e-Government, e-Society and Jordan
First Monday

e-Government, e-Society and Jordan: Strategy, theory, practice, and assessment

A review of e–Government and e–Society developments in Jordan is set in the context of the contradictions and conflicts of negotiating policies that aim to span all scales from local to global. Largely ‘developed’ hegemonic discourses of technology and governmental reform are critically evaluated in the context of how such global/national strategies will perform uncertainly at regional/local/individual levels. Even within advanced western societies e–Government and e–Society strategies have seldom been underpinned by a research and evaluation framework that feeds back directly into a refinement of strategy and improved policies. As a complex society within the turbulent Middle East regional framework, Jordanian strategy will benefit from a clear understanding of how it will balance the needs of the individual citizen with the macro pressures of globalisation.


“Theoretical” background
Emergent research themes
Conclusion: Conflicts and contradictions




This review is intended to provide a research focus for the e–Government strategy for the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan (Jordan, Ministry of Post and Communications (MOPC), 2002a). The strategy sits within the context of other initiatives related to education (Hamzeh, 2002; Heresh and Malas, 2002), poverty alleviation (Dajani, 2002), Arab culture (Joha, 2002a), and e–commerce (Roussan, 2001; Al Farawati, 2002). The primary context for us is our established links with the Badia Research and Development Programme (BRDP) within the Jordanian Higher Council for Science and Technology (HCST), and also through our understanding of the work of the National Information Centre (NIC). The research within the Badia region gives us a rural locality focus that is concerned less with the broad strategy, and is more concerned with how the strategy is implemented locally, and how localities respond to the strategy and mould it to their own needs. Second, the review is based on a survey of research on the development and impact of e–Government strategies in other nations, both developed and developing. Third, it aims to understand the challenges facing the strategies, both in terms of monitoring and measuring, and also in the context of understanding uneven impacts, uncertain outcomes, and in matching expectations with results.

For nations such as Jordan there is a fourth, additional context for e–Government that is based in the developing/developed nation debate. Concerns here include the possible importation of ‘Western’ and ‘developed’ strategy models, in the dependency relationship that can develop with multinational information technology corporations, and in the cultural and locality impacts that joining a globalised information culture generates. A fifth, and regional context, is that of Jordan’s position within Arab nations, its practices of governance and within the codes of Islamic society, and its situation within the global ‘development’ process. The ways in which some governments have tried to intervene and control the Internet have involved everything from absolute control of content in Saudi Arabia (Zittrain and Edelman, 2002), control over the technology and access in Cuba (Kalathil and Boas, 2001), or selective intervention for social content while still aiming to encourage e–commerce in China (Congressional–Executive Commission on China (CECC), 2002). The Jordanian government’s policy is not to intervene in Internet content access, though Jordanian society, as with the U.S. (Children’s Partnership, 2002) — arguably the most liberal nation for access — sees the articulation of concerns over the morals and ethics of access to unacceptable content.

Information Societies, e–Societies and e–Government all are processes underpinned by digital information communications technologies (ICTs). The expectation of these processes is that they will lead to improvements in areas such as governance, democracy, efficiency, and economic competitiveness. The expectation of success does, of course run counter to the traditional oxymoron “Government Organisation” (Woods, 2002), particularly given the very uneven success of IT adoption by governments. Furthermore, economic, cultural, political and social change induced by technologies is not new to ICTs. So, we may ask to what extent the expected outcomes of e–Government are necessarily ‘new’ or ‘modern’. Renaissance Europe saw significant changes in society, business and political practices following the introduction of the printing press (Eisenstein, 1983). One particular development was a new industry, the printing trade, which soon began to worry about the potential for intellectual property to be stolen in new ways, and there were concerns that information deemed illegal or dangerous by governments could be expressed and communicated easily so that “it was quite natural that attempts to control the press were made soon after the invention of printing.” [1]


In nineteenth century Europe, the development of the electronic telegraph dramatically increased the speed at which information could be transmitted and communicated. The telegraph “made possible new business practices, facilitating the rise of large companies centrally controlled from a head office.” [2] Indeed, Standage notes also that in “the 1890s advocates of electricity claimed it would eliminate the drudgery of manual work and create a world of abundance and peace.” [3] In 1954 an editorial in The Economist questioned the ways in which new computer technologies were expected to impact on business, noting that it would be a significant attraction to finance and accountancy processes, but also that “a major revolution in office methods may be possible.” (Anon., 1954)

These initial examples underline that technology and change is not new. Change can be driven by technology, and technology also can be moulded by the need for change. For example, in what Peter Drucker termed the post–industrial or knowledge society, where technology was to be used to increase productivity (as it also did in the industrial revolution in nineteenth century Europe) through “producing more goods and services for the same amount of human labour.” [4] The move from an industrial to a post–industrial or ‘information society’ therefore occurs when “information rather than materials account for most of the exchanges throughout societal communication.” [5], and knowledge features explicitly “in national or societal income and expenditure accounts, and when information is recognised explicitly as an output.” [6]

As businesses have adapted to ICTs they have variously changed their organisational structure (re–invention of the corporation), the ways in which they plan and undertake their business (business process re–engineering), the structure of their products portfolios (customer first, customer focus), the ways in which they assess the success of their business (measuring and monitoring) and the ways in which they manage their workforce (ranging from managerialism, accountability, though to empowerment). Much the same typology of changes are now embedded by governments in their e–Government and e–Society strategies. The government of Malta states that it will develop “First–class public service delivery; Increase citizen participation (e–democracy); Streamline Public Services and realise efficiency gains.” (Malta, 2000) In Denmark “E–Government should actively contribute to the development of network society” through processes such as “Flexible organisation: Cooperation in service communities: Slimmer administration through efficient work processes.” (Denmark, 2001) Dubai aims to develop a “Strategic Performance Management approach in order to link performance and reward management of employees to the overall vision and strategic goals of Dubai e–Government.” (Dubai, 2001)

For Jordan the needs to embrace e–Government are articulated in the Government’s strategy:

“In a networked borderless world, investors have a low switching cost to move from one country to the other, governments that are not business and citizen–centric will not be able to compete. This necessitates a fundamental shift in the way government operates and hence the importance of e–Government.” (Jordan, Ministry of Post and Communications (MOPC), 2002b)

In South Korea, an interview with Suh Sam–Young, president of National Computerization Agency, reported him as defining “electronic government as delivering services online and using technology to enhance participation in the democratic process.” (Deok–hyun, 2002). In the U.S., with its e–Government initiative underway for many years, the Office for Management and Budget (OMB) “found that redundant and overlapping agency activities have been major impediments to creating a citizen–centered electronic government.” [7] At a global level the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) focused more directly on the physical infrastructure, with a goal “to foster the deployment of secure, cost–effective and sustainable IP–based infrastructure and value–added services in developing and least developed countries worldwide” (ITU, 2002a), with more than 100 countries “seeking the assistance” of the ITU.

The creation of a physical infrastructure and the use of electronic commerce and government promises much to developing countries, with Ghana for example expected to “make a leap into the computer age and make remarkable economic and industrial growth” (Ahiable, 2001) by following the same strategies as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia. International aid agencies such as USAID have targeted developing nations in Africa under the Leland Initiative to create an Internet infrastructure within an “Internet–friendly policy environment, consisting of: Low prices; Introduction of competition; The free flow of Information” (Smith, 2001), a policy environment clearly resonant of U.S. conditions, particularly in the free availability of Federal Government information sources (U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), 1992).

Singapore in particular has been identified as a role model for e–Government development. The nation is small, spatially cohesive, and has a long history of entrepreneurial development, is well provided with telecoms infrastructure, has high educational attainment, with which a:

“societal proficiency in English all bode well for its effort to become an ‘intelligent island.’ At the same time, the high degree of top–down regulations and control found in Singapore make this effort challenging.” [8]

Singapore has cultural challenges in participating in the global business system, notably the need to move from risk–averse Confucianist principles to a more risk–tolerant business strategy. Singapore also provides a useful example of the management of tensions between empowerment and control. It is a nation legendary for its often draconian legislation, banning such items as chewing gum. As Internet access has expanded, it has concerned itself with issues such as Internet addiction, the dissemination of politically controversial information (Tan, 2002), and concerns about the ready availability of pornography (Creed, 2002).

The research into Singapore indicates that a highly flexible approach has been followed, and that setting a strategy firmly and following it literally is unlikely to succeed. Nevertheless, as Arun concludes that important factors in Singapore’s success with e–Government included flexible government leadership, a lack of corruptibility in public institutions, “an entrepreneurial and adaptive business community that is made up of both multinational and local corporations; and a hard–working, disciplined and compliant citizenry.” [9]



“Theoretical” background

E–Government strategies are based firmly in expectations that processes will lead to outcomes, although their basis is rather less in grounded theory than it is in political policy, economic dogma, or ideological expectations. Diverse expectations exist within strategies, for example; restructuring administrations, increasing democracy, achieving financial cost benefits, delivering services to citizens, a remedy for previous policy failures or failed administrative strategies. The implementation of ICTs as a focal part of e–Government also links to the process of ‘modernisation’ as well as being ‘advanced’ or ‘developed’, thus theoretically enabling a nation to participate in the processes of globalisation rather than to be subservient to globalisation. However, there are fundamental questions relating to relative speeds. While nations such as Jordan implement their strategies, to what extent are the advanced developed nations using ICTs and e–Government strategies to move even faster ahead? Will a strategy allow a developing nation to join the ‘club’ of advanced nations, and if so how will progress be measured? These relativities are not restricted to developing nations, since e–Government league lists (Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNSOFRES), 2002) are very influential among governments, but for nations such as Jordan there are additional pressures from the development policies at a global NGO level (IMF, World Bank) relating to economic and legislative strategy, and international level such as the aid policies of individual nations such as the U.K. being tied to poverty alleviation (U.K. Department for International Development (DfID), 2000).

The strategy document for Jordan involved a review of existing strategies in Australia, Dubai, Portugal, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and their summary of expectations covered. Setting in context the primary goal in Jordan of contributing to Jordan’s economic and social development by “providing access to e–Government services and information for everyone in the Kingdom irrespective of location/economic status/IT ability, and education” [10] the study summarised expected outcomes as being to:

  • Improve the quality of government service delivery as measured by such indicators as lessening processing time and improving the ease of interaction.
  • Increase the transparency of government by increasing availability of information.
  • Increase the responsiveness of government by providing more information and services to the public, and creating a new mode of contact between government and the public.
  • Save time, money, and other resources for both government and process users by improving efficiency in government processing.
  • Create a positive spinoff effect on the society through the promotion of information technology skill development in firms and individuals [11].

The U.S. strategy as redefined in 2002 itemises broadly similar goals:

  • Make it easy for citizens to obtain service and interact with the Federal government;
  • Improve government efficiency and effectiveness; and,
  • Improve government’s responsiveness to citizens [12].

