Features: October 29th, 2002

Making the eGovernment Agenda Real

By John Thornton, Director of eGovernment, Improvement & Development Agency

Reproduced by permission of eGov Monitor Weekly www.egovmonitor.com/newsletter/signup.asp

One of the problems faced by local authority e-champions is continuing to make this agenda real and tangible for politicians, citizens and colleagues. If we liken e-government to a building project – we have sold them a vision of the future, an artist impression of the modern structure that we are all trying to create. But when they want to see the progress, all that we can show them are a few trenches filled with concrete or perhaps some half dug holes.

This is where the latest IEG process should help. Each authority in England is expected to produce its Implementing e-Government (IEG) statement by 31st October. This should not be viewed as a way of just trying to get the right ‘ticks’ in the boxes to release funding. This is the opportunity for each local authority to use this statement for its own purposes, as a means to set out its vision and how it will be achieved. To use this statement as a way of ensuring the continued ‘buy-in’ and commitment of members and officers, and as a basis for communicating and co-ordinating its efforts with its partners and other stakeholders. This is a means of managing expectations and setting out the steps required to turn the ‘artists impression’ into a ‘tangible structure’.

Local authorities are in the process of summarising the progress they have made in implementing e-government. The statements should reflect the key elements in the draft national strategy for e-government, published in April. Recognition of the wider drive to transform local government services should be a key part of the IEG statements, which need to show that the whole authority is engaged with the e-government strategy as well as evidence of the corporate engagement of members and senior officers.

Last year, almost every council in England received a payment of ?,000 and a second payment of the same amount will be available to those which show they have made good progress since last year. This means proving they are using, or have firm plans to use, last year’s payment to good effect.

It is important to recognise that this is an allocation process and not a means of rationing resources. The ODPM wants every local authority to receive its share of the ? million allocated to support the Local Government Online (LGOL). The government expects councils to provide evidence of action in taking the e-government agenda forward and IEG2 statements must demonstrate a realistic plan of action to meet the 2005 target.

Whilst it is not yet clear how the link between e-government and CPA is going to be made, it is very likely that information in this year’s IEG statements will feed into future CPA processes. This has already been the case for the pilot authorities we have heard from, where the link was made to their IEG statements for last year.

A key part of the statement is self-assessment, which is intended to provide information on the nature and extent of corporate engagement with the e-government agenda. This self-assessment will also be used to gauge how far council’s have come in delivering their vision of future public services, and how far they still have to go. The self-assessment process will help councils to refine their plans for implementing e-government to 2005 and beyond.

Addressing strategic themes

Completing IEGs will involves looking carefully at the five themes of the e-organisation, mapped out in the draft national strategy for local e-government. The five themes are transactions, access channels, enablers, e-business and organisational development. Council’s need to look at each of the building blocks that make up the themes, to map out current status, and to include the local, year-on-year targets for reaching the 2005 target.

The first theme is made up of the transactions that make up BVPI 157, and this year’s IEGs will be used to assess how much progress has been made since last year, when the average return was 29%. There is another table to complete for the access channels theme. This table looks at the proportion of transactions that are today, and will be to 2005, handled by each channel. Of course, the keys here are first to develop an access strategy that reflects your local needs and priorities. And second to implement a marketing and take-up strategy to encourage usage.

Enablers are the technologies and techniques that support the delivery if services. In many cases, projects are underway nationally that authorities can make use of. The national land and property gazetteer (NLPG) and national land information service (NLIS) are good examples, and ODPM expects councils integrate these national project into their local plans.

The penultimate self-assessment theme is e-business – which includes the building blocks that make up the back office, and support the overall workings of the authority. The systems in this area support delivery of most services, and council’s need to assess and document their plans for the major e-business applications.

Finally, we come to what ODPM terms organisational development – a theme that includes the pivotal, people-based issues that will make or break e-government plans. Implementing e-government is about delivering big improvements in the way councils work, and that means changing the way people behave. Council’s need to be thorough in this part of the self-assessment – because the management of change is fundamental to the entire improvement agenda.

To conclude, the IEG2 statements must also reflect the priorities and community initiatives that have been developed through other consultation and planning mechanisms. Local e-government is not an add-on to other services. It will only be successful if it is making a positive contribution to delivering the priorities that matter to the local community. So, preparing this years IEGs must be a joint enterprise, involving the local community, all service areas and partners. Done properly, an IEG2 should represent a council-wide statement of progress and intent – and should map a clear journey to 2005 and beyond.

John Thornton joined the Improvement & Development Agency in September 2001 as Director of eGovernment. His role provides a focus for the co-ordination of eGovernment initiatives and to champion the interests of local government in discussions at national level with central government, suppliers and other public services.