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Towards Efficient EGovernment: Identifying Important Competencies for EGovernment in European Public Administrations

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In an attempt to enhance efficiency, public administrations around the world and in particular in Europe are increasingly relying on information technology (IT) to improve their performance and service delivery. This growing use of IT results in a changed set of competencies demanded from civil servants. In order to find out the concrete competencies that are required for successful implementation of eGovernment initiatives and that, consequently, need to be included in the education of future professionals, a European-wide survey was conducted (n=697). This paper reports on the first results of this study, revealing that there is a strong need for professionals with socio-technical, organizational, and managerial competencies.
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Towards Efficient EGovernment:
Identifying Important Competencies for
EGovernment in European Public
Administrations
Nadine OGONEKa,1, Elena GORBACHEVAa, Michael RÄCKERSa, Jörg BECKERa ,
Robert KRIMMER b, Bruno BROUCKER c and Joep CROMPVOETS c
a University of Muenster
b Tallinn University of Technology
c KU Leuven
Abstract. In an attempt to enhance efficiency, public administrations around
the world and in particular in Europe are increasingly relying on information
technology (IT) to improve their performance and service delivery. This growing
use of IT results in a changed set of competencies demanded from civil servants.
In order to find out the concrete competencies that are required for successful
implementation of eGovernment initiatives and that, consequently, need to be
included in the education of future professionals, a European-wide survey was
conducted (n=697). This paper reports on the first results of this study, revealing
that there is a strong need for professionals with socio-technical, organizational
and managerial competencies.
Keywords. eGovernment, Competencies, Survey, Europe, Workforce
Introduction
The ever-increasing demands public administrations must fulfil concerning social,
economic and political challenges, have raised the pressure to respond appropriately to
this environment. Efficiency in terms of the joint creation of public value beyond national
borders is therefore at the heart of European political debates and “requires holistic
responses, which in turn call for the transformation of public administrations” [1]. In this
respect, information technology (IT) and technological innovation can serve as primary
drivers since they provide effective and complexity-diminishing tools to deal with the
plethora of requirements. They can contribute significantly to the amelioration of the
performance and efficiency of the public sector and improve the service delivery [2].
Under the umbrella term electronic government (eGovernment), IT and technological
innovations that allow public administrations to collaborate more efficiently with all
stakeholders are summarized. The stakeholders include private actors, citizens and other
1 Corresponding Author.
Electronic Government and Electronic Participation
H.J. Scholl et al. (Eds.)
© 2016 The authors and IOS Press.
This article is published online with Open Access by IOS Press and distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0).
doi:10.3233/978-1-61499-670-5-155
155
organizations. Efficient collaboration makes it possible for public administrations to
address diverse and constantly increasing needs of stakeholders. According to European
Commission (2006), eGovernment means “the use of information and communication
technologies in public administrations combined with organizational changes and new
skills” with the objective to “improve public services, democratic processes and public
policies” [3].
EGovernment initiatives, however, highly depend on the employees' expertise and
qualification in this area [4]. To fully leverage the potential of eGovernment, it is
important to have a workforce with the right competencies to perform the necessary tasks.
The term competence can be defined as a combination of work-related knowledge, skills
and abilities held by an individual [5]. It has to be ensured that civil servants are trained
to be able to deal with new technologies and, thus, to guarantee customer satisfaction
and efficient service delivery [6]. Studies show that a high number of eGovernment
projects have failed [7], which emphasizes that it is not sufficient to have the technology
available; expertise and commitment of qualified professionals are crucial. IT has to be
designed and adjusted to the respective context in which it is applied and it needs the
right professionals, who are capable of exploiting the new potentials of IT as far as
possible [8]. EGovernment is not only about new techniques; it is much more about the
people implementing it who need to have the right competencies [9].
Due to the lack of a comprehensive overview, what competencies are required by
public administrations for a successful implementation of eGovernment initiatives at all
levels, a European-wide survey was set up with the aim to provide such an overview.