E–Government therefore seeks to achieve a variety of outcomes. To assess the range material was gathered from strategy statements and related information from the following nations: Brazil (Dreyfuss, et al., 2002); Cambodia (Ministry of Commerce, Cambodia 2001); Canada (Bonisteel, 2001; Saliba, 2001); Denmark (Denmark, 2001); Dubai (Dubai, 2001); Estonia (Stone, 2001a; BBC, 2002a); European Union (European Commission, 2001a); Ghana (Mensah, 2002); Hong Kong (BBC, 2001; Creed, 2001a); Hungary (Ministry of Economic Affairs, Budapest (Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), 2001; Torontali, 2001); India (India, 2000; Pai, 2001); International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 2002b); Ireland (Clark, 2002; Ireland, e–Work Action Forum, 2002); Israel (Silverman, 2001); Japan (Japan, 2001; Stone, 2001b); Jordan (Jordan, Ministry of Post and Communications (MOPC), 2002a); Malta (Malta, 2000); New Zealand (New Zealand, 2001); Pakistan (BBC, 2002b); Russia (Naumenko, 2002); Singapore (Pryce–Jones and O’Hara, 2000; Creed, 2001b); South Africa (Stones, 2000); South Korea (Deok–hyun, 2002); Thailand (Boonruang and Karnjanatawe, 2002); U.K. (U.K. Cabinet Office, 2000a; U.K. Cabinet Office, 2000b); and, U.S. (Association for Federal Information Resources Management (AFIRM), 2002; U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), 2002; Relyeaa, 2002).

In summary the theoretical expectations for these nations initially can be grouped under four main headings:

Government to citizen (G2C), with the citizen being treated as customer not administrative objects.

  • Receiving services that are citizen–, not agency–focused
  • Disintermediating civil service staff — delivering services directly to citizens
  • Intelligent (e.g., smartcard) authentication
  • Being provided with access to government information
  • Being provided with access to the physical ICT infrastructure
  • Being made ‘more equal’ (reductions in digital and other divides)
  • Building and enhancing trust

Government to Government (G2G), involving good governance and a well–governed society.

  • Reducing the fractured nature of individual department and agencies, and moving towards ‘joined–up’ government
  • Changing the culture of the civil service from reactive to proactive
  • Open and accountable government
  • Cost–effective procurement

Government to Business (G2B), with conditions for effective business development.

  • Deregulation and legislative reform
  • A national economy with flexibility and competitiveness within the global markets.
  • Skilled, IT literate, and flexible citizens for the labour market

A spaceless and inclusive society with friction of distance no longer being a problem.

  • Remote rural areas being empowered by high–speed Internet access
  • Citizens being able to work from home (teleworking)
  • The disability barriers overcome
  • Gender barriers overcome
  • Increased sense of community well–being
  • Increased democratic involvement in the electoral process

With such a diversity of expected outcomes there are considerable challenges relating to assessment and measurement.



Emergent research themes

This section of the paper attempts to link the strategy statements with the research literature. It starts with a discussion about the ways in which strategies develop, moves on to development and strategy, examines the behaviour of government organisations, assesses the debates about democracy, examines the various articulation of ‘digital divides’ and specifically focuses on children and gender issues. It then examines the concepts of disintermediation, community and culture, and human rights. A final section is concerned with the challenges of measurement.

The nature of strategy

The implementation of an e–Government strategy is not a process of linear change, leading continually to the improvements expected by the theory. In highly complex societies the interaction of processes such as culture, geography, politics, economic attainment, coupled with the stresses of globalisation, can interact in unexpected and uncertain ways. Unlike the development of a complex piece of engineering it is not feasible to model the impact of e–Government on a nation in the same way that deterministic models do for the design and testing of a new aircraft. Yet it seems that few national strategies have built into them a process of monitoring and strategic change at the locality, rather than the national level. In general linear change is the expected norm, and few indications exist in the strategies that the policy makers have even addressed the impact of catastrophic change (such as the events of 11 September 2001).

In reality it is not surprising that the general hope of governments is that linear change will occur and the targets will be met. Although there are analogies to business strategy in e–Government statements, notably the citizen as customer, government’s ability to refine strategy often is constrained by political opposition criticising change as strategy failure. Therefore many of the characteristics of business strategy are removed from government, for example the approach of sustainability analysis for:

“analyzing different competitive dynamics related to a given product in order to determine: (a) the appropriate strategy paradigm; (b) different (IT) strategies consistent with that paradigm; and, (c) a prediction for how long the resulting strategic (IT) advantage may be sustained.” [13]

Government has less flexibility in the management of human capital — rapid hiring and firing staff is not a characteristic of government. Furthermore, government departments function less as parts of a coherent whole, and more as competing elements for resources. Even when functions are integrated there are contradictions, such as in the Clinton–Gore ideal of reducing the size of government, making it flexible, and centralising information resources:

“At the same time, the Administration hopes to reduce IT expenditures by standardizing the government’s information infrastructure and consolidating redundant IT systems. However, much of the literature cited in this article suggests that centralization, integration, and consolidation of IT resources and policies is the antithesis of promoting innovative IT use.” (Beachboard and McClure, 1996)

The literature on business strategy promotes flexibility, and long term horizons. Pearson notes that strategy “is concerned with long–term asset growth, not short–term profit” [14] that “change cannot be so static, it must be fluid” Landrum reviews whether “charismatic leaders” are by themselves likely to achieve successful strategy implementation, preferring to balance them with “team–led strategic change” [15]. Nevertheless, Hoag’s study investigated whether the primary reasons for strategic failure are the conventionally accepted ones of excessive costs, high workloads that demoralise staff, and legislation and mitigates against change, instead arguing that “it is cultural entrenchment created by a dysfunctional management which prevents organizations from experiencing positive change.” (Hoag, et al., 2002)


Strategy must be reflexive (i.e., self critical) and should “look ahead and anticipate trends and surprises.” [16] It should include reward systems and overcome the gatekeeping habits of senior managers (Kulatilaka and Venkatraman, 2001). The resources available should not be fixed so that strategy may evolve and “invest in future potential.” [17] In terms of strategy models most e–Government proposals would seem to fit into what Horn identifies as the dominant model of the last decade, a “resource–based” approach:

“This takes the view that organizations are bundles of resources which managers have to develop and build towards achieving their strategic objectives. These basic resources constitute inputs into more complex resource clusters built up within each organization.” [18]

And the strategy is one that is largely imposed on the government organisations where policy “dictates patterns in actions either through direct imposition or through implicitly re–empting or bounding organizational choice.” [19] The resource–based imposed model places high importance on building and enhancing managerial and staff competencies within an organisation, a task that goes beyond technical training in ICTs to training in the thinking, as against the traditional civil service approach of task–based reacting. However, as Kavanagh and Richards (Kavanagh and Richards, 2001) show, that does not mean that a civil service will compliantly accept change, and studies show in the U.S. that “60 percent of traditional government initiatives also fail to fulfill all expectations.” (Matthews, 2002)

National strategy within the global ICT context

In much the same way as scientific research aims to demonstrate “progress” in a discipline (Bassett, 1999), so governments presently aim to become “modern”, the political parties often re–invent themselves as “new”, and society and economy are to be revitalised by becoming “electronic” and “digital”. Underpinning much of the activity has been the adoption of information communication technologies (ICTs), and to make the adoption work effectively organisations were obliged to fundamentally change the ways they work. Re–invention was very much the key organisational phrase of the late 1980s and 1990s (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992), with a key emphasis on changing the ways in which government worked along the lines of the U.S. National Performance Review mantra of “make government work better and cost less.” (Gore, 1993) Re–invention was more about changing the ways that governments organised themselves and delivered policies and services, albeit frequently aiming to use information technologies (IT) to increase efficiency. The “productivity paradox” has interested the business community. The conventional expectation is that IT adoption leads to increased efficiency and productivity, and thence to increased profitability. For government, and the taxpayer, the productivity gain ideally is in lower taxation — more government for less money as Gore had stated. The expectation of higher profits and lower taxes has, however, frequently not been met by reality, with a litany of IT disasters, in U.K. government for example, ranging from probation services (U.K. House of Commons, 2002a), learning delivery (U.K. House of Commons, 2002b) and air traffic control (Walters, 2002). While seeming to be a truism, it needs to be stated from the outset that there is no guaranteed link between ICT adoption and project success.


No sector is immune from the downside impacts of IT and ICT adoption. In business, estimates of corporate inefficiency in IT adoption have been estimated by Gartner, Inc.: “businesses typically waste 20 percent of corporate IT budgets on purchases which fail to achieve their objectives.” (Gartner, Inc., 2002) In a study of Singapore companies Teo and Ang identified reasons for IT inefficiency as involving “failing to sufficiently involve top management … ignoring business goals … failing to translate goals and strategies into action plans.” [20] So to what extent is failure the fault of the strategy, the organisational environment, the processes of implementation, or a combination of these and other factors? Stratopoulos and Dehning asked “If you could control for mismanagement, would you expect to observe a statistically significant positive correlation between investment in IT and financial performance?” [21] Their conclusions point more towards the need to ensure that ICTs are firmly embedded in the business processes of an organisation, and onwards from that stage the IT adoption sequence moved from information systems, through re–invention, into joined–up government and thence to e–Government that:

“is the use of technology to enhance the access to and delivery of government services to benefit citizens, business partners and employees … At the centre of it all is the customer.” [22]

As primary strategy statements are read, it does seem that the spread of e–Government adoption has occurred almost on an evangelical basis. The government of India, in its ‘Technology for the Masses’ strategy acclaims:

“No one required to visit government office for day–to–day work by 2005. 100 million Internet connections and 1 million IT Kiosks In a country like India, where a common man has to deal with some government agency or other virtually on a day–to–day basis, the most visible impact of IT on the life of a common man will be felt if no one may be required to visit a government office for day–to–day work and instead have all such interactions with government and its agencies through Internet.” (India, 2000)

Yet even before the adoption of this strategy the warning signs were clear. Heeks had reviewed potentials and problems for IT adoption in the huge Indian public sector, noting that cultural change is needed, and that seldom occurs rapidly, therefore advising:

“In the interim, such information age reform initiatives as do take place in India are likely to remain dominated by isolate and, increasingly, idolise approaches. The true potential of information technology will therefore remain untapped in most cases, with initiatives undershooting in their delivery of reform objectives.” [23]

For example, in June 2000 the India government terminated a 9.5 billion rupee project to modernise the official Statistical System. The project was funded by the World Bank, but the project itself needed increased staffing at a time when the policy of the government was to downsize the civil service — one strategy conflicting with another one (BBC, 2000).

Setting laudable, but incontrovertible goals then runs the risk of the goals leading the policy, since admitting failure is one of the most difficult things for politicians to do. In early 2002 this was evident in the U.K., to the extent whereby when the U.K. e–Government (U.K. Cabinet Office, 2000a; 2000b) target of Internet access was in danger of not being met. The take–up of digital television had been lower than expected in the U.K. (Anon., 2002a; Cassy and Wells, 2002), and that was a key channel for delivery of e–Government services rather than complex and expensive microcomputers. Rather than admit ‘defeat’ the temptation was to redefine the term access. Access now meant not (what most would logically assume) to be computers in every home, but that as the U.K. Government e–Envoy stated “some people will have to travel five miles to get online” (Anon., 2002b). Target–led policy therefore runs the risk that the targets are redefined so that the policy is “successful”, redolent of the concerns over the definitional integrity of U.K. official statistics around 1990 (Moore, 1991). Consequently a public consultation was announced in October 2002 where “Government at all levels, from central to local, will evaluate DTV as a key channel for e–Government using the strengths of this medium to deliver richer services and inclusivity” (U.K. Office of the e–Envoy, 2002a).


