The advent of new ICTs brought a lot of new
assumptions about radical changes in our society.
In the context of the arrival of a new society, public
administration was supposed to witness (and to
address or implement) changes at different levels,
citizenship (citizens becoming participants in
governance or even a shift to e-democracy);
the nature of public service jobs (in terms of
skills, work processes and job design);
• organizational changes (from a hierarchical to
a more horizontal structure, to network or even
virtual organizations); and
the entire government (from classic bureaucracy
to New Public Management and to network and
Technological change cannot be judged outside
the social, economic and political frameworks.
The massive change in our society cannot be
explained only by technological (especially ICT)
factors. Excluding other factors may help us predict
easier (but not more accurately) future evolutions
but as a scientiﬁc effort it is a bad practice. Much
of the assumptions about technological change
came from hasty generalizations. The changing
nature of some collective actions, jobs in certain
areas of the economy or organizations were
considered as optimal (and necessary) paths for
the entire society (from individual to national levels).
Public administration reforms are far from being a
consequence of new technologies. Moreover public
administration reforms do not embed ICTs and do
not have a happy marriage with e-government.
Keywords: public administration reform,
information and communication technology,
e-democracy, New Public Management, organi-
ICT AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Sorin Dan ŞANDOR
Sorin Dan ŞANDOR
Associate Professor, Public Administration Department,
Faculty of Political, Administrative and Communication
Sciences, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
of Administrative Sciences,
No. 36 E/2012, pp. 155-164
1. ICT and a new society
The advent of new ICTs brought a lot of new assumptions about radical changes in
the entire society. Similar claims were made before about other technology advances.
Standage (1998), speaking about the Victorian Internet – the telegraph – mentioned
some of the hopes invested in that technology – a revolution for social communication
and a possibility to further democracy and to end up wars. The results were diﬀerent
from those expected. The telegraph was rather used to wage war than to bring peace.
Faster communication sped up life, changed businesses and governments, but changes
were not that radical at societal level.
Nowadays many authors speak about the world as entering the Information Society
– centered around the production, storage, retrieval and utilization of information, in
which a ‘network society’ appears as transforming politics, economics, culture but also
family and individuals (Castells, 2000, pp. 13-18).
Technological determinism is not something new. Roe Smith (1994) makes a
distinction between the ‘so view’, technology drives change but responds to social
pressures and a ‘hard view’, technology is an independent factor, autonomous from
social factors. In many cases the proponents of the Information Society belong to
the hard view. Excluding social (but also economic) factors may lead into believing
that we can successfully foresee in what way society will evolve as a consequence
of implementing a new technology. Such beliefs gave birth to a literary sub-genre.
Now forgoen, technological utopias were very popular at the end of the 19
beginning of the 20
centuries. What remained on the long term were only dystopias
like Huxley’s The Brave New World (not only for literary merits but also for the warning
about the possible misuse of technology). Technological determinism may be found
not only in dusted utopias, but also in the existing e-government literature. Heeks and
Bailor (2006) found in an e-government literature review that 18 out of 84 analyzed
papers (21.43%) belonged to the theoretical framework of technological determinism.
Usually in discussing technology adoption on society one should carefully balance
between technological reasons for adoption and social forces behind or against such
developments. Diﬀerent social, political, economic, cultural or religious (a possible
example being the position of the Romanian Orthodox Church regarding the biometric
passports, see Frunză and Frunză, 2009) factors can lead to the adoption or the rejection
of a technological innovation.
Claims that the Information Society has arrived usually come with ideological
aspects pertaining to the third wave (aer agriculture and industry), the implication
being that changing waves means changing the mode of society organization. Yet the
arguments in favor of a third wave based on information (or knowledge) are thin.
The most common is that more and more people are working with information. Still,
they are working in industry – the second sector – and services – the third sector (with
the help of ICT), organizations of the second wave. Fuchs (2008, pp. 194-195) claims
that the quaternary sector (in which knowledge goods and services are produced by
knowledge workers) surpasses any of the other three sectors. In order to get to these
results, in the quaternary sector we ﬁnd healthcare, education, government and even
manufactures (electronics, paper etc.).
We do not have enough proof that technology advances may appear outside the
society and that social, economic and political factors do not have a say in what concerns
the use of innovations. There are several concerns raised by the use of technology.
Technology seen as a tool for reinforcing power is one of them and an old one. Kraemer
and Duon (1979) warned that IT is a malleable technology controlled by those in
power in order to enhance their control. ICT has many beneﬁts, but their distribution
can foster inequalities, may create winners and losers (Angell, 1996) more by exclusion
than by exploitation (Lash, 2002, p. 4).