Awareness about the demanded competencies is of value for both educators to improve
existing curricula and training programs and (future) professionals who would like to
enter or advance in the eGovernment field. The survey was conducted between January
and February 2016 and resulted in 697 usable responses from participants in 34 countries.
This paper is focused on the presentation of the survey results and their implications for
the development of eGovernment education in Europe.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. In the next section we review
related literature and introduce the eGovernment competence framework applied in the
study. Then, we describe the study method, followed by the presentation of results and
their discussion, highlighting constraints and limitations. In the concluding section, we
provide a short summary of the work done, together with the areas for future research.
1. Research Background
One way of increasing efficiency of public administrations is to have the right employees
in the right positions doing the right things and to train them accordingly. Therefore, it
is of utmost importance to define the competencies that are necessary for a successful
eGovernment education in the European context. However, research on education of
eGovernment in order to identify these competencies has been neglected for a long time:
for instance, eGovernment education was not identified among future research topics
within the roadmapping for the eGovRTD2020 project [10] and it remains under-
researched [11].
Identification of the right competencies for eGovernment has started to attract
increasing attention among scholars. A first attempt by [4] identified a first set of
competencies and structured an academic debate around developing an eGovernment
curriculum [12]. Apart of this eGovernment specific approach, a more generic approach
N. Ogonek et al. / Towards Efficient EGovernment156
was developed on the European Union (EU) level. The European e-competence
framework (e-CF) was established in 2014 as a means for describing the skills and
knowledge requirements of IT professionals [13]. The framework is supported by the
European Commission and forms part of the EU strategy for e-skills in the 21st century.
The e-CF was developed with the objective of offering a one-stop shop for needed
competencies in an IT environment and provide decision support concerning competency
requirements and their implications for training, career development and so on. Yet, this
framework provides a rather generic reference system, given that it is focused on IT
professions in general, and does not take into consideration the peculiarities of different
domains. On the one hand, this framework makes a valuable orientation in terms of
classifying different types of competencies; but on the other hand, its suitability for the
eGovernment domain is limited.
In search for a suitable framework, we decided to orient ourselves closely around the
study by [14] for the purpose of designing our questionnaire. In light of the lack of
profound examination and classification of eGovernment competencies in the academic
field [9], this study is especially valuable, because it offers a comprehensive framework
compared, for example, to the e-CF framework, because it is comprised of five different
categories of eGovernment competencies, namely technical, socio-technical,
organizational, managerial and political-administrative. The dimension of technical
competencies encompasses all IT-related skills like the fundamentals, strategy and
design of Information Systems. Socio-technical competencies refer to all the skills that
are at the interface of technical system and human beings and involve both of them.
Examples for such competencies include framework requirements on the impact of
IT/eGovernment. Organizational competencies concern the organizational integration
of IT/eGovernment, organizational structures, process management etc. The next
category of managerial competencies deals with business and management skills in the
context of IT/eGovernment, such as project-, change and financial management. The
fifth category of political-administrative competencies addresses all skills that deal
with the environment that IT/eGovernment is embedded in, such as legal conditions and
policies. These five categories represent the multi-faceted composition of eGovernment
and its requisites, beyond purely focusing on IT knowledge as in earlier publications.
2. Research Method
In order to gain an understanding of the competencies demanded by public
administrations in Europe, an online survey was conducted among the representatives of
public administrations and other organizations working in close cooperation with public
administrations (target respondents). The framework by [14], presented in the previous
section, acted as a basis for the questionnaire development. On top of that, it was decided
to include in the survey several additional questions about the organization location, type,
number of residents in the area of responsibility, number of employees and number of
implemented eGovernment projects.
Once the agreement on the final set of questions had been reached by the authors,
the survey was pre-tested by five experienced researchers, incorporating their feedback
to the questionnaire. As a result, for each of the five categories of eGovernment
competencies, namely technical, socio-technical, organizational, managerial and
political-administrative, questions about the importance of three to five exemplary
competencies in each category were asked about (Table 1a). All included exemplary
N. Ogonek et al. / Towards Efficient EGovernment 157
competencies were derived from the study by [14], who identified them based on extant
academic literature in the field. The competence importance was measured using a 5-
point Likert scale, with response options ranging from “unimportant” to “very important”.