Research into IT adoption would tend to caution developing countries against the unquestioning adoption of IT–based government, and that is quite aside from the deeper issues of whether IT and ICTs are part of the ‘Western’ or ‘advanced’ nation hegemonic domination of the global economy, or as Banuri states “a linear view of history, in which Western countries are further along the path of progress than third world countries” [24]. Reporting on research into the Malaysia high–tech Multi–Media Super Corridor (MMSC) (Mahathir, 1998) — a development driven by central government imperatives to become, through Vision 2021, an advanced developed country by 2021 — Bunnell identified emerging internal disparities, and:

“sought to show how large–scale infrastructure development is rationalised and legitimised in relation to hegemonic discourses of globalisation and technology that imagine ‘high–tech’ development as a national necessity.” [25]

Rich nation technologies therefore can both exert control over the development of national policy and strategy in other nations, and also can create a “life–space dominated and shaped by the information industry” [26] that forces people to articulate even their concerns within the technological framework — they must use the Internet to critique the impact of the Internet. Developing an ICT strategy requires massive investment into the physical infrastructure, that when joined to the global ICT infrastructure means that “it is easy to understand how the leaders of nation–states will find it difficult to sustain the control they now insist on exercising over the political process within their borders” (Mandela, 1997). UNESCO reported the views of Pacific Island nations:

“The biggest inhibitor of e–governance was felt to be the cost of computers and other equipment, but this was closely followed by Internet cost issues, slow Internet connections, lack of digitised government information, ownership and monopoly of telecommunication services, availability of training for Government officials and the lack of political awareness of the opportunities.” (UNESCO, 2002)

These statements identify one of many ICT contradictions, because the strong internal controls that ICTs can bring a government (integrated information, joined–up policy making and monitoring, comprehensive communications) seem then to be mitigated as the ICT infrastructure is linked globally. A further concern over homogenisation of policy warns “there is a risk that one–dimensional definitions of social progress, stressing economic efficiency, will spread worldwide and level traditional cultures” [27].

Some argue that the rush for Internet connectivity is little more than a form of colonialism whereby the information, business and political culture on the Internet dominantly is “Western”, and

“is nothing but a marketing strategy by the richer countries and information MNCs to open up new markets and integrate the African economies into the worldwide information technology economy.” [28]

Even when nations are connected to the Internet the dependence on the IT companies of the West is considerable, since an IT infrastructure requires maintenance, enhancement, and new sophisticated levels of infrastructure security [29]. Nevertheless, the traffic is not all one way, since the U.S. advanced IT technologies are used by China in building its own access controls, so stimulating debates in the U.S. about whether export controls should be implemented (Grebb, 2002).


An information infrastructure itself further depends on the IT–rich countries with obligations to enforce “standards and property rights developed elsewhere if various digital networks in their countries are going to be connected to the Internet” (Sassen, 2000). For the practice of healthcare, for example, there is a risk of the technologies superseding existing medical practices, and a push towards telemedicine “cannot replace the basic health infrastructure. E–mail is no substitute for medicines, and ISDN lines cannot provide clean water.” (Arunachalam and Swaminathan, 1999)

Even as they connected to the Internet, developing countries may find themselves still in a disadvantaged position. President Clinton, in his 1998 State of the Union Address, focused on the “next generation Internet”. While Clinton’s goal was to link everyone in the world, Kling questioned “but will the real beneficiaries be ordinary people, rather than wealthy organisations?” [30] stressing also the need to build the social skills to use new technologies. For developing nations, however, the dilemma is fundamental. Ignore the Internet and become globally isolated. Embrace the Internet and be obliged to invest in an ICT infrastructure designed by western multinational corporations, use their software, adopt their business and governance processes, and try to be as much alike them while still trying to retain national and cultural identities.

Organisations and re–invention

For nations such as Jordan an e–Government and e–Society strategy fits within other global pressures such as debt reduction, governmental reform (BBC, 2002c), regulatory reform (Jordan Times Editorial, 2002), privatisation, competition (Sawaliha, 2002), and all the components of the cocktail of do’s and don’ts advised and imposed by international bodies such as the World Bank (Al Farawati, 2002), IMF, WTO and WIPO, and national agencies such as the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID) with its particular goals of poverty reduction (Dajani, 2002).

It is difficult enough for government agencies in a developed nation to ‘reinvent’ themselves within an e–Government strategy. The very sections of government that hold existing power often are those asked to divest themselves of that power, and “deconstruction is most likely to strike in precisely those parts of the business where incumbents have most to lose and are least willing to recognize it.” (Evans and Wurster, 2000) Attempts can be made at incentivisation, and in Jordan the “King Abdullah II Award for Distinction in Government Performance and Transparency” was launched in September 2002. The award is targeted at individuals in particular, and candidates nominated by their agencies should be able to demonstrate that their “performance has genuinely benefited citizens, yielded positive results, upheld the principles of transparency and accountability.” Crucial determinants of success of such awards, however, are first the process of internal nomination of individuals, and second the mechanisms for assessing success.

In the context of ‘re–invention’ in the U.K. government Kavanagh and Richards quoted a junior minister in the Thatcher government as admitting that when he was moved rapidly from the Department of the Environment (where he was fighting the Treasury for more resources) to the Treasury itself, he quickly adopted the Treasury ‘brief’ to fight his old Department and refuse the request. Indeed the whole organisational culture seemed negative, and their study quoted a senior civil servant as admitting

“At the moment we have tried to join government up with sellotape and bandages and I think it is going to take a lot more in cultural terms to really join up government. IT will take serious incentives, and I do not mean just threats, something is going to have to happen to make officials and ministers working within departments realise that they are being judged on the outcome of the overall policy and not just on their own individual role or that of the department.” [31]

The process of joining–up government in the U.K. was accompanied also by a contradictory process of the “Thatcher regime’s promotion of enterprise, individualism and minimal government at the same time as hierarchy, authority and the nation state” [32], which poses yet further dilemmas for a State embracing the tenets both of capitalist competition and of a centralising process of e–Government. Valentine worried that this would lead both to citizens expecting even more from government (centralisation) while government was expecting even more from citizens (participation). Furthermore, it is becoming even more difficult for a nation state to protect the public good when privatisation and globalisation and market competition are such dominant forces:

“Now that the power of traditional politics has been vitiated to the point that it can offer little resistance to the preponderance of the technological — economic complex, we are witnessing the rise of countless organized social groups and institutions that desire to reassert fundamental human values at various levels — local, national and planetary.” [33]

This explains, according to Strijbos, the growth of global lobbying and special interest groups such as Greenpeace, because “people are also better connected with one another worldwide” [34]. Adding national and local culture into organisational reinvention is additionally challenging. In studying IT acceptance in Nigeria, Anandarajan noted that “West African culture is dominated by high collectivism and high uncertainty avoidance, i.e., an individual’s beliefs depend on the social norms of the group” [35], underlining again the worry about imposing Western models of government reorganisation onto developing nations.

(d) Democracy and locality — Control versus local empowerment

Will a centrally provided ICT development model influence localities through a technology–push approach (Bannon and Griffin, 2000), will localities influence the developments of the technologies, or will the technologies be “an integrated element in multiple socio–technical ensembles in interaction” [36]? Joined–up government, with its power to centralise (join–up in virtual space) information and power, offers a further dilemma. There is a real temptation to centralise information and decision–making, for example the widening powers of the U.K. Government Cabinet Office, while also purporting to support ICTs as a means of decentralising information and consultation to local and individual levels. In effect the friction of distance mentioned above in the Indian government statement is overcome by linking people and organisations in cyberspace. If people link in cyberspace will their local identity be subsumed in a greater global electronic community? There are fears, for example, that such processes will lead to the reduction in the number of global languages (Legacy of Colonialism (LOC), 2002; Ward, 2002). However, earlier fears that the Internet would become focused on American English may be misplaced, since the growth of Internet access in China may well mean “perhaps we will wake up in a decade or two and the prevailing online language will be Cantonese” (Hawley, 2001), with one prediction being that Chinese will be the dominant language of the Internet by 2007 (Anon., 2001a).

Technological predictions during 2002 seemed to point towards increasing linguistic diversity on the Internet, in that there will be many more language blocks than American English, but at the same time the homogenisation of the Internet may well exacerbate the loss of the absolute numbers of languages, a concern that is stimulating the archiving of languages (Mayfield, 2002). As with the predicted loss of linguistic diversity, some predictions have argued that geography itself will diminish as ICTs and the Internet ‘kill’ distance by bringing people together online. It is difficult to see such a trend, in the same way that earlier technologies did, such as the electronic telegraph in the nineteenth century (Standage, 1998). Spatially grounded communities and localities did not disappear, and are not expected to disappear in the era of the Internet [37], although they did (as they have always in the past) change, and “local sensibilities retain validity and global communication forms can be used to feed and elaborate these sensibilities.” [38]


The process of organisational change includes substantial de–regulation of existing state monopolies over both resource delivery such as utilities, and in the control and delivery of information. That involves de–regulating control over the media, though it should involve a sensitive balance between the conflicting opposites of “all or nothing” when implementing Internet access, such as censorship (such as in Turkey (Jones, 2002)) no censorship as in the U.S. First Amendment ‘right’ to free speech (Campbell, 2002), or total surveillance versus total privacy (Rosen, 2001). It means at the very least accepting that censorship will generally obviate the very benefits that the Internet brings, although it also does imply that human rights are balanced by human obligations:

"Passive citizens, who wait for others to accord and respect their rights and mistakenly suppose that states alone can do so, are, I think, doomed to disappointment. Active citizens who meet their duties thereby secure one another’s rights." (O. O’Neill, 2002a)

Although firmly stated rights are regarded as essential:

“In particular, we need to reform offline social institutions in such a way that ICTs really are aimed at the empowerment of the least advantaged, rather than at the prejudices and myopias of many politicians, administrators and taxpayers. The next task, then, is to refine and develop this theory of virtual rights, and to connect the necessary cyber–reforms to a politics of ecosocialism.” [39]

For the Jordanian media the obligations include “ethics of responsible journalism in Jordan, creating a formula of equation to balance between the liberation of the media and its responsibility towards the people and national interests.” (Joha, 2002b) For the citizens there are clear societal targets of with the 2000 Human Development Report for the country noting “Priorities and policy implications for increasing youth participation in public opinion formation, decision–making, and community activities, and for promoting social integration through diversity, democracy, and tolerance” (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2000) while also acknowledging “the identity and sense of belonging of Jordanian youth are still firmly rooted in traditional social structures, while simultaneously the young are widely exposed to global, multicultural influences, even within their own homes.” (UNDP, 2000)

The earlier definition of e–Government focused attention clearly on the customer, or citizen. Maintaining the voice of the individual or small group in the global homogeneity and vastness of cyberspace necessitates active policy rather than passive expectation that people will articulate their views once given access. Gage proposes that physical connection must be supplemented by asking “each linked location to describe their local world. See through the eyes of children. Build networks of local information at the most decentralized level possible.” [40] Essential components are models of communication that emphasize discussion, problem solving, evaluation and choice [41], skills, partnerships of equal weight, skills and expertise that help citizens articulate their participation effectively, and information relevant to citizens [42]. In a review of electronic voting potential in the U.K., the Hansard Society concluded:

