taken us somewhere safer and better.

Recently in an event about professionalism and innovation with ICT in the health care sector, it occurred to me to ask the panel members of a session the following question:  what about the distance that is now between governments and citizens?

The replies varied.  It really depends on where you are looking, someone said.  Even within the same sector (health), there are different answers.  Some think that some degree of trust has been restored, so the aim of trust improvement has been achieved.  Others think that we are all part of a technological machinery that is being designed to keep us all under control (government officials, professionals, patients, citizens).

On this last point, one might say: This is how governance is to be developed.  Or should it?

My own answer to this question of distance would be that regardless of how well intentioned plans and programmes were defined, there is already a technological apparatus that mediates between people.  Whether this apparatus is streamlined, efficient and transparent is another matter.  At both sides, demand and supply of e-government services, we are inevitably bound by it, whether we like it or not.

So the distance between citizens and governments might have been shortened in some respects, whilst widened in others.

We should also ask ourselves if we like to be governed this way (by using technology as a mediating element), or whether there could be other forms of governance.

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