On Leading Horses to Water: Developing the Information Capacity of Governments

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B. Guy Peters


While the managerial reforms of the public sector have been extremely important in shaping the public sector, other strands of reform and innovation have continued with perhaps less fanfare. In this paper I will be looking at the development of means through which governments manage information, and especially how they use that information for public policy-making. Even though I do recognize the importance of improving the technology available within the public sector, and especially the value of information and communication technology, these technological “fixes” are not necessarily the answer to all our governance problems. Technologies still do not enable us to overcome both human inadequacies in making policy, not the organizational politics in the public sector that tend to at times twist the manner in which information is gathered, processed, and utilized in making decisions. The basic argument therefore is that even if ICT makes information more readily available, it must still be sifted, evaluated, and then utilized by public sector decision-makers whose individual capacities may not have been altered by the technology. Therefore, human judgment remains crucial to the processes of effective policy-making within the public sector, and the question becomes whether the technological advances have made major contributions to that policymaking capacity. The basic question therefore is whether the use of ICT in the public sector provides major contributions to governing, or whether this is just another fad like so many others that have been implemented in the past.

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