Digital government doesn’t equal democratic government by Amanda Clarke
Most theories of digital government begin from the premise that traditional public administration is fundamentally broken and ripe for disruption. This disruption would see governments operate more like tech firms: nimble, less hierarchical and siloed, suffering fewer approvals and central controls, and staffed with entrepreneurial, outspoken public servants.
But in turning to tech firms as a model for public sector reform, mainstream theories of digital government suffer from a rather thin appreciation for the unique constraints and practical realities that must be factored in when redesigning government institutions.
Bureaucratic silos and hierarchies, while overgrown in many governments today, nonetheless retain their value in ensuring clear lines of accountability and coordination in complex government systems, and are particularly key to the principle of ministerial responsibility at the heart of the Westminster system.
Claims to empathetic, human-centred digital services may simply fuel citizens’ mistrust of the state where they are layered on top of policies that show little regard for the preferences and deeper needs of the societies they serve.