“… if e–democracy is to develop into an integral part of representative democracy, mechanisms for promoting public deliberation, embedding it within the constitutional process and demonstrating real links between public input and policy outcomes need to be devised. Public expectations need to be managed: e–democracy should not be seen as a recipe for direct democracy or technopopulism.” (Hansard Society, 2002)

In other words, the Internet “must at least correspond in some fashion to the nature of the information infrastructure that would normally be used for civic or community building purposes.” [43] Weighted against that, however, is a move to passive information consumption by citizens overloaded with media stimulation, and Jurgen Habermas “describes the displacement of a critical reading public by a mass public of culture consumers” [44], and the material reviewed above reaffirms the need to explore the received wisdom of ICT itemised by Burkett as:

“… giving ICT access to poor people will make them information rich; that there is more to inequalities of information than a north/south context; that giving people access to information directly improves their quality of life; that creating an information society directly improves democracy and participation; and, given enough information we can solve all the world’s problems.” [45]

(e) Inclusion exclusion, abilities and digital divides

Divides are a fact of life. It is a rare situation where all people are equally advantaged. The term divide, however, invites unequivocal statements about haves and have–nots. Yapa derides the “binary of the poor and non–poor, the latter is held up as a standard for the poor to emulate”, questioning both the fact that “consumerist life–styles of the affluent” are then promoted as an ideal, and that “too often divides are conceptualised as being economic problems to be overcome by economic solutions.” [46] Not only are the consumerist economic approaches poorly conceptualised, but they also are again cited as being part of an exploitative colonialising domination by the West. Developing nations are encouraged to adopt Western technologies and models of governance and society, and also their retail purchasing characteristics. Value systems start to become obtained through external sources such as globalised media, rather than developed from within society. Expectations of instant gratification lead to shorter and shorter times periods between desiring a product and acquiring it. Thus the technological dependence articulated in an earlier section is now linked to a behavioural dependence on western consumerism.

The argument extends to identify a potentially exploitative relationship, where multinational corporations (MNCs) use technologically developing nations both for their low labour costs (and associated weaker labour protection regimes) but then to “cheap products obtained from poor countries. Transfer of this wealth to Europe and North America continues and is expanding” (Lown and Xaver, 1998). The considerable investment into the wiring of Jordan (Halchina, 2002) may, unless there is a very clear national strategy running from national to community level, run the risk of allowing a rapid resource and skill and intellectual property export to the West (Anon., 2001b). Even learning how to engage with ICTs requires information, both intellectual information to fuel the education system (for example, expensive Western journals and books (Weisinger and Bellorin–Font, 2001)), and in the production of statistical and related information within the nation, frequently with calls for the nation to make its information freely available on the Internet along the lines of the U.S. Federal model.

The morality of development could therefore request that the West makes “An obvious first step … to make our content and information freely available on the Internet, and to make up the nominal fees that we would earn from these resources in other creative ways” (Miller, 2001), perhaps along the lines of the World Health Organisation and the Soros Foundation (Anon., 2000) in making available health literature and information, a small but helpful step to respond to the concerns of Edejer:

“That the digital divide is more dramatic than any other inequities in health or income is depressing because information and communication technologies have been hailed as one of the potential solutions to these inequities.” (Edejer, 2000)

The risks of technology–fix approaches to improve the ‘have–not’ locations are documented extensively in the literature. Best (2002) stresses that initiatives should “link to real and legitimate development objectives.” [47] In the U.K., regional and local development has often invested in physical resources, such as gentrifying an area with a new museum, art gallery, or library. Either that, or address the symptoms not the causes of a problem, the response being not to reduce the ways in which people are excluded, but to cope with the outcomes of exclusion [48]. Rather than focus on technology-led solutions, more success may be obtained in the “diminution rather than exaggeration of differences in levels of development and opportunities to learn” [49], and prior requirements are considered in the next section.

Where other divides are considered, for example forms of disability, there is a danger that policies may aim to manipulate ICTs, that is superficially render technologies “useful”. The European Disability Forum is a European organisation that promoted universal service access rights to the e–Society, and a crucial argument of such organisations is that technologies designed with the needs of disabled people in mind, are technologies that are better accessible to all citizens. Williamson’s research argues strongly for a plurality of channels, and:

“… information resources other than the Internet, such as radio stations specifically catering for the blind and vision impaired, are necessary and vital to the community and, as such, need to be maintained at their current levels.” (Williamson and Schauder, 2000)

In a wide–ranging review of the digital divide, Warschauer (2002) recommended that the focus change away from seeing the divide as one of lack of access to machinery (an assumed causal link between machines and empowerment) to one of the key enabling skills, and to visualise it not as a binary divide but as a multidimensional issue. The issue for him is not one of mitigating exclusion, but maximising social inclusion through a particular focus on literacy that:

“… allows us to re–orient the focus from that of gaps to be overcome by provision of equipment to that of social development to be enhanced through the effective integration of ICT into communities and institutions. This kind of integration can only be achieved by attention to the wide range of physical, digital, human, and social resources that meaningful access to ICT entails.” (Warschauer, 2002)

Such a proposal returns us to the issues of organisational reinvention. Literacy requires a coordinated approach from partners who implement physical e–learning systems in schools (Anon., 2002c) and higher education (Nasser, 2002), linking with literacy strategies at community level through local technology centres, working with all agencies on the delivery of high quality and appropriate content, implementing re–training and reward systems for teachers, and working with parents and local communities to overcome fears of the negative impacts of technologies.


As with e–Government, the digital divide(s) encourage countries to look uncertainly both within and without. In much the same way as a nation does not want to be bottom of a digital divide global league table (for example, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) assessing access by countries (ITU, 2002a)), it also needs to be sensitised to divides within the nation. Too often the divides are views as being geographical, largely due to the role of geography in the political (votes) and administrative (allocation of resources) contexts.

(f) Education, children, gender and ethics

Addressing the core issues of digital divisions for Jordan is part of the strategy to alleviate poverty, and that includes improving literacy levels, with illiteracy reported as being up to 15 percent and 24 percent in rural and urban areas respectively, and the “rate of illiteracy for rural women is twice as high as those for urban men and women.” (Dajani, 2002). The response noted by Dajani is the establishment of rural literacy centres. More comprehensively “the causal priority of education, parent involvement, lifelong learning, social context, and literacy suggest ways in which inequalities can be mitigated” [50], although Wilhelm does worry that the capitalist competitive marketplace may be a “hostile” environment for initiatives to take place.

Policies to alleviate poverty, through raising levels of literacy, skills and numeracy return us to the concerns over the ‘what for?’ issue. Even within Canada there have been worries that potential adverse affects may be downplayed in the enthusiasm for modernisn, technological development, and global competitiveness. Shade worried that “so far, policymaking in North America has engaged an elite: technologists, bureaucrats, industry, and academics. Public interest groups have had a minimal presence.” [51] Outcomes of concern included information monopolies, deskilling of jobs, the re–domestication of work through teleworking (with teleworking of course being held up as the idealistic answer to the stress of commuting), the fracturing of workers power (originally within a physical unionised workplace) by dispersing workers in cyberspace, and additional gender concerns including difficulties of childcare [52].

Concerning children, their use of ICTs often is very different to that expected of them, whether it be playing games, or accessing content that parents and teachers do not approve. Is that because the children are innately disobedient or bad, or is the reason more complex? One avenue to explore is the way in which the technologies that are made available to children are not their technologies — they were not part of the design and implementation. That means they are ‘invited in’ to ICTs, and Roche notes that first we must clearly understand the conditions we set when they are given access, and also be aware of “;the risk of responsibility for making a decision being thrust upon children in circumstances not of their choosing.” [53]

Children use ICTs differently, and they “need to learn how to scan, analyze, evaluate, extract, and synthesize information on the Web. These skills are vital for their information literacy.” (Bilal and Kirby, 2002) If children in a particular environment, such as a Palestinian refugee camp (Hart, 2002) are given access to ICTs will that improve their education skills, and allow them to be politicised rather than objectivised about the crises in the Middle East? Will mechanisms evolve to allow children to participate in e–commerce when they are not allowed to have credit cards — the currency of the Internet? Here developments such as pay–as–you–go electronic card (Smartcreds, 2002) are innovations that allow children to participate more fully in the e–Society, and such innovations demonstrate the interplay between all sectors in achieving e–Society goals, even if the sectors were not initial stakeholders in the published strategy.

For women, therefore, the Internet and ICTs have to be seen more fully within a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) scenario, albeit carefully with a caveat that dividing into male and female groupings itself is stereotypical:

“The truth is that there are far more similarities than differences, and even when statistical differences are found on some measure the variation within each group is almost always extremely high. If, for example, a study finds that the mean score for men on a test designed to measure spatial abilities comes out higher than the mean score for women, the finding if often reported with the headline, ‘Research confirms that men have better spatial abilities than women’.” [54]

And an additional conundrum exists in the difficulties for women to enter the IT marketplace in the first place (Fountain, 2000), where the business culture is strongly influenced by the existing male dominance, and where “there are fewer women employed at senior levels in this field.” [55]

In a survey of Turkish women, Sevdik warned that while communication via the Internet may reduce the opportunities for physical prejudice, a woman’s name in particular helps identify her as a women, and therefore “they sometimes feel a need to hide their real identity to avoid the potential for harassment and abuse identified elsewhere.” (Scott et al., 1999). Thus, Turkish women do not trust relationships on the Internet, and they also feel that when they are online, they are putting their privacy at risk [56]. Overall, messages are consistent in a warning not to take a technology–led approach, and Kole stresses the preferred approach being “problem–oriented and normative based on participating democratization, advancement of women, appropriate technology, local capacity building.” (Kole, 2000)

Much of the gender research advises against the one–form for all e–Government strategy. Preece undertook a conceptual examination of citizenship, arguing that it is ‘gendered’:

“This means that the way men and women learn what is valued in terms of active citizenship and participation in decision making determines their identity as citizens, their perceived entitlements as members of a given society and their perceived role within society.” [57]

Therefore, a strategy must accept that “women make different choices” and the e–Government services and facilities made available must be “relevant to different women’s lives. And fourthly, this conception must extend the understanding of men’s gendered subjectivity too.” [58] So, gender does not mean making available a second class set of services for women, it means taking full account of the gendered needs of both females and males. It means also confronting “power relations, manifested through use of language, behaviour, structural systems and the internalised meanings”, about understanding “who makes decisions in organisations, who controls economic decision making, how those decisions are made, how words are gender–blind.” [59]


Early experience of gendered use at the Jordan IT Centre at Safawi was reported by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) which has been closely involved in the development of the infrastructure and the services for a remote rural community that includes many Bedouin. Working with groups of women, segregated from men for cultural reasons, it was found that “women were particularly interested in health issues, such as osteoporosis, cancer and skin ailments caused by the harsh desert climate.” (Anon., 2001c) The particular challenge here will be to make available content on the Internet that is culturally relevant, and accessible to groups of women where levels of literacy are low [60].

