Every investment decision requires a leap of faith — sometimes a large one — into an uncertain future.
But after decades of investments and billions of dollars sunk into IT, governments worldwide remain largely unable to convincingly demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) that is widely understood or based upon well-grounded measures, according to a new issues brief from the New York-based Center for Technology in Government.
The answer, according to deputy director, Anthony M Cresswell, lies in the public value framework the centre developed to give government IT executives and analysts an assessment tool based on the public’s point of view, rather than the government’s.
Creswell points out that even government IT investments specifically aimed at public value returns like greater security or transparency are challenging to define and even harder to measure.
“From this point of view we can see two sources of public returns: (1) value that results from improving the government itself as an asset to the society, and (2) value that results from delivering specific benefits directly to persons or groups.
“Value creation can therefore come as much from increasing the integrity and transparency of government as from reducing costs through activities such as online tax processing, licence application and renewals, obtaining information, filing forms, etc,” he says.
This take on value also includes many stakeholders, each with special interests and expectations from government; many kinds of public interests require an expansive way to view public value.
Cresswell points out the low-hanging fruit available from early IT investments like establishing a Web presence and automating simple service transactions has largely been harvested. More substantial improvements in government today typically involve exploiting the integrative and transformative potential of IT, but these projects require much larger investments, making connecting a particular IT investment to some observable public benefit an even greater imperative.
“The framework shows how to take into account how public value can change across the many interests of citizens and groups in interacting with governments,” Cresswell says.
“The desire for a more comprehensive and robust justification for new IT investments reflects their greater complexity and ambition. Conventional ROI analysis is simply inadequate to meet elected officials’ demands for greater scrutiny. Therefore, using such an expanded scope of assessment, even though more expensive, is both critical and necessary. The new knowledge about public value made available by using such a broad framework can meet both political and citizen demands. In addition, it can help guide other forms of investment, both IT and non-IT, and provide a basis for analyzing how multiple investments can work together and contribute to a more fundamental improvement in government.”
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