Brief: Increasing "Public Value" of Information through Electronic Governance Models

Increasing "Public Value" of Information through Electronic Governance Models

There is no dispute that “Electronic Governance” has entered the public administration strategies and functions in developing countries.

In spite of the best intentions to make e-governance work for people - by providing them with easy access to high-quality governance products and services, the end-results are often very different.

 i. Governments around the globe are becoming online

Most developing countries are now implementing a general policy to make available government information electronically to the "public". For instance, countries including Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, Lao PDR, Malawi, Moldova, Niger, Togo, Peru, and others are committed to e-governance e by taking steps to make government information available online.

Interestingly, because of financial slowdown and budgetary costs, the focus on e-government has increased as governments try to reduce costs associated with delivering public services, and bringing more citizens within the governance sphere.

Governments with an online presence is a progressive step from the situation where even the most basic of government information is confined to government bureaucrats and departments that are logistically and administratively inaccessible to the public. Under earlier situations, there is a high transaction cost (in terms of time, efforts and opportunities lost) to access timely and relevant government information, which governments turning online can "potentially" reduce.

ii. Is Government becoming online leading to increase in "Public Value" of information provided?

Governments have always been providing information through means such as government notifications, newspapers and radio/ TV broadcasts. Providing the same information electronically through Internet is a significant step in making such information more easily accessible to the "public" but does not necessarily reflect governance reform or a political change within the government.

Countries such as Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, Cote D’Ivoire, Cuba, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Kyrgystan, Mongolia,  Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, for instance, maintain official government websites on the Internet with provide information to the "public".

There is no doubt that maintaining these websites have positive utilities. Yet it would be imprudent to state that - maintaining an online government presence has significantly enhanced the flow of government information of "value" to the public.

As a governance information user, the key question of concern is:

Is Electronic Governance providing me with information which is of "value" to me and that I can use for my private benefit?
We now introduce a term - "Public Value" of information - to understand the difference between information being provided and information of "value" to the public being provided by the governments.

ii.1        Public Value of Information

Public Value of information refers to the "value" of the information being provided, as determined by the public.

PV = v(1) +v(2) + v(3) + v(4) + …+ v(i)…… + vN

    where,  N is the number of people reached by the governance sphere

    and,  v(i) is the value derived from the public information by an individual i

Thus public value of information will increase when:

i. More number of people are brought under the governance sphere [increasing the N]

ii. More relevant government information is provided to each individual [increasing the v(i)]

iii. Two Lessons: How can Electronic Governance increase the "Public Value" of Information?

For Electronic Governance to increase the “public value” of information, planned efforts have to be made to provide information which is of use to larger number of individuals. Two key lessons emerge:

Lesson 1:

Electronic Governance models will have to be designed to provide governance information which is of "value" for end-users, instead of providing information that can be readily supplied by the governments.

Governance information will have more "value" for me, when information is:

i.          CUSTOMIZED:           Is  useful for my information needs

ii.          TIMELY        :            Updated information is readily available when required

iii.         TRUSTWORTHY:       Is usable, and individuals/ institutions can be held accountable for any wrong information provided

At present, a fundamental flaw exists- Governments turning online are providing governance information along sectoral lines, for instance agriculture ministry, water-resources ministry, mining ministry, industrial development ministry and rural development ministry are each bringing more information about their ministry online. Information requirements of end-users are however more geographically inclined rather than sectorally.

For instance a farmer is not interested in what government schemes and subsidies are offered by agriculture department, rural development department and water-resources department. Instead his / her need may be to know schemes and subsidies that are available in his/ her area irrespective of which department they comes from. Thus Electronic Governance models needs to take into cognizance this interface where specific user requirements get matched with information availability.

Lesson 2:

Electronic Governance models should try to reach those sections of the society who have been bypassed and remained out of governance sphere due to high transaction costs of accessing governance information. And yet the need for governance information for these sections of society may be the highest.

Due to high transaction cost of gaining governance information, several sections of the community, for instance, small and landless farmers, urban poor, tribal and backward communities, minorities, unemployed rural youths, often remain outside of governance sphere and remain unaware of governance information which could be useful for them- for instance information about government schemes and subsidies, credit and loans availability, employment opportunities, new bills and notifications etc.

When Electronic Governance models are specifically designed to serve information needs of these marginalized communities, they bring more number of people into governance sphere and thereby increase the "public value" of information being provided by the governments.

When the above 2 lessons are followed, the Electronic Governance models become a catalyst to efforts towards good governance. Also when the focus of e-governance services is geographically rooted in a small area and there is an increased focus to identify and design governance services that will be useful for cross-section of the community.