E-government in Australia and Spain: a Study of Contrasts and Similarities

Studies about the social impact of Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs) are usually focused on private sector organizations. However, under the rubric of e-government, developments in the public sector are proceeding at a similar if not greater pace and are giving rise to a range of important issues which impact on the internal (organisational and managerial) and external (relations between government and citizens and clients) dimensions of public sector management and administration. Despite the importance of these developments, there is a dearth of academic critiques with the major contributors to the literarture being public managers and consultants. This paper is the result of a Spanish-Australian collaboration to investigate the development of e-government and its implications for public management and society at large. At first glance a comparative paper on Spain and Australia may seem surprising, however, the pervasiveness of the ideas of the New Public Management (NPM) and the univeral character of the set of innovations described as e-government suggests that a comparison of similar developments across divergent cultural, political and economic contexts may generate valuable insights into the character of both NPM and e-government, both separately and with respect to their interaction with each other. This paper proceeds on the hypothesis that governments in the two countries are making rapid advances in their use of e-government, but that this is not matched by the pace of change in the management process and the relations of governments and citizens. It is evident that public managers in both countries have welcomed Web sites and other Internet uses but it is necessary to ask whether these changes represent substantive rather than superficial advances. We suggest that, despite some notable exceptions, the development of ICT in Australia and Spain is actually improving unidirectional services rather than making innovations to online services and providing for interaction with citizens. This paper is in three parts. The first provides a comparative overview of developments in e-govenment in Australia and Spain. The second employs case study analysis of the leading e-government experiencies at the different levels of government in the two countries to explore the limitations of e-government in developing the information and knowledge society. Finally, as a result of interviews with managers, webmasters, ICT experts and public policy specialists from Spain and Australia about future trends and problems concerning e-government, we raise some questions for further discussion. The key issues here are: facilitating citizens access to ICTs, adapting organizations to ICTs and opening the internal structure of government to the social and political environment.