New Global Study Explores Governance, Digital Economy

New Global Study Explores Governance, Digital Economy<@VM>Political Campaigns Catch Internet Fever

Janet Caldow

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer



Representatives of leading technology companies and governments throughout the world will meet next month in Toronto to set the agenda for an ambitious new study examining the impact of digital technology on government.

Government and industry participants, including Electronic Data Systems Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and IBM Corp., are sponsoring the study, "Governance in the Digital Economy."

The Alliance for Converging Technologies, a think tank based in Toronto, will carry out the $4 million study with the help of representatives from academia, industry and government.

"Many of the issues we face are not just technical, but also organizational, legal and process related," said Louis Matrone, a senior vice president for the EDS Government Industry Group, Herndon, Va. "We're focused on the transformation of government."

The study will examine the many ways Web-based technologies are being used to streamline and improve government services. It will also address broader, philosophical questions regarding how technology is changing democratic institutions and the relationship between the citizen and the state.

Industry wants to understand the problems of governance from the perspective of those who govern and deliver the services, said Janet Caldow, director of IBM's Institute for Electronic Government, in Washington. The study's "network of academics, practitioners, government leaders and futurists is uniquely poised to address these timely issues," she said.

Representatives from the sponsoring organizations will meet June 28 in Toronto with alliance officials to establish specific areas of research for the study, which is slated for completion in July 2000.

Corporate sponsors pay $250,000 to participate in the study, federal government sponsors pay $100,000. The cost for state and provincial governments is $50,000. Alliance officials, who hope to enroll eight business and 25 government sponsors, are still soliciting support for the study.

Don Tapscott, chairman of the alliance and a consultant who has advised corporations and governments on how to adapt to digital technology, will direct the study. Tapscott, who chaired a 1992 Canadian advisory council on the information highway and has been described by Vice President Al Gore as a leading cyber guru, has authored or co-authored seven books relating to technology, including "Blueprint to the Digital Economy."

Government sponsors include the Department of Veterans Affairs, Human Resources Development Canada, the Netherlands Ministry of the Interior, Argentina, and the state of North Carolina. Joining the effort will be the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

A number of scholars have been recruited to help oversee the project. They include Jerry Mechling, director of the program on strategic computing and telecommunications at Harvard's Kennedy School; Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School; and David Batstone, associate professor of social ethics at the University of San Francisco.

Tapscott does not claim the study will provide a precise model for the transformation of governance, but he believes that it can identify future best practices, effective approaches and even techniques and software to guide and help plan for the transition from industrial to digital governance.

This is important, he said, because the failure to recognize this shift is hampering well-intentioned efforts in countries around the world to "reinvent government." Many projects have not fulfilled their potential because officials have assumed the industrial-age government as the model. "We're trying to reinvent government within a very narrow context," he said.

IBM's Caldow points out that the Internet already is being used by all levels of government to improve service to citizens. In Arizona, for example, the state has installed an IBM system for licensing vehicles that allows citizens to renew their licenses 24 hours a day, any day of the week.

It costs about $7 to renew a registration in person vs. $2 online, said Caldow. "And that doesn't include the costs to the public of taking time off work, driving, parking and waiting in line," she said.

Obtaining licenses online is just one of dozens of innovations governments are adopting to speed services. The overall effect — or at least the goal — will be to make government more responsive to citizens' needs, delivering services when it is convenient for citizens, not for the bureaucrats.

In that process, government organizations will be restructured and layers of bureaucracy, such as the offices that handle license applications at the counter, will be peeled away.

Tapscott thinks the digital revolution could be as monumental and cataclysmic as the industrial revolution in terms of its impact on the institutions of governance.

What kind of impact might we expect from the Internet?

"There is a historical relationship between the distribution of knowledge and the distribution of power," said Tapscott. "I think the state may change quite radically."

Consequently, the study will ask such questions as: What kind of governments do citizens need for the 21st century? How do interest groups organize and work online? How can the Internet build relationships with and among voters? How can politicians and political parties use the Internet to transform campaigning and policy-making?

While Tapscott's enthusiasm can make him appear almost evangelical in his belief that the world is undergoing dramatic change, he is not unaware that these issues also lend themselves to mystical pronouncements and overblown predictions about brave new worlds to come — pitfalls that can ensnare even the most careful scholar.

"I constantly remind myself there's a fine line between vision and hallucination," he said.

Jesse Ventura

By Steve LeSueur


The Internet already is influencing political strategy and campaigns, industry and political experts said.

The political contests of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, Sen. Barbara Boxer in California and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were harbingers of a fundamental shift in campaign media from television, radio and print to the Internet, said Janet Caldow, director of IBM Corp.'s Institute for Electronic Government.

All three candidates used their Web sites to solicit online donations, coordinate volunteers "and disintermediate the press" by publishing directly to the public, including images, video and text around candidate positions, she said.

A 30-second TV commercial is both costly and limited in terms of content. In contrast, the Internet provides greater opportunity to explore issues in-depth and can serve as an attractive low-cost alternative for underfinanced candidates.

Many civic groups are trying to use the Internet as a forum for discussion between citizens and politicians. One such effort, Minnesota E-Democracy, is credited by some with propelling Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura to victory.

Founded in 1994 and run by volunteers, Minnesota E-Democracy sponsored online debates among political candidates during the 1994, 1996 and 1998 campaigns.

While Steven Clift, E-Democracy co-founder and chairman, is hesitant to credit E-Democracy with playing a role in Gov. Ventura's election, he agrees that Ventura used the Internet shrewdly in his campaign.

"If Ronald Reagan was made for TV, then Jesse Ventura was made for the Internet," he said.

Ventura's notoriety as a professional wrestler made his candidacy a topic of political discussion at even the most obscure Web sites, generating increasing publicity and momentum for his election, said Clift.

At the same time, Ventura used the Internet as his campaign's field operation to motivate and recruit volunteers and carry his message to the voters.

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