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Rigor Growing in Digital Government Research

Rigor Growing in Digital Government Research

Digital government research is going on all over the world, but the scientific rigor of the work done to date has been extremely patchy

Output from the global community of digital government researchers and research sponsors continues to grow apace, but the scientific rigor of the work done to date has been extremely patchy.

The good news is that a new Reconnaissance Study from the US-based Center for Technology in Government (CTG) on International Digital Government Research finds recent work adopting much improved data quality and methods.

Digital government research is going on all over the world, with most of the work so far confined to studies conducted within the geographic and political context of a single country, CTG notes. But a host of global economic, social, technical, and political forces is expanding the questions, risks, and opportunities embedded in digital government research to international dimensions. As a result the study finds the volume of internationally-oriented publications has generally grown every year, notwithstanding a decline from 2005 to 2006.

"The largest number and greatest diversity of publications on issues specific to international digital government appeared in 2004 and 2005," the report says.

The reconnaissance study is part of a four-year effort funded by the US National Science Foundation to create a framework for a sustainable global community of digital government researchers and research sponsors, funded by the US National Science Foundation Digital Government Research Program.

The project also embraces an annual research institute, a framework for several international working groups, and travel support for US investigators and doctoral students to international conferences and workshops. The reconnaissance report set out to identify the main contours and current directions of international digital government research to establish a baseline against which to measure the future development of internationally-oriented digital government research.

It finds there are three main categories of international DG researchers: large intergovernmental organizations and multinational corporations (such as the UN, OECD, and Accenture), academic institutions and nonprofit research centers (some involving multi-organizational partnerships), and individual scholars.

"The large-scale projects are usually geared toward generating broad coverage of universal topics or practical knowledge to be used as a guide to furthering economic development and efficient incorporation of IT into public management. The smallest scale projects are usually conducted as part of traditional academic research activities without special funding, although there are exceptions depending on the scale of the project," it says.

"Intergovernmental organizations like OECD and the United Nations focus strongly on topics related to furthering the modernization of public administration around the world, but primarily in developing and emerging economies. Their interests lie in examining the role of electronic and mobile governments as a tool for meeting public sector reform agendas such as good governance, democracy, and inclusion. OECD produces a wide range of publications including best practices, framework development, and comparative studies."

Meanwhile regional intergovernmental organizations conduct comparative and best practices studies, and efforts to enhance the economic development of their regions, the studies are usually aimed at this aspect of digital government.

Academic research represents the broadest range of topics, methods, and approaches to international digital government issues, with several academic research centers in the US, EU, and Asia with units focused on digital government research, including international projects or papers.

Independent think tanks, meanwhile, including the Commonwealth Center, and several large multi-national companies, such as Accenture and SAP, conduct their own programs of international DG research, usually done in-house.

And the quality of the work is steadily improving, the report finds.

"The largest number and greatest diversity of publications on issues specific to international digital government appeared in 2004 and 2005. This body of work varies considerably in scientific rigor, with more recent work exhibiting higher quality data and methods," the report says.

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