In many countries, e-government has become part of government policy. The UK government has a large e-government project underway, as do the governments of the USA, Australia and Japan, to name just a few. The 'e' at the start of 'e-government' stands for 'electronic', and e-government usually refers to the use of IT by governments. In many ways e-government is not a single activity but many activities. However, in the UK and many other countries, there is a degree of central coordination of these activities, and this is my justification for referring to e-government as though it were one project.
E-government has many aspects. For instance:
it is an exercise in large-scale IT project management;
it is designed to modernise the inner workings of government;
it is a large technical undertaking;
it is expensive.
Any of these could be taken as a starting point for an investigation of e-government, however, I wish to focus on one fairly universal aim of e-government projects:
the use of IT to transform the delivery of information and services to the public, and to transform how the public accesses that information.
Making information and services available on a large scale requires the extensive use of databases. I will therefore spend quite a lot of time looking at some fundamental ideas about databases. There are three reasons for devoting so much space to databases. The first reason is the importance of databases to e-government projects. Secondly, creating a database is, among other things, an analytical process. The people who specify and design a database have to think carefully about information and how it is used. In that sense, a database represents a way of thinking about information. This sort of analytical approach to information underlies almost any organised use of IT aimed at making information available. My third reason relates to legacy systems. These are already installed systems, sometimes quite old, that are not designed to work together in the way their modern replacements would. In this context I shall look briefly at XML, which is a coding system widely used in e-government and elsewhere as part of the solution to legacy problems.
I shall also spend quite a lot of time on biometric methods of identification. These are identification methods based on fingerprints, iris patterns in the eye, and other physical characteristics. In digital form, biometric data is increasingly incorporated in, for instance, passports, driving licences and other identity documents. Identification systems, particularly ones based on biometrics, present a number of ethical, social and political issues, and I shall briefly discuss these.
E-government can hardly be successful if the public does not use it. That raises questions of usability and accessibility of the new services. I shall also be looking at some of the factors that affect usability and accessibility.
Finally, I shall look at some critical views about e-government and at proposals for using IT to change radically the relationship of government and public.
Throughout this course I draw on the writings of others. Sometimes I do this because the material I quote is authoritative or official; sometimes I do it because I think the author's view is interesting. In your own written work you will often want to draw on other sources, and it is important to reference your sources when you do so. The examples of referenced works in this course will show you how to incorporate referenced material into a piece of writing.