Finally, a highly sensitive gender issue is that of access and use of pornographic materials. As of 1999 the Jordanian Government had taken the view that censorship of the Internet would hinder the development of e–Commerce and the e–Society, “with the result that Jordanians can obtain information from the Internet that is either taboo or ignored in the local print press.” (Human Rights Watch, Middle East and North Africa Division, 1999) In December 2000 the Ministry of the Interior announced new regulations for the location (not within 200 metres of a place of worship or a hospital) and function of commercial Internet “cafés and other centers that have cyber connectivity” (Awadat, 2001), forbidding children below the age of 16 to use the facilities as a means of meeting parents fears of them accessing immoral content. The regulations were withdrawn in January 2002 (Ma’ayeh, 2001), but this does indicate how strategy to deliver greater access to ICT can be seriously complicated by the need to balance between concern and openness, especially within the Arab culture where other nations such as Saudi Arabia (Santana, 2001; Saudi Arabia, Internet Services Unit (ISU), 2002), Iran (Smith, 2002) and Kuwait (Anon., 2002d) explicitly censor access to remove seditious, culturally offensive or pornographic content.

Attempts to censor the Internet in the U.S. have ranged from the Communications Decency Act of 1996, that was overturned on the basis of constitutional rights of free speech [61]. However, that has not stopped further attempts to censor access in the U.S., for example for children accessing the Internet in libraries, but this attempt also failed in the courts (Krebs, 2002; Sullivan, 2002). Therefore, unless there is a prior basis of censorship of such content, trying to impose a new one via the Internet is neither logical nor sensible since it would follow the fallacy of censoring the technology not the content. The recommendations of a national study in the U.S. is “the best strategy is a combination of social and educational interventions, technology–based tools and legal and regulatory approaches.” (National Research Council, Committee to Study Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content, 2002)

Gendered debates about access to pornography and its effects have been based mostly in ‘Western’ contexts where males have existing access to printed pornography, and transfer their consumption of it to the Internet. For Arab societies where there is not such a readily available supply of printed material, access to unfettered content on the Web is deserving of study. There is no clear consensus as to whether pornography in itself is unequivocally damaging:

“Some social scientists maintain that the use of sexually explicit materials is harmless, and that it can also be functional, healthy, and liberating in some contexts because it provides education, erotic enhancement, an outlet for exploration, and entertainment. It can also be useful in some therapeutic treatment programs for sexual dysfunctions. Others, however, point to the ethical and moral issues involved — particularly the exploitation and objectification of women.” [62]

However, other research does indicate that online pornography “triggers disinhibition — people are less inhibited about accessing extreme material online than seeing it in a sex show or film theatre or live sex show” [63], and the growing global problem of child pornography (Grove and Zerega, 2002) has encouraged police forces worldwide to share information about those who transcend national borders to access such material in cyberspace (Rosenbaum, 2001). At a global level there are few moral and ethical issues that would seem gain almost universal agreement in terms of revulsion and the needs for action, but child pornography certainly is one of them (BBC, 2002d).

(g) Disintermediation

Will the Internet kill off physical business? Will citizens connect directly to government services without the mediation of a civil servant? Will shops cease to exist as customers order over the Internet for home delivery? Will cinemas cease to exist as broadband networks allow families to view films on demand via digital television? To a large extent the process of disintermediation (removing the middle agent, whether the agency is informational, a person, or a location) is about connecting customers/citizens directly with services, but it also is about potentially disruptive processes of employment decline, the loss of individual roles and self–esteem, and possible adverse impacts on communities (see the next section for the community debate).

As ever, history provides some useful starting points. Marshall McLuhan notes that in most societies there are groups of information gatekeepers who have something to fear from new technologies: “Prior to the considerable diffusion of power through alphabet and papyrus, even the attempts of kings to extend their rule in spatial terms was opposed at home by the priestly bureaucracies.” [64] The printing press in Renaissance Europe disintermediated scribes who previously were responsible for copying texts for circulation. The scribes, through their control over the technology of reproduction, also controlled the nature and flow of knowledge to citizens. The motivation of the Catholic Church to sanction the printing press was not to allow mass access to printed bibles, for the scribes argued (in the same terms a trade guild or trade unions (Jenkins and Sherman, 1977) would to protect the jobs of their members) that it would be inconceivable for a non–human technology to reproduce a Bible with the same sanctity and solemnity that a cleric could. The Church was motivated by business goals related to the production of indulgences. Indulgences were purchased by the faithful to reduce the amount of time they spent after death in purgatory, after which they would go to heaven. By using the printing press more indulgences could be produced, and more sales leads to more money. Recent developments in e–books (Lombreglia, 2000), however, would at present seem more like a technology trying to drive a process, and having launched the technology the problems of embedding it within the cultures of libraries, intellectual property owners, and readers, is proving difficult (Rose, 2001).

Disintermediation brings with it ethical issues, for example relating to children’s access to pornography and other unacceptable content on the Internet (Gellman, 1996), in particular the distribution and accessibility of racist and hateful content (Rajagopal and Bojin, 2002). Disintermediation can relate to virtual processes as well as physical ones. In the late nineteenth century the nature of newspapers changed in the U.S., moving away from products that largely followed the political preferences of their owners and editors towards an “emphasis on demographics, which valued readers as consumers, excluded the poor, who could vote but had little money to spend.” [65] This then can be related to the digital divide on the Internet, where high quality and objective information is highly commodified, and those without the money and intellectual skills are left to wallow in the morass of unstructured noise.

A brief survey of selected developments on the Internet serves both to identify what intermediation is doing, while also raising questions about whether disintermediation is a new process, with the developments being articulated as research hypotheses:

  • The Internet allows individuals to maintain a Web site and have the same global visibility as a major corporation. For example Matthew Drudge, with his Drudge Report site, has achieved almost cult status as a source of media stories in the U.S. (Kettman, 2000; Monk, 2000). But is that information as good as, or better than, conventional media sites such as Reuters?

  • The Internet empowers women, particularly in communities and cultures where women’s mobility is restricted. For example the Internet has enabled women in Iran to communicate beyond the confines of the home, and to discuss subject that are taboo (Hermida, 2002). The Web can be used to exact revenge, for example in the U.K. a woman posting messages on a popular site about her husband having an affair (Hill, 2002). On a wider scale, the RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan) has been successful at promoting the causes of women in countries such as Afghanistan in a way that overcomes the conventional cultural information filters (Featherly, 2001).

  • The Web allows individuals to fight corporate power, and geopolitical information control, by utilising the ubiquity of communication on the Web. Until it was removed after that attacks on the U.S. in September 2001, the Taliban site (Justo, 2001) was intriguingly used by a technologically phobic government on the basis that it communicated their message directly to the world without being filtered by a hostile Western press. There has been a growth of complaints sites (Ahn, 2002) that in the U.K. include specific sites devoted to the complaints of dissatisfied rail customers (Anon., 2001d). That growth has led to new business opportunities for information companies that protect the image and brand status of a corporation, for example “New Media Strategies developed a software system that will scour the Internet for any mention of a client’s name or products. The company references are then analyzed to track public opinion on the firm.” (McCarthy, 2002) More worryingly, the posting of abusive content can go further to become defamatory and damaging, such as in the U.K. where accusations of sexual abuse were made against teachers by former students (Kelly, 2002).

  • The Internet and globalised communications networks, enables developing nations around the world to disintermediate time to their economic advantage. India uses its time advantage over the U.S. to work on software and services during the U.S. night, as well as benefiting from a lower cost base. Other countries such as Bulgaria are aiming to use such strategies (Hoffman, 2002). However, the rapid global flow on information can also unsettle economies, such as the 1 April 2002 spoof about Canada Finance Minister quitting his post, which affected the Canadian dollar before the rumour could be refuted (Reuters, 2002a).

  • The Internet can be used to link citizens directly and effectively to cultural resources and educational services. Digital heritage and museum resources such as the Louvre in Paris (Harrison, 2002) and the U.S. Library of Congress online (National Research Council, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, Committee on an Information Technology Strategy for the Library of Congress, 2001). Such developments are not only welcome in that they deliver national resources to the point of demand, rather then those demanding the resources coming to the location of the resources. Such developments also underpin growing use of the Internet, such as in the U.S. where “we need to create lots of compelling content to create demand for broadband services, and the education, research and the cultural heritage sectors have a very important role to play here” (Lynch 2002). Linking citizens of every age to educational content is within all national strategies, with the U.K. government investing £50 million in an online curriculum for schools (McAuliffe, 2001), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) investing $100 million in “plans to make the materials for nearly all its courses freely available on the Internet over the next 10 years.” (MIT, 2001)

  • These educational and resource developments demonstrate the size of the challenge for most developing nations. Massive investments are going into English language resources from developing countries, and the cost is high. Do nations allow the free adoption of admittedly high quality, but also highly Westernised material, or do they develop culturally relevant materials. It would seem that the priority is in primary education for developing nations, since tertiary education is much more globalised in its structure and content. Even at the tertiary level, however, the organisational challenges at adopting e–learning have been high, and “what we have found is that the Virtual University works in theory but not in practice.” (Pollock and Cornford, 2000)


The above examples are only a selection on themes under the disintermediation heading, and other such as telemedicine, the growth of online travel resource, the social growth of Webcams, e–commerce in general, and of course the intended direct delivery of government services through integrated portals. While the developments are varied, they do call into question whether what disintermediation is doing is just to speed up or mutating what we already do, or whether fundamentally new things are happening in the e–Society? Some question whether it is new or will truly work:

“The foundation of disintermediation is the ability of the consumer to go directly to the producer of a product or service. The consumer is then limited to the products or services of that single producer. Ultimately, this drawback will prevent the extinction of the intermediary.” (Stawski, 2001)

Indeed, developments in the U.K. in June 2002 saw the government e–Envoy, Andrew Pinder, ask for new intermediaries (actually existing “voluntary and private sector organisations”) to be involved in e–Government because they “often have a more direct link to sections of the public.” (Anon., 2002e) Again complex and uncertain change characterises these developments, need yet again for a firmly established research strategy:

“… the Internet, as a technological development, is not following a rational, goal–directed path, but instead, is shaped by social factors. Once developed, it does not remain a stable and indeterminate artefact, rather it becomes mediated by its users as they constantly re–negotiate and channel the technology according to a vast array of social factors.” [66]

Disintermediation, like the digital divide, is a multidimensional process. It can both empower and damage. It gives citizens considerable power in the purchasing of travel services (Buhalis and Licata, 2002), forcing travel companies to accelerate their innovation and pricing strategies. It also sees offensive and malicious and defamatory material to be posted on the Internet (McNamara, 2002), and for governments to consider a global “naming and shaming” of criminals such as convicted child molesters (Reuters, 2002b). Lastly, disintermediation brings with it a fundamental contradiction. In an electronic environment where there are extensive electronic traces of our activity (Brockes, 2002), providing evidence to multiple agencies, people are posting material that is clearly offensive. Perhaps this is a process whereby individuals are more conscious of overt surveillance of their activities, than they are a virtual covert activity [67]? We treasure our own privacy and hope that we can protect it, yet use the Internet to intrude into the privacy of others. E–Government and the associated access to electronic government services, cannot be easily disentangled from the broader societal developments in ICT usage.

