Wednesday, November 24, 2010

e-Government for Developing Nations

ICT Management Handbook - A Guide for Government officers in Bangladesh, by Gregor, S., Imran, A., and Turner, T.
Greetings from the National Centre for Information Systems Research (NCISR) at the Australian National University in Canberra. I am taking part in a planning meeting for teaching e-Government to public servants. This is in conjunction with the Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC). BPATC is the official trainer for civil servants of the Bangladesh government and also trains senior staff in other public organisations. ANU previously provided a course for Bangladesh with part funding support from AusAID (with a book of the course published "ICT Management Handbook - A Guide for Government officers in Bangladesh".). The intention is to build on this with new and expanded courses. This may include some of my course-ware on Electronic Data Management and Green ICT.

In the past it was assumed that a lack of IT infrastructure was holding back e-Government in developing countries. However, ANU research shows that it is a lack of knowledge of how to use the technology for the business of government. In particular administrators need to understand this is not just about replacing manual clerical systems with computers, but also changing their decision making processes.

Very little technical infrastructure is needed to implement e-Government. Developing nations are skipping over generations of technology and adopting wireless mobile cloud based systems. This technology can be used by government, if appropriate security policies are observed. The expensive and cumbersome infrastructure of desktop computers, servers and bespoke software can be avoided, by agencies using mobile computers and free open source software.

However, the hardware and software is not the main issue, it is training staff to do the business of government differently. In that respect developing nations are not necessarily behind western countries. The solution for both is the same: empower key staff with education.

One issue which is common across the world is how to structure a course for working people. An ANU course is normally over 13 weeks, requiring about 8 hours of time from the student each week (some in class and some personal study). Courses can alternatively be run intensively over a number of weeks. This much study can be daunting, particularity for people who have not undertaken formal study for some years. It is therefore tempting to provide very short non-assessed courses, but these may not deliver the needed rigour and not be able to allow the students to demonstrate that they have learned what was expected.

Other issues are the delivery mode of materials, such as use of Powerpoint and a text book. In my view electronic formats and online delivery have advantages, but access to the technology will have to be considered carefully. One approach would be to supply the student with a netbook computer with built in wireless access for the course. The netbook would cost about a few hundred dollars and the data access abut $10.

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