Online government is better government

Otto Doll

The Web has caused a fundamental shift for the nation's governors in information dissemination and exchange. The dynamics of interactions with the public have been changed forever. The Internet press release will speak volumes to the subject at hand. And, I expect, all future gubernatorial initiatives will have a Web component.

The Web allows state administrations to communicate not merely an edited, filtered clip of their message but the entire message. An administration need no longer hope its message will be presented clearly by means of a few choice sound bites or quotes that traditional electronic and paper media communicate.

Over the Web, a governor or department secretary can publish a message in all its detail and nuance.

In some cases, entire press conferences are broadcast via Internet streaming, both live and archived, for later recall. Of course, this quantity of information is available to the press, and some large media outlets already incorporate parts of it into their own Web sites.

In South Dakota, both the House and Senate make audio recordings of every session and committee meeting. A citizen, lobbyist or special interest group can thus hear every word said in public about any bill in the state's legislative session.

The state even gives e-mail notice when a bill will be on the docket for discussion, 15 minutes to 45 minutes before the committee session.
Combining the text of each bill, all amendments and votes taken, the Internet shows the entire record of proceedings.

Another advantage of the Web over traditional public-relations mechanisms is that its two-way nature permits a dialog between the public and the government. The public can give its opinions and suggestions. Many states use e-mail and list server facilities to promote dialogs with businesses and private citizens.

In South Dakota, the government has orchestrated calls to action effectively through the Web. For example, the Spruce Up South Dakota Web page has generated community action on cleaning up junked cars, tires, batteries, pesticide containers and other environmentally hazardous debris. Schedules for cleanup efforts are posted on the site, which also shows up-to-date results of the spruce-up efforts, giving the public an idea of its cleanup successes.

The Internet offers an even more powerful set of tools. Information dissemination need not be static; models and simulations can be posted for citizens. For instance, many constituents want to know more than the dry paragraphs of an administration's taxation policy. They want to know how tax policy will affect them directly.
An online calculator into which a visitor can key his or her own financial data and crunch the numbers would be popular. Administrations that offer these tools will send powerful messages of intent to engage the public. State administrations must fully exploit the capabilities of the Web. Dynamic, online discussions of policy, programs and government actions ought to be the norm. You can declare success when your constituents feel completely informed and part of the process.

Otto Doll, South Dakota's chief information officer, formerly worked in federal information technology and was president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.


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