E-government refers to a set of public administration and governance goals and practices involving information and communication technologies (ICTs). It utilizes such technologies to serve public agencies’ external audiences and constituents. However, the scope of that service is the subject of much debate and, consequently, no consensual definition of e-government had been formulated. The prehistory of e-government resonates with assumptions from the “new public management” (NPM), which proposed a restructuring of governmental agencies by adopting a market-based approach to ensure cost efficiencies in the public sector. Coined in the mid-1990s, the notion of e-government as equivalent to better government, economic growth, human development, and the knowledge society in general was quickly and uncritically accepted by practitioners and scholars alike. As scholars from different disciplines, including politics communication and sociology, paid increasing attention to the intersections of structural factors, hardware, and culture in the adoption and use of ICTs, research on e-government began to show some diversification. By the twenty-first century, the number of e-government websites from local and national administrations has grown sufficiently to allow some generalizations based on empirical observation. Meanwhile critical and comprehensive approaches to e-government frequently adopt a critical stance to denounce oversimplifications, determinisms, and omissions in the formulation of e-governance projects, as well as in the evaluation, adoption, and assessment of e-government effectiveness. Beyond the particularities of each emerging technology, reflection on the intersections between ICTs and government is moving away from an exclusive focus on hardware and functionality, to consider broader questions on governance.
The structure of government is fundamentally a matter of multiple alignments of organizations and power involving politics, policy, administration, management, governance, and law. The alignments vary significantly, with numerous conflations of form and function. At the center of power, under immediate executive control and legislative oversight, policy and administration occurs in ministries and departments for which members of the executive are directly responsible. Beyond the center of power, with varying degrees of distance from executive control and legislative oversight, of the interplay of policy, administration and management happens in an array of organizations as executive agencies and corporate entities with diffuse executive responsibility. In all alignments, the synthesis of networks and undertaking of reviews are essential, encompassing politics, policy, administration, management, governance, law, and judicial intervention of varying nature and consequence. The situation overall is one of complexity and diversity, requiring acute understanding and strategic action in response to the demands of continuity and change in the conduct of public affairs.
Donald J. Savoie
The concentration of power at the center of government transcends both political systems and geography. Heads of government everywhere are dealing with powerful forces from permanent election campaigns, social media, 24-hour news channels, the requirement to provide a government-wide perspective on virtually all policy issues, and the need to manage the blame game at a time when transparency requirements are becoming more demanding. They need help to deal with these powerful forces, to manage the policy process, and to direct the work of their government. They can turn to both partisan political advisors and central agencies to assist them in governing from the center. Central agencies stand at the apex of power linking the political with the administrative. They have grown in size and influence in both parliamentary and presidential systems and, in the process, helped heads of government to concentrate more and more power in their own hands. They have grown in size and influence because heads of government have allowed it, if not encouraged it. Central agencies play a leading role in generating policy advice, in allocating financial and human resources, in shaping human resources policies, in monitoring the performance of line departments and agencies, and in establishing regulatory policies that apply both inside and outside government. They have proven to be helpful in helping heads of government to define new measures, to coordinate activities to pursue overarching goals and to make certain that line departments and agencies run on their tracks. It is necessary to explore the capacity of the center of government from several different national settings and from several perspectives to exercise direction on policy and control over the rest of government.