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Don't lose your head ...
Don't lose your head

'E' signifies one of the biggest organisational culture changes since the industrial revolution. For councils, the implications of e-government are profound. It cannot be left to the IT department alone to exploit this huge opportunity.

It is well known that organisations with sustainable business models embracing the web have the greatest chances of success. For councils, the principles are no different. However, business on the internet involves more than just an animated website.

A major change in thinking is called for, and has already been dubbed 'citizen management' - a term which smacks uncomfortably of the French Revolution and the guillotine.

How is the e-government revolution being handled? In talking to council decision makers, we have discovered little consistency of approach. Many have hardly begun to consider the issue. Others think they already have matters well in hand. Many organisations appear to be handing the whole thing over to IT while others are taking a more considered approach.

But whatever the strategic direction, there is a government deadline to be met. In doing so, taking full advantage of e-government opportunities requires the management of change - first, to overcome human barriers and, second to exploit organisational strengths. And, of course, the more successful the change, the better the exploitation of private sector contracts and partnerships.

But successful change can only be achieved by bridging the damaging gap that lies between local government professionals and their IT colleagues. Councils need to empower thousands of decision-making professionals to influence technology matters. This is achieved through a realistic approach - imparting enough information to give executives confidence and credibility, but not so much that they get lost in the detail.

Who should be involved in such a root-and-branch strategy? The complete spectrum of staff - from chief executive to administrative staff across all departments. And, most importantly, councillors.

Follow the rules in managing citizens and operations in the e-revolution and no heads will roll this time around.

Ade McCormack

Managing director, Auridian Consulting

Not too partial to the portal

Each week, LGC carries news of the different ways in which councils are making their services available online or are carrying out surveys and consultations using the internet.

Recently, the question of whether we should be using the internet to conduct elections as well has been raised. Robin Cook, leader of the House of Commons and chair of the Cabinet's

e-democracy committee, suggested it might be possible for the next general election to be conducted at least partially online.

The Electoral Reform Society agrees anything which makes voting more convenient and more in tune with today's lifestyles is to be welcomed. Indeed, 18 months ago we set up an independent commission of experts to look into the effects of extended polling hours, all-postal ballots, telephone and internet voting. This commission will report on 5 February.

But we do not approve of setting a target such as using the internet at the next general election. We all know politicians hate failure and the society feels such a target would have to be met regardless of the consequences - even if it meant using unproven systems in a decision as important as who runs the country. This is why we have sought to pour cold water on Mr Cook's proposal and urge a more cautious, even academic, approach to the use of new technologies.

It is true there is no quick-fix solution to the country's problems of voter apathy and it is naive of some politicians - as well as some within the technology industry - to suggest the internet will give us a massive boost in turnout. In doing so, the attitude that 'we must do something, this is something, so we must do this' is taken to extremes.

Internet voting has been used extensively in non-statutory elections already and has shown only modest take-up. The council tax referendums in Croydon LBC and Bristol City Council allowed voting by telephone, post or internet and the latter option was used by just one out of every 40 of those who voted. The student union elections for the University of London were conducted entirely over the internet among an electorate which has 100% free access. Out of 120,000 eligible students, just 472 voted.

I am not claiming these examples are typical of all internet elections, but their lessons cannot be entirely dismissed. Online voting may well prove to be a valuable addition to the British democratic arsenal, but it is not the be all and end all some may have us believe.

Alex Folkes

Press and campaigns manager,

Electoral Reform Society

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