Digital Governance Concept

Information and Good Governance

Information when used and applied effectively can be a powerful tool. The traditional power-bearers in the society have always understood the power of information and have applied to gain control and set up governance mechanisms in their constituencies.

In case of good governance, information is used strategically for public good and welfare of people. And in case of bad governance, the same information is used for private gains and suppression of constituents. In either forms of governance, the selective use of information creates hierarchal structures on which power is unequally distributed. The skew in the distribution of power is proportional to the critical information residing at each of the hierarchical levels. 

Some facts on the role of information in governance are:
•    Access to information forms the basis of decision-making (which could be for public good or private gains)
•    Well-informed decision-making is dependent on the quality and timeliness of information available
•    Limiting access to information to an exclusive group without rationale and commensurate responsibilities opens up avenue for manipulation of information for exploitative purposes and private gains.

Good Governance and Digital Governance
Good governance requires, amongst other things, decisions based on "sets of information" or knowledge, and recognition of this information and knowledge by the decision makers and people alike. Digitisation of this information and making it available on a network which is accessible to all individuals opens up possibilities for use of this information by everyone- paving the way for Digital Governance or E-governance as it is more popularly known.

 

Introduction of Digital Governance ensures that citizens can participate in, and influence decision-making processes which affect them closely. Citizens no longer remain passive recipients of governance services provided to them, but can pro-actively decide the types and standards of governance services they want and the governance structures which can best deliver them. 

 

ICT can influence governance processes possibly in 3 ways:

•    Technical role: Automation of repetitive governance tasks and thereby improving efficiency of governance processes. For instance, automated filing of tax forms, e-voting, periodic information reporting etc.

•     Supportive role: Use of ICT to complement existing efforts and processes to improve governance. For instance, use of Internet to catalyse existing efforts towards transparency in government information and functioning, or embedding use of emails in connecting decision-makers with their constituencies. 

•     Innovative role: Use of ICT to initiate new governance services or new mechanisms for improved service delivery which would be impossible through non-ICT modes. For instance, online checking of status of an application (from remote and beyond office hours); providing instant access to the same information to all individuals through emails and website; ability to instantly access, compare or triangulate information from outside of the constituency or government sources etc.
 

Digital Governance: underlying principle for developing countries
Digital Governance in developing countries does NOT imply: linking every citizen to a digital node or giving them access to Internet and computers.

 

Digital Governance in developing countries implies: ensuring every community or a village has easy access to information available on the digital network and no one is excluded from accessing information on this network. Access to information could be through:

  • Private/individual ICT nodes such as individual access to Internet
  • Public ICT nodes such as community Internet centre, post offices, public phone booths, government information centres
  • Convergence of modes such as extension volunteers, community radios and local newspapers which have access to an ICT node and can then relay critical information to targeted users in a timely manner. (implying convergence of ICT with conventional modes)

 

People-participation in Digital Governance vs Conventional Governance Models
 

Participation Indicators

Conventional Governance Models

Digital Governance Models

Mode of Participation

REPRESENTATIVE

INDIVIDUAL / COLLECTIVE

Domain of Participation

IN-SITU

EX-SITU

Approach to Participation

PASSIVE / REACTIVE

PRO-ACTIVE / INTERACTIVE

Impact of Participation

INDIRECT / DELAYED

DIRECT / IMMEDIATE

 

From the comparison above, it is evident that the use of Digital Governance transforms governance from "representative" to a more "individual based" form, and from "passive" to being "pro-active". It does not require an individual to be based in the local constituency "in-situ" to influence or benefit from governance delivery services. Further as use of digital governance leads to closer contact of individuals with decision-makers/officials in the government, the impact is immediate. On the whole, it puts greater access and control over governance mechanism in the hands of individuals, and in process leads to more transparent, accountable and efficient governance.