E-Government and Open Government: The Path toward E-Democracy

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ver the years, Liberia has made strides in every sector especially in ICT sector. As a result these strides, we have adopted comprehensive e-government and open government programs that involve the use of the internet and its technologies to enable traditional government processes and practices for enhancement of democracy.

Many people argue that both e-government and open government are the same. But this is not entirely so. There is a fundamental difference between both of them: e-government gravitates toward service delivery while open government gravitates toward information sharing in a more participative and collaborative way. In this article I discuss e-government and open government. I provide some insight on their origin in the USA and then on move on to discuss Liberia’s involvement with both initiatives. First, let’s provide a definition of both e-government and open government.

Electronic Government or E-Government is defined by the World Bank as “the use by government agencies of information technologies that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.

E-Government offers the potential of increased convenience to the public by making such services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, coupled with the advantages of improved accuracy and also reduced cost to the government, deriving from its requiring little or no direct interaction with a government employee.

Open Government is defined by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) as “the transparency of government actions, the accessibility of government services and information, and the responsiveness of government to new ideas, demands and needs.” Open Government is a result of President Barack Obama’s use of the Internet and Social Media technologies during his 2008 Presidential bid. Referred to as the first Internet Presidency, Obama and his transition team immediately sought to translate the features of the “Internet Campaign” to the day-to-day administration of the executive branch. Thus on January 21, 2009 President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government giving directive to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to promulgate an Open Government Directive within 120 days.

The Open Government Initiative strives to create an unprecedented level of openness in U.S. Government. The Open Government memorandum, released in 2009, mandated that Federal Agencies will “be transparent in their work, will be participatory in seeking the ideas and expertise of citizens, and will be collaborative in how they use new technology and processes for developing Government policies. The Open Government Initiatives required Agencies to change the processes, mechanisms, and the underlying technology that were used to communicate with the public, and opened up decision-making processes that had previously been internal to public participation and collaboration.

Open Government can be seen as an evolution of E-government because it (open government) would not be possible without the outcomes created by E-government and the advances made in technology, policies and cultures over the last decade.

The idea of e-government began years ago. In the United States, it began with Senator Joseph Lieberman and then ended up with the e-Government Act of 2002. E-government initiatives began over a decade ago while the new Open Government began after the Obama elections. Both initiatives share many similar goals and characteristics, the largest being that they both strive to make the government more transparent. Yet, they are not synonymous. They are different efforts that are overlapping phases in an incremental growth towards E-democracy.

A significant difference between the United States e-Government and Open Government initiatives are the “tools” that strengthen them. E-government efforts in the United States and many other countries are directly enabled by law (United States E-Government Act of 2002). The United States Open Government initiative is not enabled by law although supported by the Freedom of Information Act.

Another difference between e-Government and Open Government is that e-Government places focus mostly on the use of technology within the routine activities undertaken by public organizations. This includes the provision of public services, the quality and cost-effectiveness of basic government operations, citizens’ engagement and consultation, the statutes and legislative mandates required to effect these processes, and the administrative and institutional reforms undertaken in pursuit of innovation.

Open Government has a goal of making information and decision making processes in government accessible to citizen examination and input, and in so doing, create democratic structures that facilitate citizens’ social and political judgement about the outcomes of government work.

Prior to E-Government and Open Government in the United States, other programs were instituted by President Bill Clinton. The National Performance Review and The Partnership for Re-inventing Government existed before e-Government and Open Government Programs.

Figure 1
Liberia’s e-Government initiative is being championed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications through the Chief Information Office and Project Management Office, while its Open Government initiative (Open Government Partnership) is being championed by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism. Both initiatives have achieved a lot since their conception although there are several other aspects as far as maturity levels are concerned that remain to be completed.

Unlike the United States and other countries e-government programs, Liberia’s e-government program is not supported by any law even though it is enshrined in the National ICT and Telecommunications Policy 2010-2015. In addition, the e-government initiative has been facing several challenges in achieving a “Whole of Government” approach to using ICT for the delivery of services to the public. As a result, each Ministry, Agency, and Commission (MAC) operate “siloed” ICT platforms that is very costly for the Liberian Government. As far as where Liberia is in terms of e-Government implementation, using the E-Government Maturity Model from the Gartner Group 2002 research, it is safe to say that Liberia is between stages 1 and 2. Figure 2 illustrates Liberia’s current position in e-Government.

Figure 2
The Open Government Partnership on the other hand, has made substantial progress in a very short time, through the leadership of Hon. Andrew Temeh, Deputy Minister of Information for Administration. Hon. Temeh’s good leadership and organizational skills have gotten the Open Government Partnership endorsed by the Liberian Government. What is lacking in the Open Government Partnership initiative is a national portal that allows citizens to play a more participate, collaborative role.

In every democratic nation, engaged citizens often seek clear and credible information from the government about how it carries on its business. They want government information, services, and communication to be forthcoming and swift. The E-Government and Open Government initiatives fill the need of connecting citizens with their governments and each other to foster a more open, collaborative, and efficient public sector through the use of new technology and public data.

The idea of using new technologies to support and enhance, expand or re-invigorate democratic practices is not novel. What new technologies have done in this regard is to amplify the political voice of the ordinary citizen. E-government was a first and crucial step towards E-democracy. However, the Open Government initiative is not the end-state solution. It is the most recent maturation of the governments’ growth towards E-democracy. There will likely be an initiative that follows Open Government as a new future administrations enter the political spectrum.

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