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  • Writer's pictureDigital Team

Digital-era governance opportunities

Updated: Jan 20

digital government into future

The Key Components of Digital-Era Governance

‘Digital-era Governance’ is a complex array of changes to the way government and civil society interact that is being driven by new information handling potentialities (Dunleavy et al, 2005). This shift to digital modes of operating brings with it opportunities to take advantage of learnings from existing advances in Public Sector administration and accelerate these.

When we consider that Dunleavy’s research was undertaken nearly a decade ago and did not have visibility of many the significant technological advancements we now take for granted – it was a remarkably insightful piece of work.

Helpfully, many of the concepts Dunleavy discusses provide technology agnostic guides for governments thinking about how they can exercise ‘governance’ better. Dunleavy’s proposition is juxtaposed against the remnants of the New Public Management (NPM) approach with its focus on ‘managerial excellence’ and invites an evolution from this.

Dunleavy suggests that there are three main themes emerging from the impact of Digital-era governance. They are:

(1). Reintegration – Using digital as a means to re-consider the organisation of public services around the delivery of services. It includes: Rollback of agencification, Joined-up governance (JUG), Re-governmentalization, Reinstating central processes, Radically squeezing production costs, Re-engineering back-office functions, Procurement concentration and specialization, and Network simplification.

(2) Needs based holism – which is challenging the relationship between agencies and customers and taking a simplified end to end approach that supports the needs of the user. It includes client-based or needs-based reorganization, One-stop provision, Interactive and “ask once” information-seeking, Data warehousing, and End-to-end service re-engineering.

(3) Digitization changes – Taking the advantages offered by digitizing and going further (digitalising) with the transformational opportunities this offers. It includes: Electronic service delivery, New forms of automated processes—zero touch technologies (ZTT), Radical disintermediation, Active channel streaming, Facilitating isocratic administration and co-production, and Moving toward open-book government.

Further unpacking these themes will help apply the learnings to current efforts to modernise government. These should be considered against the constantly evolving overlay of contemporary digital government to tease out new approaches or ‘Digital-era governance opportunities’.


Rollback of agencification - Mergers, re-assimilations of agencies into departmental groupings, and the removal of quasi-governmental agencies. It can also be the re-establishment of cooperative, community based structures rather than competitive entities.

Joined-up governance (JUG) - Means for reintegration of usually larger central government agencies. This has been undertaken in some jurisdictions in response to perceived failures from fragmentation and/or opportunities for better functional alignment (i.e. such as benefits services and employment entity).

Re-governmentalization - The re-absorption of activities that had been outsourced to the private sector.

Reinstating central processes - Centralised approach usually in response to the failure of fragmented approaches that have resulted in duplicated hierarchies overseeing generic functions such as human resources, procurement, and other ‘back office’ services of digital government.

Radically squeezing production costs - The significant reduction of process costs usually through the loss of government officials. In many cases the focus is on government areas amendable to digitisation and with the aim of shifting resources to the ‘frontline’.

Reengineering back-office functions - Rethinking back-office functions to take advantage of productivity and digital advances. This aims to counter the significant inefficiencies, build-up of legacy back-office functions, and unnecessarily bespoke developments by single agencies (usually led by suppliers attempting to create lock in). Another aspect of this area has been the effort to re-design back-office functions usually led by a cross government integration entity. The objective being to standardize and modernise the delivery of back-office functions and in doing so remove the necessity for agency specific resourcing and complexity. This can also mean moving to single/few service provision contracts and the use of a centrally driven process standardisation.

Procurement concentration and specialization - The reestablishment of government capability in procurement and seeking to take advantage of this coordinated critical mass. The economies of scale procurement is usually immediately attractive to government as is the shift to smarter ‘data driven’ procurement.

Network simplification - The response to the evolution of multiple bureaucracies and management overheads to regulate a domain. Officials are in some cases incentivised to add complexity to their bureaucracy which can create bespoke functions that are inefficient and unnecessarily complex to the end user. Streamlining regulatory functions wherever possible reduces the creation of multiple management teams and the balkanisation of the policy area.

Needs-Based Holism

Client-based or needs-based reorganization - The idea of reintegrating agencies based upon a single customer group rather than business processes. This can result in macro-functional (thematic) entities or in customer specific entities.

One-stop provision - Where multiple services are provided by the same (usually co-located) team; or one stop ‘windows’ where only the customer interface is integrated; or web-integrated services – where customer transparency and cross services integration is mainly electronic. The obvious attraction of this approach is clarifying the question of which governmental function is the ‘lead’ and reducing the complexity and therefore compliance burden on users (citizens or businesses).

Interactive and “ask once” information-seeking -This is a similar approach to the one stop shop concept but is focused on the triggers used by the citizen or business when engaging with the service to ensure they are seamlessly connected with the right service(s) required. This also supports a more comprehensive needs based approach to service delivery and reusing information already provided by the interlocutor.

Data warehousing - A future state whereby data warehousing can undertake case by case triaging of data requests across multiple functional areas (or across government more generally). This could be evolved further to become a proactive approach whereby the data is provided based on algorithmic needs assessment. Clearly this idea has significant ramifications on many levels but the technology now exists to pursue this model in narrow or wide functional areas.

End-to-end service reengineering - This involves potentially radically different service provision models after reimagining processes for services from end-to-end. The digitalisation of services can help unpack end to end administration, question the demarcation of services between agencies and may result in the need to significantly change the resource used to support services.

Digitization Processes

Electronic service delivery - Electronic Service Delivery replaces paper-based processes with digitisation. This is the most fundamental component of digital government.

New forms of automated processes—zero touch technologies (ZTT) - Automated processes may include ‘zero touch technology’ which is the idea of having no human intervention in a process or operation. While this idea was started within the manufacturing sector rapid changes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) over recent years have made this idea both considerably more feasible if not routine.

Radical disintermediation - Where internet or digital based processes allow users (citizens or businesses) to connect to government systems without the need to go via gatekeepers such as officials or government agencies. This allows users to autonomously determine what they need from government. It is noted that this disintermediation could result in mis-matches in the interplay between citizens and the services provided by government. Current advances in the use of digital identity appears to offer significant advances in this disintermediation and the same question around what and where the optimal degree is will only grow.

Active channel streaming - When governments accept that a multichannel approach is necessary in the delivery of services, albeit there is an active strategy to encourage the use of preferred (digital) channels

Facilitating isocratic administration and co-production - The shift from agency centred to citizen centred processes where citizens (or businesses) can manage their own interactions with government. In some sense this is an extension of disintermediation with users self administering – with quasi voluntary self directed compliance. The broader frame of government becomes critically important for this model as it relies on a shared citizen/government vision and ownership.

Moving toward open-book government - This is shifting from ‘closed files’ government to an open approach whereby citizens can access and manage their own information. This could include aspects of holistic government, data warehousing, and self administration. The use of digital identity with government services is creating significant opportunities in this area.


Digital-era Governance provides helpful technology agnostic concepts that remain useful when thinking about digital government now. The themes that Dunleavy et al proposed in this research including Reintegration, Needs based holism, and Digitization processes can now be built upon through the lens of emergent technology such as digital identity, AI, big data, cloud, and API's. Through this view, the more far reaching suggestions of Digital-era Governance seem feasible.


Patrick Dunleavy, Helen Margetts, Simon Bastow, Jane Tinkler, New Public Management Is Dead—Long Live Digital-Era Governance, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Volume 16, Issue 3, July 2006, Pages 467–494,


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