Geometry of information flows in local governments

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The preceding chapter on literature review makes it abundantly clear that e-governance offers a huge potential for improvement in all areas of public sector governance in developing countries. These areas include inter alia information management and the democratic activities of access to information and public participation (Scuppan, 2009:120). The UNDP (n.d.) has observed that democracy flourishes when people’s voices are heard and deemed to be of equal importance, and when everyone participates in decisions affecting their lives as individuals and as communities. For people’s voices to be effective, however, the UNDP acknowledges the need to apply ICTs in public sector governance. It has observed:
E-governance involves a public investment in information and communication technologies (ICTs) to strengthen governance processes. Access to and use of ICTs can provide new and innovative communication channels that empower people and give voice to those who previously had none, while allowing them to interact via networks and networking (UNDP, n.d.:1).
Innovative communication is extremely important for information exchange and good governance. As a joint study by the Communication Initiative, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Bank observed, good governance is driven by free flows of information and communication; and communication for development must evolve beyond traditional propaganda to place greater emphasis on two-way communication flows, dialogue, and participation (Communication Initiative, FAO & World Bank, 2007). Undoubtedly, information and communication are very key aspects of governance: they shape the way citizens, leaders, businesses and public institutions relate to each other. Therefore, governments cannot meaningfully respond to public needs and expectations in the absence of communication structures and processes that enable a free exchange of information among all stakeholders.
Communication contributes to good governance primarily in the area of influence, that is, by increasing the stakeholders’ support for governance reform objectives, influencing opinions and attitudes, and enhancing citizen engagement in political and governance activities (CommGAP, 2007). This potential has increasingly been harnessed through the adoption and diffusion of technology in government processes. It is important to note, however, that technology per se does not, and cannot, guarantee the benefits of enhanced communication in government – benefits of good governance – unless its application is informed by a thorough theoretical grounding of information and communication functions and processes.
This chapter examines the theoretical perspectives relating to information and its communication to enhance e-governance in local governments. In section 3.2, the chapter discusses the meaning of and interface between the various important concepts relating to digitization of information as a means to enhance communication and e-governance. Section 3.3 focuses on the importance of theories and models in research, while section 3.4 explores and analyzes various theories of information and communication in organizational and governance contexts. In section 3.5, the chapter evaluates the current e-governance information models, particularly identifying their robust features with the view of integrating them to build a hybrid model for adoption in Uganda’s local governments. Section 3.6 provides a summary of the chapter