In case a specific competence was perceived important by a respondent (was marked
as “important” or “very important”), two additional questions were asked. First, it was
valuable to understand whether enough professionals in the organization or on the job
market offer this qualification (Table 1b). Second, the respondents were asked, whether
employees in the organization have been or will be sent for an additional training to
obtain this competence (Table 1c). Both additional questions were measured using a 5-
point Likert scale, with response options ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly
agree”.
The final version of the questionnaire was translated from English to German,
French, Estonian, Spanish and Dutch. Thus, the survey was made understandable to
target respondents in most European countries who do not necessarily speak English.
The survey was then implemented using the LimeSurvey platform
(www.limeservice.com) in all six languages and tested by ten researchers, making final
adjustments. Once the online survey was launched in January 2016, a link to it was sent
per email to more than 12,000 target respondents, asking them to distribute the link
further to relevant personal contacts. The link to the survey was active for six weeks and
during this time 2,155 responses were received in total. However, only 697 of them were
complete, meaning that all mandatory questions were responded to. We decided to focus
only on complete cases in further analysis, which was done using the SPSS Statistics
software package. The results of data analysis are presented and discussed in the
following sections.
3. Results
Of the 697completed questionnaires, about 84% of the responses came from Germany,
due to the direct access of the authors to the target respondents in this country. In addition
to Germany (n=587), Belgium (n=44) and Estonia (n=19), respondents from the
following countries participated in the survey: Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Italy,
Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway,
Philippines, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia, Spain, Thailand, Turkey,
Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.
More than 90% of the responses came from the representatives of public
administrations, out of which 38.2% came from public bodies serving fewer than 50,000
residents. Related to that, most organizations turned out to have less than 500 employees.
Moreover, we asked for a general experience with eGovernment and eGovernment
projects. In total 69.9% of the respondents implemented five or fewer eGovernment (or
eGovernment-related) projects. Therefore, it can be stated that at the participating
organizations the overall experience with eGovernment and eGovernment
implementation was on a quite low level.
As the main goal of the survey was to identify the competencies sought by public
administrations in Europe, the majority of questions were focused on the identification
of these demanded competencies. In general, the proposed competencies in the chosen
categories from the framework by [14] seem to be relevant. Only three competencies
were marked by less than 40% of the respondents as “important” or “very important”
N. Ogonek et al. / Towards Efficient EGovernment158
(expertise in Information Systems design, Information Systems competencies and
expertise in politics of eGovernment). On the other side, IT competencies,
business/public management competencies, project management competencies and
expertise in administrative workflows were pointed out by more than 70% of the
respondents as “important” or “very important”, and there are further competencies
considered as important by more than 60% of the respondents (process management
competencies, expertise in legal framework and expertise in public policy). It is quite
interesting that besides rather basic IT and administrative workflow competencies the
managerial aspects were mentioned most often. It seems that there is a special need for
leadership competencies. This is also flanked by the answers in the open-ended responses,
where mostly managerial, but also social competencies were mentioned (e.g.,
communication competencies).
