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Building The Virtual State: Information Technology And Institutional Change

1569 words - 7 pages

This book is among the very first books which try to understand the implications and impacts of information technology (IT) on government organizations from an institutional perspective. According to Fountain, institutional theories and their central concern, choice within constraints, span political science, sociology, and economics. Therefore, it is important to conceptualize the role of information technology within the framework and perspective of institution. The central idea of this book is to advance extends and refines institutional theory to encompass the fundamental developments in information technology. A series of research questions have been asked and tried to answer in this book. These questions include: “how are bureaucratic policymakers using networked computing? Are they negotiating new institutional arrangements as a consequence? To what extent and in what ways are they constrained by current institutional arrangement? What extensions of institutional theory are necessary to take account of fundamental change in organizational communication, coordination, and control? ” (p. 4). Fountain indicates that the purpose of this book is to build theory to answer these questions.

The first part of this book tries to set up a theoretical framework and the second part of the book contains practical cases to verify this theoretical framework. At the beginning, Fountain introduces the “reinventing government”, the National Performance Review, as the early efforts by the US federal government to open the use of information technology in government. She thinks this development coincides with the key stage of the Internet’s impressive growth began in 1993. The National Performance Review initially focused on developing regulatory and legal regimes conductive to e-commerce but then turned to the task of building “digital government”. Some client-centered “virtual agencies”, such as web portals contains all of the relevant information for small-business owners, has been created at that time. This development signals the building of the “virtual state”, which means “a government that is organized increasingly in terms of virtual agencies, cross-agency and public-private networks whose structure and capacity depend on the Internet and web” (p.4). Some of the tenets of the reinventing government movement could be achieved through the use of information technology, such as administrative cost savings. Moreover, experiences during this period, especially from the experiences of developing government-to-citizen (G2C), government-to-business (G2B), and government-to-government (G2G) web portals or web-based transactions, have told us that the biggest challenge is not the development of web portals per se but is the re-organizing and re-structuring the institutional arrangements in which those transactions are embedded. The experiences of federal government challenge the “technology determinism” argument and highlight the importance of institutional...

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