2. Challenges for public administration
In the context of the arrival of a new society, public administration was supposed
to witness (and to address or implement) changes at diﬀerent levels, such as:
–citizenship (citizens becoming participants in governance or even a shi to
–the nature of public service jobs (in terms of skills, work processes and job design);
–organizational changes (from a hierarchical to a more horizontal structure, to
network or even virtual organizations); and
–the entire government (from classic bureaucracy to New Public Management and
to network and digital governance).
2.1. Changes in citizenship
The rapid development of new information and communication technologies,
especially the Internet-based applications, was seen as a new democratic promise. A
greater interactivity permied by most Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)
systems gave hope of a rise of a more direct or participatory democracy. E-democracy,
especially at local level, is based on a broader public debate space, in which the contact
between citizens and decision-makers will be fostered by ICTs. The new technologies,
based on ﬂat and open networks, enabling a two-way communication, made information
provision possible to everyone, anywhere and anytime (Duon, 1999).
The ﬁrst researches failed to oﬀer any proof that Internet use may bring more oﬀ-line
participation (like voting) (Bimber, 2001). Only a recent body of research showed that
Internet political participation (like political chat rooms, e-mail, online news) is related
to turnout (Mossberger, Tolbert and McNeal, 2008). Chevallier (2009) ﬁnds that iVoting
is used more by occasional voters which are familiar with computers. The Internet did
not bring too many digital citizens or netizens ready to change the way in which politics
(or at least elections) are made. In several cases ICT means may serve as mobilizing
tools. We should not be too hasty to conclude that the means are changing the issue.
The fact that in June 2009 the Iranian protesters used Twier to get mobilized does not
mean that democracy is beer served – more traditional ways of communication could
have been as eﬀective as Twier.
Voting is just a form of participation in electronic democracy. Through ICT means
citizens can express their needs (individually or in more or less ad hoc coalitions) or
even participate in the deliberation regarding the adoption of speciﬁc policies and
measures. Communication and the establishment of virtual communities are at the core
of expectations towards improved participation of citizens. Both forms are confronted
with a series of problems.
There is a signiﬁcant body of literature stressing the limitations of CMC. The lack of
vocal, paralinguistic and non-verbal features, common to face-to-face communication,
are the main limitations quoted by many. These may lead to either a lack of social
presence or de-individualization eﬀects or reduced number of social cues. As a result of
those shortcomings CMC may be seen as ‘promoting task-oriented, depersonalized and
anti-normative behavior’ (Lamerichs and TeMolder, 2003, p. 452). Factors as anonymity
or challenging and ﬂaming (emotionally charged messages, ranging up to hostile and
insulting ones) may contribute to seeing CMC as depersonalized and leading to anti-
While exploring virtual communities Etzioni (1999) found two problems: identiﬁcation
(which may be overcome by some form of authentication) and accountability, and
two advantages: interactive broadcasting (dealing with multiple recipients at a time)
and memory (retrieval of information). We cannot be sure that Fuchs (2008, pp.
126-127) is right in saying that Web 3.0 (not yet existing but deﬁned as networked
digital technologies that support human cooperation as MUDs, MOOs, groupware
or Wikis) may resemble to the Marxian idea of collective cooperative production and
Tonnies’ idea of communities. Adhering to a virtual community may be only a way of
reinforcing existing beliefs and aitudes. In many cases it may lead to a radicalization
and polarization of beliefs and aitudes in a society.
Gronlund (2003) sees various e-democracy initiatives as serving more the positions
of politicians than that of citizens, by providing the ﬁrst with a new way to contact
directly with people. The beneﬁts for the laer are somewhat elusive.
2.2. The changing nature of public service jobs
Based on the classiﬁcation of the Commiee on Techniques for the Enhancement of
Human Performance: Occupational Analysis, Commission on Behavioral and Social
Sciences and Education and National Research Council (1999, p. 106) we may expect to
ﬁnd changes in the nature of structure and content of work in the following dimensions:
–the degree of discretion or decision-making power workers have over how to do
their jobs – autonomy-control;
–the range or breadth of the tasks embedded in a job – task scope;
–the cognitive complexity; and
–the extent to which the quality of social interactions, including their emotional
quality, is critical to job performance – relational or interactive.
In theory, within the Information Society, based on knowledge production, the
transformed workplace will provide the employees with greater autonomy (higher
latitude/discretion to organize their tasks, increased decision-making power and
greater responsibility). The task scope will be broader as routine jobs will disappear.
The cognitive complexity will increase as beer qualiﬁcation and versatility will be
in high demand. The relational characteristics also will be more important as the
administrations will be more and more citizen/customer oriented.