(h) Community and culture

Will culture be diluted to the point of merging with the mythical ‘global culture’, and will place–based communities be destabilised by the growth of virtual communities? These two scenarios represent the pessimist’s view of the impact of the Internet. Howard Rheingold’s book Virtual Communities in 1993 stimulated debate and research. Nearly 10 years ago he asked questions ranging from whether community and individual relationships in cyberspace are narrow (related to a particular issue or for a short period of time), or are longer term and more broadly based. Do virtual relationships prejudice existing relationships? Can a strong relationship develop solely in cyberspace. Are communities developing more diverse links and are they beneficial? [68] Is it also possible that “the increasing convergence of information and communication technologies may displace the traditional structure of communication and consultation in the rural communities.” (Deutsche Stiftung für internationale Entwicklung (DSE), 2001)

Certainly, things have changed with the Internet, but they also did with previous technologies. The telephone liberated rural U.S. from the friction of distance, allowing them to construct their own versions of virtual communities, albeit communicating only with one community member at a time. The original telephone connected location where people were based, whereas the mobile telephone (and the wider mobile communications developments) connect people wherever their location may be. The mobile telephone has led to dramatic changes in the community connectivity with children, particularly through text messaging. Plant argues that the mobile phone matches the increasing mobility of our lives and life paths, with a “feeling that all plans are contingent and might change at any time; an awareness that life is unpredictable and insecure.” (Plant, 2002)

People and communities pre–electronic networks were much more place–based, and “they had relatively clear and impermeable boundaries, relatively stable memberships, relatively few linkages to other communities.” [69] Anderson stresses the “relative” in that statement, but underlines the significance of the change that has occurred. Anderson quotes Jean–Marie Guehenno, who writing about organisations, concluded that in the past the value of an organisation was no longer its internal capitalisation “or by the clarity of its frontiers, but in the number of openings, of points of articulation that it can organize with everything external to it.” [70] This goes beyond the community context (are communities now defined not by their internal but by their external connectivity?), to the roots of capitalist business itself. Traditionally a business is valued by its shareholding, or capitalisation. That is fine when a business is making something and the process of making the product is mechanistic. There, the equipment, raw materials, and processes (knowledge, such as the recipe for Coca Cola) are physically within the company. With a knowledge–based company, however, the skills and the knowledge processes are much more within the staff, and the staff, being mobile, can transfer the corporate knowledge easily to another organisation. How can a knowledge organisation therefore be capitalised?

Returning more specifically to community, Carroll notes that the term community has become a “pervasive mantra. Contemporary writing is peppered with hopeful terminology like online community, user community, design community, virtual community and, of course, HCI community.” [71] A community itself “develop” largely through the “allocation of resources and power to citizens within a pluralist framework” [72], and Shaw identifies two key processes of franchisal and social relationships, the first being related very much to resource allocation. Yet in a capitalist globalised environment the strengthening of community may contradict the self–interest focus of capitalism. However, Bell foresees a reaction (deliberate or subtle is not clear) where “use of depersonalized technology and bureaucratic systems will drive individuals to fulfil their humanistic needs via the local community.” [73]

These findings would seem to be underlined by three further studies. First, Wittel in the context of what is termed “network sociality”, notes that the information society characterises a more economic valuing of community, where social relationships are seen as social capital, and where there is “a move from having relationships towards doing relationships and towards relationship management.” [74] Second, there is an increasing blurring between work and play (for example teleworking from home is on the increase (NUA, 2002)) and between physical offline and virtual online communities (Miller and Slater, 2000). Third, culture change is not binary: It is not a matter of losing cultural identity to cyberspace, but again in a blurring process and a redefining process. Writing about South Africa, Little (Little, et al., 2001) argues:

“On a national and regional level, Africanisation is not a pure, uncontaminated rejection of U.S.–Eurocentrism, but a re–articulation of ‘Africanness’ in the context of global capitalism and its articulations of multiple regionalisms (for example, the Asia–Pacific).” [75]

The literature is clear on a number of issues. First, there is little chance of success if a technology is imposed on a community, for “the technology should be a means, and not an end.” [76] Second, rather than trying to define virtual communities in terms of their functions (chatrooms, bulletin boards, etc.) it is better to study how “computing and networking facilitates and transforms the clearest cases of human communities, namely, proximate communities.” [77] Third, the ease with which new communities can be established in cyberspace can threaten fundamental cultural and religious beliefs. Adamu notes that the Net allows both opponents and supporters of Islam to make their material globally available (Adamu, 2002), and can lead to “acrimonious criticism and debate.” [78] Whereas physical works that were deemed seditious (such as Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses) to Islam could be banned from importation [79], it is virtually impossible to do this with cyberspace material unless draconian filtering is undertaken, which in itself obviates the very advantages of the Internet. Research in the U.S. would indicate that cyberspace religious material currently is largely individual:

“The most popular online religious activities are solitary ones. Most Religion Surfers treat the Net as a vast ecclesiastical library and they hunt for general spiritual information online. However, they also interact with friends and strangers as they swap advice and prayer support.” (Larsen, 2001)

In broader community terms there are clear indications that ICTs can strengthen existing communities, but only if the physical network is “imbued with content and must be represented in meaningful social interaction in order to fulfill their social capital functions.” [80] This has important ramifications for national information policy, and in the open and ready supply of government and other information. It also underlines the importance of evaluating community ICT networks from the outset, and not just hoping that something beneficial occurs. O’Neil itemises evaluation issues including: Clearly identifying the purpose and stating the “theory of how the project will work so that assumptions are made explicit”; involving the community in both designing and undertaking the evaluation; using both quantitative data (important for management and policy–makers) with ethnographic and qualitative data [81]. Where a study is cross–cultural issues include: Assessing the balance of individual and collective orientation and participation; the ability of the community to cope with uncertainty; and, “how does the new IT fit with valued, traditional work practices?” [82]

In summary, then, community ICTs must be implemented with clear outcomes in mind, and the evaluation processes must be in place from the outset. The evaluation process should not just measure performance against expectations, because technology is not “an independent social variable.” [83] We should assess and understand how communities using technologies to shape their lives, and how they are shaping the development of those technologies (Stevenson, 2002). Geography is not necessarily dead, and physical and virtual communities will co–exist, indeed:

“… place and local community are, and will continue to be, fundamental to the functioning of society. Place–based communities should not therefore be threatened by developments in cyberspace. Cyberspace might have annihilated distance, but not place.” [84]

(i) Information policy, rights and obligations

E–Government strategies often contain clear statements about making information available to citizens. At one level this involves establishing Web sites for government agencies and putting reports and policy documents on the Web at no cost. Indeed, the U.K. government activities initially followed this line, with pre–transactional Web sites being criticised initially for being little better than poorly maintained electronic brochures (U.K. National Audit Office, 1999), although the more recent report notes much improvement, recommending that Web sites need to go beyond transactions and basic information to “pursue a balanced approach to developing electronic publishing and more interactive and more useful content for citizens and enterprises.” (U.K. Comptroller and Auditor General, 2002) However, external scrutiny of 20 key U.K. government Web sites by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) resulted in a highly critical report even of the Prime Minister’s own site. A major point was:

“We believe the fundamental problem is that there are simply too few people below the top echelon, who appear to understand that the creation of the Web site —; the point at which the public arrives to see what its Government is doing —; is a crucial mixture of three things: Design, to make it as user–friendly and accessible as possible; Technology, to make it as workable as possible; And Communication, to make sure the right messages get to the right audiences in a manner which those audiences can understand.” (Interactive Advertising Bureau, 2002)

On another level, there is a need to make available official statistics and related information that allows citizens to evaluate government, in essence to proceed towards an evidence–based appraisal of government. After all, citizens are expected to provide statistics to government, and that leads to reciprocity. Information needs to be high in quality and worth using [85], and many studies warn against simply posting inadequate information on the Web. Samoff and Stromquist (2001) set a target of “information affluence”, that does not mean only consuming externally generated information from the rest of the world [86], but developing countries should aim to develop their own information and knowledge cultures because:

“Distilled and digested bits of information disseminated through Internet Web sites risk perpetuating rather than reducing dependence. Amassed information, even very complex information collected in bottomless electronic buckets, becomes knowledge only when people use it.” [87]

Building a culture of information provision and use is complex. The task facing the Palestinian government was considerable, and it was worrying to see the Israeli destruction of Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah late in 2001 (Plett, 2002), especially after the Bureau had addressed the challenges of creating a sense of statistical well–being in the population after years when statistics were viewed as a component of Israeli control (Abu–Libdeh, 2000). The issue of trust is paramount in the giving and receiving on information, and one aspect of trust is that where citizens trust the government to be ‘open’ with information and to make it available without restriction subject to legislation such as privacy protection and national security.


Information dissemination policy and openness is not just an issue for government. Increasingly governments are privatising or sub–contracting information activities to the private sector, and that could impair both the availability of information for scientific research (National Research Council, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications, Committee for a Study on Promoting Access to Scientific and Technical Data for the Public Interest, 1999), and more fundamentally genetic information about our own bodies (Bryant and Beals, 2000). Statutory development of legislation for freedom of information (FOI) is one part of a strategy, although the constitutional basis for FOI in the U.S. (U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), 2001) is seldom as strongly matched elsewhere in the world. Even in the U.S., however, uncertain and cataclysmic events can seriously perturb the practice of FOI, in particular after the events of 11 September 2001, when many U.S. Federal agencies removed data [88] that hitherto were in the public domain at no cost on the Internet. The process has been termed ‘data scrubbing’ (Dolinar, 2001), and the Bush administration proposed significant changes in the U.S. FOI Act, leading some to accuse the government of taking the Freedom out of FOI (Sinrod, 2002).

Beyond the fundamental issues of data production, data quality, and its availability to citizens there are more global issues that impact on an e–Society. First is the information infrastructure. The term infrastructure is a complex one, and tends largely to refer the physical infrastructure. Even here there are tensions in developing countries where scarce resources have to be carefully prioritised. For example:

“Will better transportation infrastructure yield greater development outcomes than better access to telecommunications, or is a basic level of both necessary for significant progress? Unfortunately, not enough careful analysis of ICTs in developing countries has yet been done to answer these pressing policy questions.” [89]

More recently the term has become embedded into national, regional and global (GII) information infrastructures. The GII in particular (Global Information Infrastructure Commission, 1997) links governmental, global and private organisations in a goal to establish integrated data for global issues such as environmental monitoring and global climate change. It builds on national data, although as the U.N. Development Report for 1999 feared, there still is the risk of advanced nations dominating the global information culture because they have “access to plentiful information at low cost and high speed; the second society [the South?] has its quality of access impeded by time, cost, uncertainty of connection and outdated information.” [90] Therefore we return to the debates covered earlier on the potential for a global information hegemony by advanced nations.

FOI and ‘rights’ of access are highly emotional issues, and often are polarised by freedom of information and libertarian groups as being a ‘bad’ government keeping information from citizens. Even governments can focus very heavily on rights. In March 1999 Spain and France proposed that the European Union make the Internet a universal right (as with education and health), and that it should be made available to all at an “accessible price.” [91] In June 2001 the European Union Council agreed a new Directive on “universal service and users rights relating to electronic communications networks and services.” (European Commission, 2001b)

There has not been as much debate on the ‘obligations’ of citizens, however. Indeed, obligations tend also to be polarised as forced obligations, for example when it is compulsory to fill in a census of population form [92]. The broader literature on rights and obligations makes it clear that unless there is a firm concept of obligations (O. O’Neill, 2002b), then rights tend to be overemphasised:

“… citizenship rights without obligations also construct people as passive and dependent. The most important duty of citizens is, therefore, to exercise their political rights and to participate in the determination of their collectivities’, states’ and societies’ trajectories.” [93]

Obligations are part of the broader responsibilities of citizenship [94]. Without a balance the use of ICTs may risk a move to what Fitzpatrick calls “individualization of rights and the collectivization of duties: a self–service welfare system on the one hand, and a subtly authoritarian form of governance on the other.” [95] These issues are all bound up in higher concepts such as trust. This ranges from the questions as to who and what we can trust on the Internet, when it “is harder and harder to sort, let alone to verify” information (O. O’Neill, 2002a), to trust in government and the institutions of government (O. O’Neill, 2002b).