Table 1. Relative importance of eGovernment competencies in practice and, for the eGovernment
competencies marked as important, the level of perceived supply and qualification
Category of
Competencies
Competencies (
a)
(b
)
(c
)
Technical
IT competencies
72.2%
46.3%
66.8%
Expertise in Information Systems design
33.6%
56.8%
59.4%
Information Systems competencies
26.7%
45.2%
50.0%
Socio
-
technical
Expertise in eGovernment impact
45.1%
60.5%
51.3%
Expertise in technology and eGovernment adoption
44.6%
57.9%
47.3%
Expertise in politics of eGovernment
39.5%
59.6%
44.7%
Organizational
Expertise in eGovernment structures
45.9%
52.2%
48.4%
Expertise in organizational design
52.9%
39.0%
57.2%
Process management competencies
60.0%
40.2%
60.8%
Managerial
Business/Public management competencies
71.6%
29.5%
57.3%
Project management competencies
70.4%
33.8%
59.1%
Financial management competencies
51.8%
23.6%
58.2%
Performance management competencies
40.6%
40.6%
42.8%
Change management competencies
54.4%
48.8%
47.0%
Political
-
administrative
E-Policy competencies
46.1%
46.7%
42.4%
Expertise in legal framework
65.1%
22.7%
55.3%
Expertise in administrative workflows
74.2%
27.3%
56.1%
Expertise in public policy
60.6%
18.5%
56.9%
(a) Relative importance of eGovernment competencies in practice
(b) For eGovernment competencies marked as important: share of the respondents who stated that there
are not enough professionals in the organization / on the job market who offer competencies
(c) For eGovernment competencies marked as important: share of the respondents who stated that
employees in the organization have been/are planned to be sent for an additional training to obtain
competencies
(based on the framework by [14])
Besides the general importance of single competencies, it is also valuable to
understand, to what extent the employees working at European public administrations
are equipped with these competencies. To address that, for each competence marked as
important for eGovernment, we asked whether, from the respondent point of view, there
were not enough employees in their own organization or on the job market skilled with
this competence (Table 1b). It is surprising that only five out of the 18 investigated
competencies were mentioned with a share of more 50% saying there are not enough
people in the sector. These competencies include expertise in Information Systems design,
expertise in eGovernment impact, expertise in technology and eGovernment adoption,
expertise in politics of eGovernment and expertise in eGovernment structures. It is
interesting that all socio-technical competencies were considered as not sufficiently
supplied by more than 50% of the respondents. Furthermore, it is striking that purely
N. Ogonek et al. / Towards Efficient EGovernment 159
technical competencies were not demanded, but strategic/managerial aspects seemed to
be of importance instead. It is noteworthy that interdisciplinary aspects are especially
missing in the skillsets of people already working in the field.
As a next step, we intended to find out if, besides an awareness of missing
competencies, appropriate actions were undertaken to address existing gaps (e.g., by
additional trainings). For each competence marked as important, we asked, whether there
were plans for employees to be sent for trainings to obtain this competence or whether
they had already attended such a training (Table 1c). It is surprising that only six out of
18 competencies received less than 50% of the responses, indicating that two-thirds of
the employees were either planned or had already been sent to trainings to acquire the
competencies. However, it has to be taken into account that here rather basic
competencies like IT, Process- and Project Management were rated with the highest
shares of 60% and more. There are two possible explanations for these results: (1) there
is more training offering on the market for the rather basic competencies and that is why
it is easier to send employees to attend such a training, and (2) seeing it from a maturity
perspective, the basic competencies are the first ones to acquire, leaving the other
competencies to be developed and taught at a later stage.
4. Discussion
From the results above, we could draw three important conclusions for modern public
administrations.
First, the survey confirms the initial idea that public sector organizations are in need
of specific competencies to be able to adopt and implement eGovernment projects and
eGovernment-based service delivery in a sustainable way. This is a crucial issue, because,
on the one hand, public administrations worldwide are well aware of the importance of
IT and digital evolutions for their future development. On the other hand, they still seem
to lack the necessary competencies to achieve this. Is that because it is difficult to find
professionals with certain profiles? Or is it because public administrations lack the
resources to attract the professionals who possess specific competencies? Or is it because
there is a lack of specific education capable of addressing the necessary diversity of
competencies in a coherent way? If the last explanation is the case, it would mean that
there is an important gap in higher education in this domain, and that the higher education
sector carries an important and urgent responsibility to develop those competencies.
Second, though the difference is not that large, it seems that there is more need for
organizational and managerial competencies in the domain of eGovernment than for
technical competencies. This fits the idea that public administrations have for decades
(1) reduced the adoption of eGovernment projects to technical projects and (2) have not
hired managers and leaders with sufficient specific eGovernment related competencies.
