Digital State 2.5

A little over a year ago, I wrote a paper entitled Digital State 2.0 reviewing the major developments in the use of IT in Canadian politics and government between 2006 and 2009. It is being published in a festschrift – due for release any day now – in honour of the retirement of the eminent public administration scholar G. Bruce Doern.

I’ve been asked to contribute a paper to another edited book about IT in politics and government, so I will be looking at developments during the last year to update the previous paper under the new rubric of Digital State 2.5. Here is my plan for the new paper.

In the area of IT in politics, the main driver of change is general elections. In Digital State 2.0, I referred to the federal election of 2008, Ontario election of 2007, and – because it represented such a transformative change – the US election of 2008. There haven’t been elections in any of these jurisdictions, so there is little to update. I will, however, have a look at the mid-mandate sniping going on among the major parties in the federal and Ontario governments, in particular online attempts by the Liberals to demonize Stephen Harper and online attempts by the Conservatives to trivialize Michael Ignatieff.

Economic recovery has been a key government priority, which will lead to an examination of the online presence for the federal government’s Economic Action Plan (www.actionplan.gc.ca). Its natural comparator will be the US government’s website for the Economic Recovery Act (www.recovery.gov). It appears that the US site is both more detailed in the information made available and less partisan in how it presents it.

The management of large IT projects is always a major concern, and in the last year we have had one that has gone seriously off the rails, namely Ontario’s eHealth initiative. Claims of project mismanagement have led to the resignations of the Project Manager, Chairman of eHealth Ontario, Deputy Minister and Minister of Health. Forensic analysis of troubled IT projects is a complicated matter, and it’s not clear to me that the official analysis has been completed, but I’ll try to say something about the causes and state of play.

The many facets of social networking referred to as Web 2.0 continue to be evolving in the public sphere as well. While outside the geographic purview of my article, I couldn’t help but laugh at a recent article in the New York Times by Scott Sayare about how the gaffes of French politicians, including even M. le President, are being caught digitally and circulated on YouTube.

More substantial is the US Government’s initiative to make public sector data widely available to applications developers on www.data.gov. The background here is that Washington DC did this and received considerable public recognition, including winning a prestigious Innovations in American Government Award in 2009. Vivek Kundra, Washington, DC’s chief technology officer has jumped up two levels of government by moving around the block to become the US Government’s CIO. Thus the US Government is virtually overnight scaling up a local initiative, and the results will be fascinating to see.

Looking back at what I’ve just written, the title of the book that started this line of research comes to mind: Digital State at the Leading Edge. In the book, we were referring to the Government of Canada. No longer. I think that honour now goes to the US. Stay tuned for more in coming weeks and months.

I’ll be taking the next two weeks off posting, and I’ll be back in early January. Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year to all.

2 comments

  1. This eHealth initiative in Ontario is certainly an interesting case and I have to add that similar initiatives we had in Greece also failed dramatically. Is someting ‘resident evil’ in such large scale projects or is it simple mismanagement and ignorance of the 10 basic rules of ‘How to run a successful IT project? We all know them by now, right?

  2. Interesting posting. Here is a question.
    With all the advances in IT and increasing voter apathy in elections, what do you think will be the necessary conditions for e-voting to be implemented by the U.S. or Canada ?

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