4.1.5 The globalisation of cultural images and views of technology
Although Jamison and Baark’s research was conducted some years ago, more recent studies would suggest that the situation they describe remains broadly similar today. However, I would suggest that since the early 1990s the continuing globalisation of ideas, brands, corporations, the media and so on, and the advent of the internet, makes it fairly safe to assume that ‘cultural images’ and views of technology have become more uniform globally.
Equally significant for technology evaluation specifically, is that the array of consultancies and agencies to which governments and commercial enterprises routinely contract technology and policy assessment and evaluation have also become increasingly globalised (Kipping, 2001; Dunleavy et al., 2006). In addition, entities such as the World Bank and the EU continually seek to promote models of ‘best practice’ in technological development, particularly to developing countries. Box 6 provides one example. A visit to the websites of the EU, World Bank, the OECD, and the many IT and management consultancies (e.g. Accenture, PA Consulting, EDF and IBM) provide many more. In short, there is a range of powerful processes and mechanisms at work that act against national and cultural diversity.
Box 6 The globalisation of ‘good practice’
One example of the supply of ‘expertise’ and ‘good practice’ between the EU and developing countries is e-government. As well as a series of workshops and other collaborative activities to promote ideas and models, the EU produces an online resource, the eGovernment Good Practice Framework. The World Bank also takes an active interest in disseminating information on the subject. An example is its support for the production of The E-government Handbook for Developing Countries as part of its infoDev (Information for Development) programme, and its subsequent activities to disseminate this material and other forms of e-government expertise.
Technology assessment and evaluation are not immune from these forces for ‘homogenisation’, of course. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasising that national, institutional and political traditions and cultural differences are often deep-seated. Consequently, even at an organisational level these can be difficult to overcome, as many people who have been involved in the merger or takeover of one enterprise by another (be that a commercial organisation or government department) will testify. Tensions and issues are magnified further when an international dimension is added.
Box 7 illustrates an example in which technology features prominently – e-government. At the core of e-government is technology, largely ICTs, and as ‘the globalisation of good practice’, above, demonstrates, e-government appears to be a generic idea that is being promoted and pursued by governments across the world. However, even within Europe there are differences in what the function of e-government is. This can have important implications for the evaluation and assessment of e-government projects and policy.
Box 7 E-government and pan-national political and cultural diversity
Following the lead taken in the mid-1990s by the US, UK, Australia and Canada, all OECD and EU countries, and more besides, enthusiastically pursued e-government initiatives. For example, bringing government and public services closer to citizens and businesses via online interaction was a primary objective of the EU’s eEurope 2005 Action Plan and remains central to the Information Society 2010 Action Plan.
It is notable, however, that as a pan-European organisation the EU adopts a broader perspective of e-government than the one which the UK promotes, where e-services dominate both policy and practice. This is primarily because the majority of member states of the EU are historically inclined toward a different model of democracy from that which applies in the UK. Hence, while accepting that e-government concerns service delivery, organisational transformation, and economy and efficiency, the EU notes that a central aim is also:
‘... to improve public services and democratic processes and strengthen support for public policies. The potential of eGovernment goes far beyond the early achievement of online public services.’