Both elements are striking since public organizations have been well aware of the
complexity of eGovernment implementation. As stated above, we can argue that public
administrations will need to make a shift in their recruitment policy, if they want to be
able to embrace the possibilities of eGovernment for a deep efficiency increase and
service delivery improvement. From this perspective, it will be important to hire
employees who possess all the necessary competencies – technical, managerial, as well
as socio-technical and political-administrative.
Third, as can be derived from the first two elements of discussion, it is no wonder
that the majority of organizations have limited experience with eGovernment projects in
N. Ogonek et al. / Towards Efficient EGovernment160
general. There might even be a vicious circle that a lack of competencies within an
organization to adopt and implement eGovernment projects will be an important
inhibiting factor for the implementation of eGovernment projects. And, logically, a lack
of experience in eGovernment projects will create a lack of internal competencies in this
domain and prevent building required internal capacities. Using external know-how
would be difficult in times of financial austerity [15]. This means that there might be
only one possibility to break this circle: if public sector organizations would like to
benefit from the potential advantages of digital evolution, they will have to make
eGovernment a foundation for future service delivery. This is a major shift, since
eGovernment should become more than a means, but the future of innovative public
administrations, which will have to invest in acquisition and development of
interdisciplinary competencies to achieve this.
5. Conclusion
Academic studies report that the increased need for efficiency gains drives many
eGovernment projects. Hasty eGovernment implementations, combined with a lack of
IT understanding and IT skills in the public sector, lead to the failure of many such
projects. At the same time, there is still a lack of discussion of the competencies missing
in the field.
We conducted a web-based survey with almost 700 respondents from European
stakeholders hiring university graduates to work in eGovernment projects. Despite our
recognized bias on Germany, the study shows a need not only in IT competencies but
also in a more holistic approach that integrates perspectives on several disciplines. Our
results indicate that a thorough understanding of public service delivery and information
and communication technologies is required, combined with knowledge of
organizational processes and political contexts entangled with managerial competencies.
The results show evidence that there is a need for interdisciplinary learning which can
only be addressed when considered early on in designing new curricula targeted at future
eGovernment professionals. New eGovernment curricula should also address the
problem of appearance of silos in public administrations. The solution need to be
complemented with national initiatives such as the laudable study of eGovernment
competencies by the German IT Planungsrat (Planning Council) [16]. The survey results
confirm that looking at eGovernment projects as only technical projects and
understanding eGovernment just as a technical issue does not represent the core of
eGovernment. Holistic, interdisciplinary concepts and skillsets are necessary to
overcome existing problems.
Further directions of our research will focus on the following aspects: (1) We will
analyze the need for social competencies for future eGovernment professionals. Results
show that social competencies in the fields of leadership and communication are crucial
to manage the digital transformation of the public sector domain. (2) European and
international eGovernment curricula and job descriptions for eGovernment professionals
need to be developed, because the lack of respective competencies is not a just national
phenomenon. The EU common values, guidelines and norms require that civil servants
working in this field understand the transnational aspects of implementing an efficient
and effective eGovernment architecture.
N. Ogonek et al. / Towards Efficient EGovernment 161
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N. Ogonek et al. / Towards Efficient EGovernment162
... As elaborated before, it is especially the targeted competence provision that falls short of expectations in the design of eGovernment curricula and does not meet the actual demands [24,39,40]. Furthermore, "[…] in many cases, the inclusion of innovation in HRM policies and practices does not often extend beyond a passing reference and does not expand in detail the specific skills and capabilities needed." ...
... Besides those primarily task-and job-specific "hard" skills public servants need to have, a study among European public administration professionals revealed that even though all of those competence categories are relevant to a certain degree, there is also a strong need for a diverse set of soft skills. Those include skills like communication, negotiation, team and persuasion as well as decision making skills amongst others [40]. ...
... The game primarily targets the competence provision of public administration students. Competences that currently are insufficiently addressed with common study programs are covered with the simulation game [24,40] as is depicted in table 2. Research on public administration employees and the implementation of IT projects revealed various issues such as resistance to IT-related projects [21], and legal issues [8,21]. These and other important issues are addressed with the simulation game as well. ...
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