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With Access for Many, a New Way to Govern

Could the founders of the United States of America have envisioned what the Internet, telecommunications, and the PC enable in terms of government organization, publications, and the electoral process? Were they alive today, visionaries like Thomas Jefferson might have been keenly interested in technology that influences education and the electoral process, and Benjamin Franklin might have been particularly interested in public information. In fact, an informed electorate has always been a key ingredient in a viable democracy.

Two hundred years ago, in any country, it would take many months to cross an ocean or a major landmass, and one might wait years for a reply to a question sent to those in authority. Communities were local and contact with distant locations and peoples, to say nothing of governing authorities, was rare.

Many in the world have forgotten those times (although some still face challenges of time and distance). Rather, a billion or more people with access to modern technology daily confront the challenges of being governed or governing themselves in a wired world. Will technology help us to govern in humane ways, helping us to solve the issues of worldwide governance and worldwide decision making?

Into this mixture, add large amounts of money, strong political advocacy, and power groups, and you have a potent brew that challenges all UPA professionals, whatever their political leanings or preferred form of government, to achieve effective solutions, to remain objective and neutral, and to look for outcomes that will benefit system providers, government clients, and the general public alike. E-government work is perhaps one of the most intellectually, emotionally, and ethically challenging that we as professionals face.

Although the news media often point to occasions of things not working (these often make for more interesting news), there are projects and organizations that have had notable success in implementing new approaches and new equipment in local, regional, and national governments. Even more impressive, and of special interest to UX readers, are the projects that acknowledge user-centered design processes and actually give professionals the opportunity to implement them.

What remains to be determined is whether the electronic media, ubiquitous computing, and availability of large amounts of data will enable us to achieve an increased unity of purpose, shared interests, and a communal spirit. Or will we all become Balkanized, isolated electronic villages, listening only to our own rhetoric? As professionals, we should be doing what we can to make sure that many opinions are voiced, people stay informed and educated, and we find a way to take action on directions in which we believe passionately. At the same time, we must respect the opinions of other who may have different, but equally passionate, views about what benefits humanity. The exact path remains to be determined. You have a chance to help determine that path.

UX continues its exploration of themes important to the UPA membership and UX readership with an issue devoted to e-government. Michele Visciola and Whitney Quesenbery have prepared an excellent set of articles on the subject. The results of these projects affect us all. Read on and learn more about these topics and issues.