Lastly, within the mantra of e–Government there exist terms such as “joined–up” and “integration”. To deliver services in a coherent fashion to citizens government needs to refer identify citizens correctly, perhaps through a single national identity number. Therefore, there is a danger that “focusing on efficiency and effectiveness will lead the e–Government initiatives into a ‘Big Brother’ government if it loses citizens focus.” (Layne and Lee, 2001) Similar stresses exist in the need for governments to integrate statistical sources to monitor rapidly changing economies, a process which in intended to provide better policy for citizens, but which also may result in “dataveillance” by governments (Clarke, 1994) and prejudice individual confidentiality within official statistical sources (Blakemore, 2001).

As with debates on freedom of information, the arguments often are polarised, never more so as with U.S. government policy on surveillance of individuals post 11 September 2001, when the new legislation was termed the “Patriot” Act (Bush, 2001; Gill, 2001; U.S. Department of Justice, 2001), the presumed naming logic being if you were against surveillance you were not a patriot. Surveillance in the e–Society demonstrates both how governments can be seen (deliberately or otherwise) to be collecting more integrated information about citizens. On the positive side that can be to combat the offences of cybercrime, international fraud, racism and hate, child pornography.

The technologies of surveillance can at times empower citizens when they have access to satellite imagery, but imagery also can be used to invade the privacy of others. Surveillance cameras in U.K. city centres have been only partly successful at driving down crime and making the city centres “safer” (Patton, 2000). Compared to low cost investment in better street lighting (a 20 percent reduction in crime levels), CCTV results only in a five percent reduction in crime (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), 2002), and there are concerns that the overall levels of crime nationally have not reduced overall, so is crime just being displaced from monitored areas to non–monitored areas.

The growth of workplace IT monitoring allows employers to check whether employers are accessing offensive content, or are disseminating confidential information, but workplace monitoring can be an agency of control when it involves checking keyboard activity, or monitoring the number of calls a telesales worker takes and checking that against norms and targets. Commercial retail companies in the U.K. and the U.S. now routinely create and modify individual profiles for customers. The argument for is that they can then provide goods and services targeted to our individual needs. The downside is that the databases allow the companies to know more about our past retail habits and preferences than we ourselves can remember, so are we losing control of our own identities [96]? The issue of whether technology is neutral, and the problem is the uses of technology, returns to underline again the need for comprehensive research agendas to evaluate policies and technologies.

In a wide-ranging study of privacy in the U.S. Rosen argues that “The future of privacy will be determined not by the inherent nature of the Internet, but by social choices about how much privacy we as a society think it is reasonable to demand.” [97] It is this form of debate that must underpin the research agenda as government and society moves towards a joined–up status.

(j) Security and trust

Security is yet another contradiction of e–Government that uses the channels of the Internet. The channels designed originally to be resistant to attack, so an architecture “was designed to facilitate openness and accessibility, and gave a low priority to identifying or authenticating actual individuals, or monitoring their activities” [98], and

“The fundamental principle behind the Web was that once someone somewhere made available a document, database, graphic, sound, video or screen at some stage in an interactive dialogue, it should be accessible (subject to authorisation, of course) by anyone, with any type of computer, in any country.” [99]

For governments security is explicitly linked externally to the protection of national strategic assets (the new U.S. Department of Homeland Defense is a major reaction to the events of 11 September 2001, and is a reaction in part to disorganisation among federal agencies (Halchina, 2002)) against hostility and damage either through the conventional theatre of war, through organised terrorism, or more individualised forms of hacking and cybercrime. Security is linked internally to the organisational behaviour and failings of individuals and agencies within the government system (Ranger, 2002; Walker, 2002), and to the mechanism by which citizens are authenticated to the machinery of e–Government. Internal and external factors are linked through the refinement and reaction processes that affect and amend strategy.

For citizens the security issues come together under the heading of trust and the essential role of government in building and maintaining trust (U.K. Cabinet Office, 2001). The transition from tangible and physical information held in different forms (driving licenses, health cards, tax forms, etc.) to integrated identity systems and cards, is an obvious goal for e–Government and the need for data integration. For citizens, however, the physical information is physically mostly within their control, as to some extent is the reproduction of their signature. The loss of information here is physically evident, whereas electronically held information can be stolen without leaving any obvious evidence — the illegal duplication of a computer record does not remove the original. Such fear were assessed by Taylor Nelson Sofres in a survey, where they found that two–thirds of respondents stated that they did not feel safe using the Internet for e–Government, and “amongst those countries with the highest concerns about security issues are Germany (85 percent), Japan (84 percent), France (84 percent) and the U.S. (72 percent).” (Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNSOFRES), 2001) Citizens therefore need to feel confident that their personal information is safe within the ICT database infrastructures (and the more data are integrated the bigger the risk of accidental disclosure), and that it will not be used for purposes beyond those for which data were originally collected (data protection legislation). The perception of risk, fear of disclosure and surveillance, and the very real concern over identity theft are strong constraining factors on the willingness of citizens to adopt e–transactions whether it be e–Commerce or e—Government.


Trust is important, but how can it be measured? It can be monitored passively by focusing on increasing measure of access and utilisation of e–Government services and of e–commerce. The hypothesis in that situation would be that increasing utilisation is indicative of decreasing levels of concern and more trust. However, it takes a long time to trust, and little time to destroy it, so passive approaches do not adequately understand the task of retaining trust. Can trust be measured actively? Market research survey methods are favoured here, for example the Taylor Nelson Sofres survey noted above canvassed “29,000 people in 31 countries”, but that “Malaysians are a trusting lot when it comes to electronic government, but they’re not using much of e–Government services.” (Sharif, 2002) Therefore, levels of trust in government are no guarantee that citizens will use e–Government services, and a low level of trust in government (only 40 percent of Americans trust the Federal government) is not a particular restriction on the uptake of e–Government services (Deane, 2002). The situation regarding trust is far more complex than the development of “secure” database technologies, or the implementation of severe criminal penalties for cybercrime. As Onora O’Neill articulates, declining levels of trust in government:

“If we want to restore trust we need to reduce deception and lies rather than secrecy. Some sorts of secrecy indeed support deception, others do not. Transparency and openness may not be the unconditional goods that they are fashionably supposed to be. By the same token, secrecy and lack of transparency may not be the enemies of trust.” (O. O’Neill, 2002a)

(k) Assessment

“If you can measure it then it matters, if you cannot measure it then it cannot matter.” This has largely become the de facto mantra of the e–Government and e–Society business, with two groups in particular promoting Internet metrics. Official statistical agencies are moving somewhat conservatively with their developments (Ireland, Central Statistics Office, 2001; U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002; U.K. National Statistics, 2002), while commercial consultancies, academic and commercial research companies are producing a range of private sector metrics to fill the demand void. The unofficial metrics in particular have focused on nations (at the state level in the U.S.), thus suffering from all the serious limitations of ecological fallacy, and they also tend to be based on numerical measures of access to ICTs rather than being longer term qualitative surveys.

Measures to indicate the ‘progress’ or otherwise of e–Government implementation and use are influenced by classic statistical contradictions, but those contradictions are accelerated and amplified by the globalisation of e–Government strategies. First, the speed of e–Government requires fundamental changes in the production and management of information. Data sharing and integration, a fundamental enabling mechanism for e–Government (U.K. Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), 2002), demands attention to factors such as consistent data models and data standards, and the development of centralised identity management through identity cards. Second, the development of official statistics traditionally is conservative, often for very good reasons. Rapid and radical change to data models would prejudice the need to assess change through time on a consistent basis. However, the pace of social and economic change means there are ever greater challenges to established models of data collection such as decennial censuses [100]. Third, since e–Government is so much part of a process of “modernisation” and “development”, there is a natural desire for governments to measure their progress along these paths, and to see where they stand in relation to other e–Government strategies.

Measures therefore have to be globally comparable and harmonised, the consequence being the use of a limited set of measures. They can be linked to ‘benchmark’ targets that are comparable globally, for example the stages of progress in e–Government being:

“Emerging: A government Web presence is established through a few independent official sites. Information is limited, basic and static. Enhanced: Content and information is updated with greater regularity. Interactive: Users can download forms, contact officials, and make appointments and requests. Transactional: Users can actually pay for services or conduct financial transactions online. Seamless: Total integration of e–functions and services across administrative and departmental boundaries.” (United Nations Division for Public Economics and Public Administration (UNDPEPA), 2002)

Global metrics include the Brown University state–level e–Government survey (West, 2001; West, 2002) [101], World Markets Research Centre (WMRC) global nation–level survey (World Markets Research Centre (WMRC), 2001), and the European Union’s commissioned state level survey by Cap Gemini that measured “online sophistication” by “online information about public services, downloading of forms, processing of forms, and decision and delivery (payment).” (European Commission, 2001c; European Commission, 2002a) Further metrics include an online government survey by Taylor Nelson Sofres [102], and the European Commission nation level benchmarking report on progress towards ‘eEurope’ that puts emphasis on Internet access along the lines “Internet penetration is measured in two ways: how many private households have access to the Internet; and, how many people use the Internet regularly whether at work, at home, at school, or elsewhere.” (European Commission, 2002b) The competing national level metrics have stimulated critique, such as Gartner Inc.’s statement regarding the e–Europe metrics: “Gartner said that while the keyword for most public–sector IT initiatives over the last two years has been e–Government, such online service delivery ethos is no silver bullet” (Maio, 2001), and similar statements were made by Gartner about the methodology of the Brown University studies (Kreizman and Maio, 2001).


The role of the media in moulding the impact of metrics has been considerable. The nuances of the ecological fallacy and the modifiable area unit problem are largely ignored, as are the complexities of sampling and measuring numbers that are then taken to measure the impact of an information society. The impact of metrics is demonstrably (g)local [103], with nations looking out towards their position in the world rankings (Burke–Kennedy, 2002; Emery, 2002; Gifford, 2002; Hayes, 2002; McLindon, 2002), and local administrations within nations looking both to their position against others internally (Menke, 2002), and also to their position within groupings of administrations internationally (Anon., 2001e; Ryan, 2001). At worst the metrics can be in the form of a ‘progress report’ that tends more towards positive spin than it does an objective and independent evaluation of the successes and failures, for example the annual report of the e–Envoy in the U.K. (U.K. Office of the e–Envoy, 2002b), or the monthly progress reports (Hewitt and Pinder, 2002).