Practice shows a diﬀerent situation. Governments are still oriented on following the
procedures, giving lile autonomy to front-line public servants. Procedures (despite
eﬀorts for simpliﬁcation) tend to be more and more detailed and there are strong
demands for documenting each step in their activity (a well-known example is that of
police oﬃcers spending less time in patrolling because of the increased workload in
writing reports). These trends do not increase the task scope or the cognitive complexity.
The increase in using ICT in workplaces is far from puing cognitive problems – the
amount of IT knowledge needed in government is usually low. Relational characteristics
of the job seem to be changing in the last 30 years with a greater emphasis on politeness,
kindness and amiability towards citizens.
Another issue regards the contractual reports between public employees and
employers. The trend towards more ﬂexible terms of employment (other than full-time
and for life) had been proposed and implemented in several countries. Most countries
(especially those having traditional civil service systems) are still oﬀering mainly this
type of employment (for certain positions, especially those not related to the exercise
of public authority, ﬂexible arrangements are in place).
2.3. Organizational change
The new type of organization is envisaged as having the following features:
–ﬂaer hierarchies which are beer suited to respond to a changing environment;
some authors like Goldsmith and Eggers (2004) claim that hierarchy is dying and
has to be replaced by networks;
–less compartmentalization – diﬀerent parts of organizations are starting to work
–emergence of virtual organizations; and
–commitment to organizational goals and mission is replacing blind following of
procedures and orders.
The intellectual source for many of the above comes from IT industry success stories
that ﬁt high-tech companies, especially upstart ones, with fewer employees. For big
companies, evolving in more steady environments, many such characteristics are
The structure of public administration has not changed signiﬁcantly. Initiatives like
de-centralization or seing-up new autonomous agencies ended by being reversed
in a new wave of centralization mainly because coordination has proven to be too
diﬃcult (ICT was not enough to overcome any diﬃculty). The hierarchical organization
seems to be as much in place as it was twenty years ago, the same being true for
compartmentalization. Teams as working units are still rarely used, as aributions
are clearly divided between compartments. In the case of some inter-governmental
relations teams are used, but cooperation inside the teams may be rather diﬃcult as
each member is devoted more to his or hers organization than to the task. In the same
area Bekkers (2000) found a few virtual organizations that had as main purpose data
exchange and sharing between government bodies.
In trying to identify the eﬀects of new technologies on organizational structure
Kraemer and King (2005, p. 7) claimed that ‘IT has had lile discernible eﬀect on
organization structure, and seems to yield somewhat greater centralization in already
centralized organizations’, a conclusion that remained true from the time of mainframe
computing to the time of personal computing.
As mentioned in the previous section, following procedures is still the basic rule in
public administration. The organizational goals and mission to which public servants
should be commied are still based on classic bureaucracy values as the NPM did a
bad job in pursuing public value (O’Flynn, 2007).
More than that, organizational factors do not seem to be aﬀected by new technologies,
and inﬂuence the way in which ICT is adopted. Fountain’s technology enactment model
(2001) is listing organizational factors as the main factor for technology enactment –
new technologies are adopted only aer adjustment to organizational forms. The critics
(see Yildiz, 2007) do not contest the inﬂuence of organizational factors but its amount.
2.4. Public administration reforms
One of the visions for public governance in 2020 (Boerman et al., 2008, p. 9) is
based on the following statement ‘Today, in the 21
century, empowerment seems to be
the next great societal value, in response to the massive increase in information and
communication permeating society’. A key driver for government’s transformation
towards this goal is ICT. Such a transformation, in a full joined-up and networked
government should have at its core eﬃciency and eﬀectiveness.
Such visions are quite frequent. We can see the role that ICT can have in public
administration reforms (both as a direct or indirect reason and as a key drive) but also
how New Public Management ideas (eﬃciency and eﬀectiveness) or post-NPM (joined-
up and networked government) are present in such images of future.
ICT is seen as the main reason for public administration reforms mainly for those
who foresee a technologically driven change in the entire society. When discussing
public reforms origins or sources ICT is oen forgoen. Şandor and Tripon (2008, p. 2)
listed several diﬀerent reasons for the present wave of public administration reforms
(ICT not being one of them): lack of citizen trust in the public administration system;
ideology – usually conservative ideology, lately right-wing populism; democratization
– especially in former communist countries; European Union integration; development
– especially in less developed countries; and economic crises (like at the end of the ‘70s).
The public management reform movement, especially in the form of the New Public
Management, tried to improve the eﬃciency of governments, by importing ideas from
the private sector (like privatization, market orientation, decentralization, citizens seen
as customers or shareholders, a strong emphasis on management and leadership).