Digitization, communication and e-governance

E-governance works with information in digital format, which requires digitization of existing information and records. Digitization of information may be understood in two perspectives: the technical and the business (McDonald, 2011). The technical definition, which may be viewed as the standard definition of digitization, is based on what Mark McDonald calls the “representation of things with information” (McDonald, 2011:1). In this technical context, digitization has been defined as the process of converting information from a physical to a digital format in which it is organized into bits (discrete units of data), then bytes (Negroponte, 1995). The form of data in digital format is referred to as binary data (reading zeros and ones only), the only data format computers and other devices with computing capacity can process.
Information may be in the form of text, graphics, voice, or multimedia. Text data and graphics are scanned and converted to an image file (e.g., a bitmap), which is then analyzed by an optical character recognition (OCR) program and each alphabetic or numeric character converted into an ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) code. Likewise, audio and video data are subjected to conversion processes in which a continuously variable signal (analog) is converted into a multi-level signal (digital) without altering its essential content.
Scholars generally agree that technical digitization of information makes it easier to preserve, access, and share (El-Darwiche et al., 2012; Koss et al., 2012; McKay, 2003; McQuail, 2000; Vajcner, 2008). While appraising the role of digitization in the context of libraries and museums, for example, Kenney and Rieger (2000: 1) observed:
Cultural institutions are investing in digital projects for several reasons including; to provide access, to reduce over-handling of material in order to preserve it, and “public relations” to assist in promoting the collections and the institution. By creating digital surrogates of their collections, institutions continue to support the notion that there is value in the materials they house.
Kenney and Rieger’s observations can be easily illustrated. A physical document such as a book or painting in a traditional library can only be accessible to a person who physically visits that library. If such a document is loaned to a user who takes it out of the library, other users will be deprived of access to it for the entire loan period. In the same way, even when the document is being used inside the library, other users will be deprived of access to it for the entire time it is being used. Besides, the document may in time be damaged or lost due to wear and tear resulting from use, poor storage, mutilation or theft. However, if the document content is digitized, it is preserved and enabled to be accessed by many people worldwide; and if put on the internet, it can be accessed in real-time.
This same principle also applies in access contexts outside the library setting. E-governance is concerned with citizen-centric information and information services, and so involves extensive handling of documents that are critical for effective provision of information and delivery of services (Newgen, 2011). As the National Archives and Records Administration (2014:2) recently observed, the mission of e-governance is “to drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen democracy through public access to high-value government records.” Access to public information and records arising from routine government activities – including evaluation of and response to citizen needs and demands – is enhanced if such information and records are digitized and put online. Once online, such government documents are easily accessed through a local government information portal. Newgen (2011) observed that digitization of government information and services particularly provides greater access for rural populations, improves the quality of life for those with physical infirmities, and offers options for those whose work and lifestyle demands do not conform to typical daytime office hours.
The merits of creating digital surrogates of information content are quite varied, and have been equally widely discussed. In a nutshell, they include direct delivery to, and remote retrieval of, information by end-users (Conway, 2000; de Stefano, 2000); flexibility that enables users to reformat, edit and print (Smith, 2000:3); elimination of travel costs and travel time enabled by real time access (Ingram, 2000:19); extended data recovery (de Stefano, 2000:14); and preservation and extension of the life of old and fragile materials resulting from reduction in handling (de Stefano, 2000:21). This outline is by no means exhaustive.
Gartner Executive Programs researcher Mark McDonald has proposed an alternative perspective of digitization, that is, to define it in the “value and revenue” business context dictated by the information age (McDonald, 2011). This perspective is an extension, even a culmination, of the technical perspective. McDonald argues that technical digitization of information has given rise to information duality, a situation where information is concurrently held in two dissimilar formats: the physical format and the electronic format. Hence, where you have a physical library, for example, there is concurrently an e-library, a physical store and an e-store, direct physical business transactions and e-commerce, traditional government and e-government, etc. This duality has in turn given rise to alternative, innovative ways of accomplishing erstwhile undertakings, as well as the creation of new forms of business. In short, digitization has revolutionized business management, public administration, and innovation by facilitating new levels of efficiency, greater transparency, higher levels of participation, and presenting a greater array of opportunities and choices.
It is in this context that McDonald (2011:1) has proposed a definition of digitization to focus on “the degree to which an enterprise’s products and service value and revenues are realized through technology.” The enterprise in question could be a business enterprise, a government enterprise, a social enterprise or any other formal organization. This definition thus represents a shift from “representation” to “value addition” on products and services and the “revenues” accruing from them as a result of digitization in an organization.
The process outcome of digitization, as already indicated, is electronic information, the form of information that drives ICTs and sustains e-governance. E-governance is a vehicle to good governance (Kalsi, Kiran & Vaidya, 2009; Sarfaraz, 2007; Schindlinger & Bergey, 2010; Shakya, 2007). According to Gramberger (2001), good governance has a number of characteristics: it is participatory and consensus oriented; it promotes accountability and transparency; it is responsive, effective and efficient; it is equitable and inclusive; and it is predicated on the rule of law. Good governance also ensures that corruption is minimized, and guarantees equality among all sections of people.
These characteristics constitute the focal ingredients of e-governance. E-governance entails the deployment of electronic technologies to enhance authority and control of public resources and their effective allocation to achieve a number of outcomes (Bhattacharya, 2002; Lambrinoudakis et al., 2003). The core outcomes include effective and equitable government interactions with citizens, business and industry, and other organs of government; better service delivery, citizen empowerment through access to information, and more opportunities for citizen participation in governance processes. Other benefits include reduction of corruption, increased transparency and accountability, rule of law, growth in public revenue and reduction in the cost of public management. Sarfaraz (2007) summarizes that “the purpose of e-governance is actually good governance using any means of ensuring stakeholder participation in public administration” (p.1), and concludes that e-governance is the new good governance (p.13)

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Meaning and utility of theory in research

