[Thesis]. Manchester, UK: The University of Manchester; 2011.
This research contributes to the debate about the impacts of ICTs on the business
of local government. It conceptualises the city as a site of local governance where
ICTs have an impact on the social, political and economic complexities. Indeed, the
starting point of this research is the widely held view that technology holds promise
to alleviate both economic and democratic challenges faced by local government today.
The conceptual framework combines Manuel Castells' Network Society with theories of
democracy, governance and citizenship, as well as the so-called ‘new economy’. Furthermore,
the role and purpose of e-government is explored from the citizen/user perspective.
Technology implementation in local government is contrasted combining the 'top-down'
perspective of policy-makers with 'bottom-up' experiences of frontline officers and
citizens. The research design is a case study of the City of Manchester with European
benchmarking perspectives.The research found that whilst technology offers promise
in theory, its implementation in a real context rarely fulfils that potential from
an economic efficiency or democratic engagement perspective. It is concluded that
ICTs are often used to trigger a desired behaviour related to the local government
modernisation policy agenda. However, a lack of clarity and shared understanding between
managers, users and citizens about the purpose of that technology lead to patchy implementation
and poor take-up. Furthermore, the justification for new technology is often based
on managerial and narrow values steeped in assumptions about rationality, economic
efficiency or competitiveness. These managerial priorities are often camouflaged with
a broader discourse of empowerment or inclusion, or sold as ‘must haves’ for which
there is no alternative. Overall, in Manchester it is found that ICTs tend to increase
the distance between the local government service provider and the user (citizen)
as access channels are made ‘corporate’. Moreover, the fragmented and atomised nature
of communites is highlighted through the use of modern ICTs when the primary motives
are to do with the interests of the private consumer-citizen. However, the benchmarking
case study discovered that there can be alternatives and that citizens are more likely
to adopt online access channels if they have higher levels of trust towards local
government. The research concludes that local government should take their democratic
governance role equally seriously as its economic governance role in designing and
implementing technology. Incorporating broader democratic values into ICT policy and
programmes is likely to broaden the appeal among the citizens, as well as steer the
unknown ‘spin-offs’ and consequences of new technology in the direction of collective,
public interest rather than individual, private interest. Democratic governance and
socially inclusive policy-making serve as an insurance policy against the risks (e.g.
in the field of privacy, economic viability, accountability) in the future electronically