The two ﬁelds (ICT and NPM) were intertwined in some of the literature. In an
analysis of articles published between 1993-1995 in the ﬁeld of public administration
(Lan and Anders, 2000) the distinct area for technology use and management represented
2.3% of the total scientiﬁc production. Technological change was seen successful only
accompanied by management reform and new technologies were seen as a key support
(sometimes a key driver) for management reform.
In fact the relationship between ICT adoption and organizational performance seems
to be more debatable than expected. Gripenberg (2004, p. 106) is quoting several studies
that found no relationship or even a negative one. We did not explain yet the Solow
productivity paradox, ‘You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity
statistics’, meaning that in the last four decades the relationship between ICT investment
and productivity growth is negative. There are authors like Melville, Kraemer and
Gurbaxani (2004, p. 284) that found in literature signiﬁcant support for the claim that
ICT improves organizational performance. From their review on this body of scientiﬁc
knowledge we may understand some of the issues involved:
–How do we measure ICT business value? We can choose a theoretical background
from microeconomic theory, organization theory, sociological and socio-political
perspectives (not all pertinent for public administration), each oﬀering several
diﬀerent alternatives. The results may diﬀer very much for each case as we choose
one option or another.
–ICT inﬂuence is mediated by business processes and workplace practices.
–The external environment (country and industry – in our case branch of government
– characteristics) plays an important role and should be not eliminated from the
–ICT is a multi-dimensional construct – to count the number of systems or IT
spending is not enough. Diﬀerent dimensions may be used, like technology
(hardware and soware), human resources and IT organizational resources (from
strategy to customer orientation).
All these issues may inﬂuence a study. Each model proposed is using diﬀerent
measures of diﬀerent constructs, is including or excluding some of the mitigating factors.
In the end, if applied to the same cases we may end up by having very diﬀerent results.
Case selection may be another problem. Many studies do select a speciﬁc industry
or a speciﬁc case for analysis at a speciﬁc moment. In many situations success cases
were picked – thus conﬁrming the initial hypothesis (IT is beneﬁcial) just by sampling.
Timing may be of essence: analyzing a case of a company that comes with an IT-enabled
innovation may show a big business value, but when the innovation is generalized
across the industry the gains are much smaller.
In the end, even for random or exhaustive sampling another issue should be carefully
handled – causality. Suppose that a study ﬁnds that the most successful companies
are those with higher IT usage. There is a low chance that the study will control for
confounding variables. Also there is lile concern for geing right the temporal sequence
– what comes ﬁrst, IT usage or success?
While supporting this link Beckers and Homburg (2005) are listing two possible
arguments against the marriage between e-government and NPM: (1) the eﬃciency
emphasis of the NPM can be in conﬂict with the investments demands of e-government
(2) public accountability concerns are not in line with possible eﬀects coming from
contracting out e-government services.
Another (and newer) line of thought (Lips and Schuppan, 2009) about the way in
which public management and e-government are linked tries to show that we did not
have enough indications of such a link due to factors like:
–A substantial amount of time is needed in order to learn how to use new
technologies – a claim based on previous and much slower technological changes
which seems to be in contradiction with the fast pace of technology innovation
and which leaves open the question – how many additional years are needed?;
–We are not looking through the right lenses – instead of seeing ICT as a toolbox for
speciﬁc outcomes (a similar view can be found in Hinţea, 2011) we should focus
on the transformations occurring in government and we should use a holistic
framework of analysis. The argument has its merit but there is no indication why
by changing lenses we will see changes in public management that we did not
Technological change cannot be judged outside the social, economic and political
frameworks. The massive change in our society cannot be explained only by technological
(especially ICT) factors. Excluding other factors may help us predict easier (but not
more accurately) future evolutions but as a scientiﬁc eﬀort it is a bad practice.
Much of the assumptions about technological change came from hasty generalizations.
The changing nature of some collective actions, jobs in certain areas of the economy,
organizations were considered as optimal (and necessary) paths for the entire society
(from individual to national level).
Aer more than thirty years of information revolution we can see more transactional
than transformational change. The public management reform (especially NPM, in
which case its manifesto Reinventing Government may be seen as another example of
hasty generalization) had lost its impetus. Some of the reasons may be related to over-
simplifying the factors in action at social level, others by generalizing some success
cases as a rule. Deﬁnitely the lack of signiﬁcant successes is contributing to its loss of
Public administration reforms are far from being a consequence of new technologies.
Moreover public administration reforms do not embed ICTs and do not have a happy
marriage with e-government. Good implementation of new technologies is one of
the conditions for successful reforms. Future research on the relationship between
public administration and ICT should try to avoid hasty generalizations and over-
simpliﬁcations in favor of a more rigorous approach. Such theoretical contributions
may enrich the ﬁeld and need to be followed by empirical proofs.
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