Theory has been defined generally to refer to a set of interrelated concepts that present a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations for the purpose of explaining and predicting those phenomena (Buckland, 1991; Cragan & Shields, 1998; Tucker, Weaver, & Berryman-Fink, 1981). Griffin (2000:4) summarized the utility of theory to scholarship thus:
…the truth they depict may be objective facts ‘out there’ or subjective meanings inside our heads. Either way, we need to have theory to guide us through unfamiliar territory.
To Griffin, theories are maps of reality (sees also, Nastasia & Rakow, 2010:3). This view is shared by Popper (1982:31), who metaphorically talks of theory as “the net that we throw out to ‘catch the world’ – to make it rational, to explain and become master of it” (quoted by Glaeser, 1995:146). Indeed, scholars deploy theory to achieve five goals: to promote understanding (comprehension), to make phenomena clear by describing them in detail (explanation), to give a glimpse of future events or processes (prediction), to provide certainty (control), and to provide a basis for evaluation and judgment (criticism).
However, theory cannot lead to the foregoing goals unless it is good theory. According to Wikibooks Contributors (2004-2006), good theory is characterized by at least six features, which are hereby summarized:

  1. Theoretical scope: a good theory should be general and capable of wider applicability;
  2. Appropriateness: its epistemological, ontological and axiological assumptions should appropriately relate to the problem under hand; Heuristic value: it should be capable of further development by other researchers
  3. Validity: it should exhibit accurate representation of the true world;
  4. Parsimony: it should provide the simplest possible explanation of a phenomenon; and
  5. Openness: it should not absolutely exclude other theories; it should exhibit some compatibility with elements from other theories.

This source cautions against appraising theory in absolute terms, say, that a theory is “true” or “false.” There is indeed a tendency among some scholars to define theory in a very restricted sense as denoting fundamental laws that are formally stated and falsifiable (Buckland, 1991:18). Rather, theory should be appreciated in comparative terms as either better or worse at dealing with the phenomenon in issue and aiding its proponent to achieve the theoretical goals.
Quite often, theories are deployed concurrently with models, and the two have sometimes been erroneously thought of as being the same thing and achieving the same goals (McGrath, 2002). Reflecting on the paucity of agreeable formal theory in LIS, McGrath (2002:309) observed:
Any of the following have been used as the meaning of theory: a law, hypothesis, group of hypotheses, proposition, supposition, explanation, model, assumption, conjecture, construct, edifice, structure, opinion, speculation, belief, principle, rule, point of view, generalization, scheme, or idea (cited in Oltmann, 2009:38).
But, as Wikibooks Contributors (2004-2006) observe, models are also tools of inquiry, although not in the same way as theories. They define a model in a communication context as:

  • a simplified representation or template of a process that can be used to help understand the nature of communication in a social setting … [must] accurately represent the most important elements of the real world, and the dynamics of their relationship to one another (Wikibooks Contributors, 2004-2006:6).

The main difference is that the focus of models tends to be limited to issues and questions of the “what” and “how” of phenomena, and are unable to satisfactorily explain the “why.” This renders them not as satisfying as theories, although they play a big role of augmenting theories.
In academic parlance, theory is a very important tool in defining a discipline. As such, an academic discipline must be defined by a robust home-grown theoretical base; otherwise it remains just an “emerging field of inquiry” if it thrives on theories borrowed from elsewhere (Bates & Maack, 2010; Konrad, 2007; McKechnie & Pettigrew, 1998; Oltmann, 2009).
Unfortunately, the LIS field seems to clearly fit this description. McKechnie and Pettigrew (1998:125) observed:
… if fields such as library and information science (LIS) are to delineate their disciplinary boundaries and build a central body of knowledge, then they require their own theoretical bases for framing research problems, building arguments, and interpreting empirical results.
Although the LIS field has for long been viewed as an emerging field of inquiry, there does not seem to be any agreement as to any theory or conceptual scope that is LIS in nature. In fact, Konrad (2007:652-53) points out that there are occasional claims that the LIS field has no theory of its own. There are nevertheless a number of theories and models on information and communication that are popularly applied in LIS

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Information and communication theories

LIS and its allied fields of media and communication studies were by mid-twentieth century clearly emerging fields of inquiry. Bates and Maack (2010) note that the emergency of LIS was as a result of the merging of the two related fields of library science and information science, a development that was triggered by the need for professional training programs in universities rather than evolving an academic discipline. Since then, the entwined concepts of information and communication have increasingly gained recognition as the foundations for research and development of e-governance theories and models. Information exchange has become permanently stamped as a basic human function in pursuit of different communication goals and in different communication contexts, such as the e-governance context.
This review provides a critical and systematic link between the related theories, concepts and models of information, communication, and ICTs. The review focuses on classical information theory and related theories, media theories of information and mass communication, information access theories, and ICT-oriented theories of organizational communication. None of these theories, of course, is LIS-specific – we have already noted that there is no consensus yet on a theory or conceptual scope that is LIS-specific – but they are hugely relevant to the subject under study. The review therefore aims to provide insights into the character and utility of an effective e-governance information model of communication in local governments in Uganda.

