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Citizens will soon be able to contact their council 24 hours a day, seven days a week and even from their armchair....
Citizens will soon be able to contact their council 24 hours a day, seven days a week and even from their armchair. But change is not easy. How does a council become 'electronic'?
The government has set out guidelines for e-government that include building services around citizen choices, improving access, avoiding the digital divide and using information more effectively. For local e-government to fulfil these, careful consideration must be given to how information will be delivered.
For many, the best form of access will still be a visit or a telephone call. But technology will offer a choice.
The personal computer has limitations as a universal access device and has the potential to widen rather than bridge the digital divide. Digital TV has been heralded as the tool that will bring electronic access to all, but whether this is realistic remains to be seen. Radical transformation in accessing services, while maintaining existing channels, carries a cost.
Many authorities are already making significant steps in developing electronic service delivery. East Riding of Yorkshire is a case in point. With a rural, dispersed population, the link of the one-stop-shop concept to integrated, joined-up information systems, supplemented by kiosks and the telephone is transforming citizen awareness and reawakening demand for public service.
Elsewhere, the potential of digital TV is being actively explored. In Camden and Newham, the possibilities of a not-for-profit, nationally available digital TV channel for public service interaction is being developed.
IDeA's Information Age Conference demonstrated the energy and enterprise that e-government could yet unleash in local authorities. The IDeA is intent on councils building networks and sharing knowledge of e-government progress.
James Hehir, chief executive of Ipswich BC and senior vice president of SOLACE, believes e-government has a lot to offer but says: 'We must ask ourselves key questions, such as 'Is the community ready for e-government?' and 'What does the community expect e-government to deliver?' The digital divide is a particular concern, and a concerted effort needs to be made to bridge the gap between those who are, and are not, e-enabled.' Digital TV may prove to be the answer.
-Cynthia Griffin, director of best practice, IDeA
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