Electronic Engagement: A Guide for Public Sector Managers
Sector Managers as “Responsive Entrepreneurs”: Will they deliver
in developing countries?
e-government, launched more than a decade ago, has unleashed two
unique and surging phenomena in the field of democracy, which, one
must hasten to add, has also varying degrees of freedom in different
democratic countries worldwide. First, it has made available a set of
tools to citizens to express themselves online by commenting upon the
affairs of the state, particularly those that impact their lives.
These include e-mails, online discussion groups, blogs, wiki, portals,
etc. Secondly, it has created a new entity called electronic
citizen or e-citizen,
who has, within a short span of its birth, started clamouring for its e-rights and is also prepared to discharge its e-duties.
this revolutionary development, a vast majority of citizens remains
uninvolved with the affairs of the state giving rise to poor policy
formulation and implementation. This, in turn, disenchants and
alienates the citizen from the affairs of the state. This vicious
cycle can, however, be broken if information and communication
technologies (ICTs) are used to engage citizens in the affairs of the
book is thus a very timely monograph on the emerging subject of electronic
engagement or e-engagement
written by Dr Peter Chen, a Research Associate with the National
Centre for Australian Studies, part of Faculty of Arts at Monash
University. The guide aims to “equip public sector managers to
assess the value that new communications and computing technology may
bring to their interactions with a range of potential stakeholders”
(p.xiii) and “is written for managers who have an interest in
expanding their approach to public engagement, rather than information
technology professionals” (p.xiii).
five chapters of the book are organized around an introduction,
definitions and approaches to e-engagement, designing the right
strategy and implementing it. In the first chapter,
Introduction: An Information Age Democracy?,
the author defines e-engagement as “the use of Information
Communication Technologies by the public sector to improve, enhance
and expand the engagement of the public in policy-making processes”
(p.xiii), and introduces contested concepts like public
value (Moore, 1995) and social
capital (Van den Hooff, de Ridder, & Aukema, 2004). He draws
attention to the expanding role of the public sector manager,
describes the information society and examines its implications,
highlighting the fact that in the new environment public sector
managers require new skills and capabilities.
Chapter 2: Definitions,
Distinctions and Approaches to eEngagement, Chen notes that there
is a “wide array of competing, contested and conflicting definitions
employed to describe” (p.11) e-engagement. The role of public sector
managers in electronically-facilitated democracy is that of
“responsive entrepreneurs.” The relationship between the
development of an electronically-facilitated democracy and the role of
the public sector manager has been illustrated in the context of - the
nature of programmatic approach representing the expected role
of government; and specificity of outcomes representing the
degree to which the outcome will be focused. This gives rise to three
types of managerial roles: Active
Listening (passive management), Cultivating
Role (capacity building), and Steering
Role (high level of management and control). These three roles or
managerial approaches are also related as these will depend upon the
stage of the e-engagement project.
In the end the author deals with digital divides, draws attention to
multiple divides and indicates how these multiple divides can be
bridged by a mix of information and communication technology (ICT)
and traditional approaches, and conceptualizes e-engagement
as a “highly effective way of motivating participation in the
information economy” (p.34).
Chapter 3: Designing the Right
Approach, the author suggests asking the following six questions
for project planning: i) What is the issue(s)? ii) Who are the
audiences? iii) Consultation versus Collaboration? iv) What objectives
do we have for this activity? v) How interactive will this process be?
and vi) What is the right channel (communications technology) to use?
Answers to these questions, says the author, will “provide a solid
foundation for an effective implementation plan” (p.38).
Chapter 4, Implementation,
the author lays stress on stakeholder buy-in,
upwards (commitment from seniors), managing
sideways (intra- and inter-government stakeholders), managing
outwards (community members) and managing
inwards (staff). The chapter further deals with issues like
managing technical issues, determining the software feature set,
whether to outsource or develop in-house, proprietary versus open
source, low tech versus high tech, generating compelling content (and
this is a challenging, though often underestimated, task) versus eye
candy, conventional advertising and promotional approaches, the power
of social networking and its limitations, managing risk, security, and
the concluding chapter, the author emphasizes the importance of
evaluation, noting that “any project initiated in the public sector
today will make provision for evaluation as a standard operating
procedure” (p.79). He recommends an evaluation tool developed by
Whyte and Macintosh (2003) for e-engagement activities focusing on
political, technical and social aspects. He then discusses planning
for the end of eEngagement process, particularly documentation of
feedback and sustaining of the stakeholder community.
primarily written for public sector managers of Australasia, this
guide would be useful for public sector managers worldwide. The
Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), Research
School of Social Sciences, Australian National University (ANU) needs
to be congratulated for bringing out this publication on a subject
whose importance is increasing day by day.
phenomenal success of e-commerce has whetted the appetite of citizens
for e-government of similar if not the same quality as e-commerce. In
this scenario, traditional risk-averse precedent-quoting civil
servants are under tremendous pressure to assume the new role of
“responsive entrepreneurs”, indicative of a shift from
“regulatory administration” to “participatory management.”
the classic bureaucratic model emphasized and rewarded strict
technical expertise, the modern public sector manager is expected to
have a range of ‘soft’ skills around coalition formation and
stakeholder management (p.4).
days of regulatory rule-bound bureaucracy thus appear to be over.
E-government has already sprouted worldwide and is fast showing signs
of maturity. People are, however, not satisfied with mere
e-government. They now want good
e-government of which citizen
engagement or e-engagement
in policy formulation and implementation is an integral part (Misra,
2007). The issue, however, is not this premise which is sound. The
issue is whether public sector managers, in their new role as
“responsive entrepreneurs,” will deliver in developing countries?
 The Dutch e-Citizen Charter, for example, consists of 10 quality requirements for a new relationship between citizen and government (Poelmans, 2007)