Information theories

Among the earliest theories of information is classical information theory, which was propounded by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in 1949, and further developed by Wilbur Schramm in 1954 and Robert Berlo in 1960. Classical information theory was the first ever to effectively model information communication in order to explain how a communicator could attain precise and efficient signal transmissions. Claude Shannon, the originator of the theory, sought to formulate a theory and model to guide the efforts of engineers at the Bell Telephone Company in transmitting electrical signals from one location to another in the most efficient manner (Shannon & Weaver, 1949). He developed a five-stage linear model, today popularly known as the Shannon-Weaver model of communication, to explain information exchange through cybernetic processes.
According to the Shannon-Weaver model, a communicator, who is the information SOURCE, subjects a message to a TRANSMITTER (an encoding device) which converts it into a signal and relays it through a CHANNEL. The signal then reaches a RECEIVER (a decoding device) which restores it to its original form as it reaches the DESTINATION (the recipient of the information). While within the channel, information may be contaminated and distorted by noise, although this may not actually lead to its loss. This model, it seems, was influenced by Harold Lasswell’s five-stage analysis of mass media – WHO says WHAT in which CHANNEL to WHOM with what EFFECT? (Lasswell, 1948:37) – although Shannon does not address the issue of message effect on the recipient.
Clearly then, Shannon was concerned with how messages could be converted into electrical signals, and how those signals could be transmitted with a minimum of error to their intended recipients. It is important to reiterate that Shannon was not so much interested in the semantic meaning of a message or its pragmatic effect on its recipient as he was in solving the technical problems of “high-fidelity” transfer of sound (Griffin, 2000:48). Fidelity was about efficiency and accuracy of transmission and reception of sound: while efficiency referred to the bits of information that could be sent and received per second, accuracy was to do with the extent to which signals of information could be understood so that information was not lost. Shannon in fact believed that for whatever communication problem, the solution lay in a model that minimized information loss. Unfortunately, the complex equations used to articulate the model were initially viewed as abstract notations, and nearly rendered the model inapplicable to fields of human communication. It took the intervention of Weaver to simplify and publish a commentary depicting the theory as “exceedingly general in its scope, fundamental in the problems it treats, and of classic simplicity and power in the results it reaches” (Shannon & Weaver, 1949: 114)

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Background to the study
1.3 Statement of the problem
1.4 Purpose of the study
1.5 Specific objectives
1.6 Research questions
1.7 Justification for the study
1.8 Originality and significance of the study
1.9 Research methodology
1.10 Scope and limitations of the study
1.11 Definition of key concepts
1.12 Organization of the thesis
1.13 Summary of the chapter
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Importance of literature review
2.3 E-governance in local governments
2.4 Geometry of information flows in local governments
2.5 Modeling information access and flow
2.6 Empirical literature on e-governance in local government
2.7 Summary of gaps in the literature and their implications
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Digitization, communication and e-governance
3.3 Meaning and utility of theory in research
3.4 Information and communication theories
3.5 Review of e-governance information models
3.6 Summary of the chapter
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Philosophical orientation of the study
4.3 Research approach
4.4 Research design
4.5 Population of the study
4.6 Sampling procedures and techniques
4.7 Data collection
4.8 Data analysis and presentation
4.9 Ethical considerations
4.10 Evaluation of the research methodology
4.11 Summary of the chapter
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Response rate
5.3 Demographic characteristics of the participants
5.4 Access to e-governance information in local governments
5.5 Geometry of information flows
5.6 SWOT analysis of the local governments
5.7 Summary of the chapter
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Response rate
6.3 Demographic characteristics
6.4 Access to e-governance information in local governments in Uganda
6.5 Geometry of information flows
6.6 SWOT analysis of the local governments
6.7 Summary of the chapter
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Summary of the findings
7.3 Conclusions
7.4 Recommendations
7.5 The proposed model of e-governance information system
7.6 Summary of the chapter

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