To date there is a considerable amount of credibility vested in the numerical access–driven metrics. Gartner Inc. identifies the importance of producing metrics that mean something to politicians, therefore aim to “provide a meaningful synthesis of results across services for senior government officials and politicians.” (Maio, et al., 2002) Numerical metrics are superficially easy to understand, that is they provide either ranked lists, or tend to use percentages. Politicians like league lists and percentages, even though they contain elephant traps of considerable size, most notable the fact that small numerators and denominators produce greater ranges of percentages, and at country level Luxembourg is given as much statistical weight as China. On a wider scale Denise Lievesley, in her Presidential Address to the Royal Statistical Society in the U.K., warned:

“How indicators are presented can be a cause for concern. … Many indicators are defined as rates with the numerator and denominator coming from different sources and even different agencies within countries. Ironically the focus on national rates affects the targeting of aid. For example the greatest apparent progress towards development targets could be achieved by concentrating resources on small countries which will have a tendency to fall at the extremes in the indicator rankings.” [104]

Although the new range of Internet metrics have gained media credibility, their accuracy and effectiveness are open to challenge. Measuring the success of community level ICT networks requires much more than a numerically driven survey. O’Neil (2002) itemises essentials, such as setting out to evaluate a scheme with a clear purpose to the evaluation (and measuring access levels is not a purpose), ground the evaluation in theory not political dogma, “involve stakeholders in the evaluation design and implementation”, and in the evaluation, “use an appropriate amount of quantitative data. Policy–makers like hard numbers to assess program impacts and many CI projects rely on public funding.” [105] Additionally, ethnographic approaches have considerable value in assessing policy success and failure, and Miller proposes four dimensions to analyse termed objectification, mediation, normative freedom and positioning. These headings cover issues such as the means by which people use and identify with technologies, and “how do people engage with the ways in which Internet media position them within networks that transcend their immediate location, and that comprise the mingled flows of cultural, political, financial and economic resources.” (Miller and Slater, 2000)



Conclusion: Conflicts and contradictions

A national e–Government strategy is a complex system operating within an even more complex global system. There is little enough control over many of the parameters nationally without having to cope with the lack of control over most of the global parameters. The strategy is not deterministic in the sense that it can be regarded a social and organisational engineering challenge. The speed with which many of the parameters change often is faster that the decision–making speed of civil service practices in government agencies, and it therefore not surprising that governments have adopted various re–invention strategies to try and force a more flexible civil service, although some are pessimistic about whether government organisations and legislative structures will ever catch up with the speeds of technology and globalisation [106]. Indeed Joseph Stiglitz warned:

“Furthermore, government failure may be even more pronounced in the context of rapidly moving information–laden markets than in traditional bricks–and–mortar markets.” (Stiglitz, et al., 2000)

An analogy may exist in the history of technology where May (2000) cites Lewis Mumford’s view that the history is a “conflict between democratic and authoritarian technics. These technics have not been the result of specific technologies but are the product of the social, political and economic relations in which they appear, are developed and deployed.” [107] One example of this would be the need for agencies to look back, as well as look forward, for the adoption of a forward–looking strategy also involves considerable reworking of already complex and existing legacy databases and applications (Lais, 2002). Is forecasting future trends a science, in which case the models must be based on explicit values? Hideg (2002) points to two possible forecasting theories that may help. The first is an evolutionary one, which “focuses on complexities of which human being and his or her society are organic parts. The human being plays a part in these complexities not only as a biological but as a psycho–social being too” [108], the emphasis being on the psycho–social. The second model is a critical one, where “the future can be interpreted not only as something that will materialize as time passes but also as something that already exists in the present, both in people’s thoughts and emotions.” [109] As of late 2002 one of the future studies conundrums for governments is whether to keep investing in PC–based Internet access as the point of service delivery, or whether the third and fourth generation cellular telephones (Standage, 2001) will merge will achieve sufficient take–up by citizens to be the preferred point of interaction with government. Will Moore’s Law [110] continue to provide significant cost–benefits in ICTs? In the uncertain world post–11 September 2001 will uncertainty and chaos be the basis for prediction rather than planning and rationality?

It is not an option simply to reject technology and wind history back to some perceived ‘ideal’ from the past. As Rawlins notes “for the vast majority of our ancestors, life was pretty horrid and only technology saved us from it.” [111] Within government and society key challenges involve cultural change, while still retaining cultural identity. Margetts’ views this more as one of reducing ‘cultural myths’ rather than enforcing radical cultural change, “to move away from Technology Ephemeral and Technology Capricious attitudes and foster a move towards more positive approaches such as Technology Benign.” [112] It requires partnership involving:

”Developing individual skills for active participation in eDemocracy; Creating the conditions for information and knowledge relevant to civil society, voluntary organisations and businesses to be generated and communicated more expeditiously and freely.” [113]

Without a clear research agenda linked to the strategy, and which focuses not just on the nation-level measures against targets, but also involves locally–based survey and ethnographic study, any e–Government initiative will run the risk of evolving less by access to useful and relevant information and more by political expediency. End of article


About the authors

Michael Blakemore is Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography at the University of Durham.
E–mail: michael [dot] blakemore [at] durham [dot] ac [dot] uk

Roderic Dutton is Director of the Centre for Overseas Development Studies in the Department of Geography at the University of Durham.
E–mail: r [dot] w [dot] dutton [at] durham [dot] ac [dot] uk



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3. Op.cit.

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53. Roche, 1999, p. 489.

54. Wallace, 1999, pp. 208–209.

55. Liu and Wilson, 2001, p. 415.

56. Sevdik and Akman, 2002, p. 547.

57. Preece, 2002, p. 21.

58. Prokhovnik, 1998, p. 96.

59. Preece, 2002, p. 23.

60. There are literacy and language training programmes underway at the Safawi IT Centre.

61. Censoring access to the Internet was no more justified than “a ban on a front page article in the New York Times on female genital mutilation in Africa, would be unconstitutional”; see Naughton, 1999, p. 192.

62. Wallace, 1999, p. 161.

63. Wallace, 1999, p. 169.

64. McLuhan, 1964, p. 95.

65. Baldasty, 1992, p. 143.

66. Howcroft, 1999, p. 296.

67. We could conceptualise this as ‘priveillance’ — a personal belief in our rights to protect our own privacy, and the obligations of others to respect it, while indulging in surveillant activities on the Internet that prejudices the privacy of others.

68. Rheingold, 2000, p. 362.

69. Anderson, 1999, p. 458.

70. Op.cit.

71. Carroll, 2001, p. 308.

72. Shaw and Martin, 2000, p. 402.

73. Bell and Lyall, 2000, p. 756.

74. Wittel, 2001, pp. 71–72.

75. Little, et al., 2001, p. 364.

76. Bannon and Griffin, 2000, p. 48.

77. Carroll, 2001, p. 308.

78. Kong, 2001, p. 411.

79. This is, of course, not limited to such examples. The U.K. Government tried unsuccessfully to ban the book Spycatcher (P. Wright and P. Greengrass, 1986. Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer. Richmond, Victoria, Australia: Heinemann) in 1986, even though it had been published in Australia and was easily importable in personal luggage.

80. Pigg, 2001, p. 524.

81. O’Neil, 2002, p. 94.

82. Veiga, et al., 2001, p. 156.

83. Bakardjieva and Feenberg, 2002, p. 192.

84. Walmsley, 2000, p. 17.

85. Burkett also notes that “the quality of that information and the interactions which ICTs support have much to gain from our imaginations”; see I. Burkett, 2000. “Beyond the ‘information rich and poor’: Future understandings of inequality in globalising informational economies,” Futures, volume 32, number 7, pp. 679–694.

86. Although there are positive global initiatives, such as the WHO/SOROS Open Society Institute initiative to bring medical research information to developing countries; see World Health Organization (WHO), 2000. “‘Life–saving’ Scientific Information Boost Via Internet to Health Researchers in Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe,” World Health Organisation. Press Release WHO/76 (5 December 2000), at http://www.who.int, accessed 6 December 2000.

87. Samoff and Stromquist, 2001, p. 654.

88. For a wider discussion of the information society traumas post–11 September, see M. Blakemore and R. Longhorn, 2001. “Communicating Information about the World Trade Center Disaster: Ripples, Reverberations, and Repercussions,” First Monday, volume 6, number 12 (December), at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/907/816, accessed 10 December 2001.

89. Eggleston, et al., 2002, p. 72.

90. Main, 2001, p. 96.

91. Now consider what is an accessible price! See King, 1999.

92. For example, with the collection of the U.K. 2001 Census of Population, the organisation Liberty claimed it would pay the legal costs of any citizen that refused to fill in a form; see D. Pallister, 2001. “Liberty to defend census dodgers,” Guardian (London), 30 April, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4177755,00.html, accessed May 1 2001.

93. Yuval–Davis, 1997, pp. 21–22.

94. Falk, 2000, p. 15.

95. Fitzpatrick, 2000, p. 398.

96. Our identity also is less “personal” and more “numerical” to e–Government, since our identity is validate through an authentication mechanism, as discussed in U.K. Prime Minister. Strategy Unit, 2002; see also “HMG’s Minimum Requirements for the Validation of an Individual’s Identity,” U.K. Office of the e–Envoy (Version 2.0, January 2003) at http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/assetRoot/04/00/08/52/04000852.pdf, accessed 2 November 2003.

97. Rosen, 2001, p. 195.

98. Naughton, 1999, p. 269.

99. Berners–Lee, 1999, p. 40.

100. For example, the U.K. Census of Population is enumerated every 10 years. It was the same temporal sample 1801 and 1811 as it has been 1991 and 2001, yet the pace of economic and social change is dramatically different now, leading to concerns such as the rate of data decay through time; see U.K. House of Commons, 2002c. “Select Committee on Treasury First Report: The 2001 Census in England and Wales,” House of Commons Treasury Select Committee (7 March), at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmtreasy/310/31001.htm.

101. The Brown University methodology was “an assessment of 1,197 national government Web sites for the 198 nations around the world”, and “an e–mail responsiveness test in which we sent the following e–mail, ‘I would like to know what hours your agency is open during the week. Thanks for your help.’”

102. The survey was “… telephone and face–to–face interviews with 28,952 people across 31 countries or territories between July and September 2002.”

103. Another of the contradictions of the Internet, where global trends emerge, but there also are increasing opportunities to accentuate local characteristics and to communicate them globally. For a wider debate on this see A. Amin, 2002. “Spatialities of globalisation,” Environment and Planning A, volume 34, pp. 385–399.

104. Lievesley, 2001, pp. 12–13.

105. O’Neil, 2002, p. 94.

106. Rawlins, 1996, p. 21.

107. May, 2000, p. 262.

108. Hideg, 2002, p. 285.

109. Hideg, 2002, p. 287.

110. “Engineers can double the number of transistors on a given chip every 18 to 24 months, primarily through shrinking the size of the transistors and other components. Along with increasing the power of chips, this evolutionary process drives down the price”; see M. Kanellos, 2002. “Wiring the world with Moore’s Law,” CNET News.com (28 February), at http://news.com.com/2100-1001-848115.html?tag=cd_mh, accessed 2 March 2002. For a wider debate see I. Tuomi, 2002. “The lives and death of Moore’s Law,” First Monday volume 7, number 11 (November), at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1000/921, accessed 15 November 2002.

111. Rawlins, 1996, p. 165.

112. Margetts and Dunleavy, 2002, p. 12.

113. Okot–Uma, 2000, pp. 8–9.



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Editorial history

Paper received 7 February 2003; accepted 14 October 2003.

Copyright © 2003, First Monday.

Copyright © 2003, Michael Blakemore and Roderic Dutton.

e–Government, e–Society and Jordan: Strategy, theory, practice, and assessment
by Michael Blakemore and Roderic Dutton.
First Monday, Volume 8, Number 11 - 3 November 2003

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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