Ancient Greek Values as a Paradigm for E Government

While electronic government may be a phenomenon of the modern age, its goals for greater citizen involvement in civic matters have a strong connection to the values of ancient Greeks.


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Ancient Greek Values as a Paradigm for E-Government


Electronic government (e-government) is a phenomenon of an era in which e-business is becoming vital, in both the private sector and governmental institutions. It makes use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in order to accomplish reform by fostering transparency, eliminating distance as well as other divisions, and empowering people to participate more directly in the political processes that affect their lives. Hence it is regarded as a fundamental enabler of greater citizen involvement in civic and democratic matters, in the sense of direct democracy like that practiced in the city-states of ancient Greece (Angelopoulos et al. 2010a). The use of ICT as a tool for change in the structures and processes of governmental organizations, and the subsequent attempt to enable the exchange of information amongst citizens, businesses, and government, may result in improved efficiency, convenience, and accessibility of public services. Interestingly, the emerging problems and barriers that the projects of e-government address in our times (Angelopoulos et al. 2010b) reflect values and notions that are described repeatedly in the ancient Greek manuscripts. Therefore, for the analysis of the aforementioned point, the structure of this paper is as follows: after a brief introduction to e-government in the first part, the values of ancient Greeks are discussed and the relevant links and connections are drawn between these concepts in the second part, whereas the final part concludes this paper.

Defining E-Government

E-government aims at making government services more accessible, citizen-focused, and responsive to the needs and expectations of citizens. Despite its relatively short history (Dwivedi 2009), research on e-government has been strongly characterised by a multidisciplinary approach (Irani and Dwivedi 2008). It involves the use of ICT to deliver public services to citizens and businesses, and entails the transformation of public services available to citizens through new organizational processes as well as new technological trends (Gunter 2006). E-government is designed to facilitate a more integrated mode of governance. It encapsulates the relationships between governments, their citizens, and their suppliers through electronic means (Means and Schneider 2000). The United Nations and the American Society for Public Administration (2002) define e-government as the utilization of the World Wide Web for the delivery of government information as well as services to citizens, while Jaeger (2003) believes that it may also include the use of other ICT in addition to the Internet, such as database, networking, conferencing, multimedia, automation, tracking and tracing, and personal identification technologies.

In studying the characteristics of e-government, Doty and Erdelez (2002) suggest that e-government should enable an open government to be transparent as well as responsive. Hence, e-government means using technology to enhance access to and efficient delivery of government information and services (Brown and Brudney 2001). Heeks (2003) and the World Bank (2004) echoed this view by proposing that the use of technology is fundamental to improving the activities of public sector organizations. According to the Center for Democracy and Technology (2002), e-government is the use of ICT in order to transform government by making it more accessible, effective, and accountable. However, e-government is not about the use of technology or technological innovation per se; it is the interplay between technology, policy, and various stakeholders (Angelopoulos et al. 2010b) who come together to construct and offer new or improved services to citizens. As Yildiz (2007) pointed out, technologies by themselves do not fundamentally define what e-government is and what it will be.

Last but not least, Hackney et al. (2005) suggest that e-government constitutes a burgeoning phenomenon, with huge investments being made to modernise public-sector institutions at all levels. Such a dramatic change is problematic in any organization, and the established political, managerial, and cultural environments within government present an additional challenge. This complexity is historically founded, and consistently embedded through a structure of cooperation among executive of ficers, elected legislators, and citizens who form the foundations of the democratic process.

Although some points have already been stressed, the links between e-government and the ancient Greek values might still be blurry. Hence we need to describe and stress these connections appropriately.

The Ancient Greek Values as a Modern Paradigm

It is the continued pursuit of excellence that humanity inherited from this great civilization that makes the involved stakeholders try to provide citizens with ubiquitous access to electronic services (e-services), in the form of e-government. Ubiquity presupposes the omnipresence of networking: an unlimited and universal network (Angelopoulos et al. 2009). Therefore, ample and ubiquitous access to ICT is essential for uniform and consistent diffusion of innovation. This, however, can only be implemented through the sharing of ICT resources across governments and their citizens. Hence, the implementation of e-government as a means for facilitating information and knowledge exchange within the society remains a challenge.

Some values of the ancient Greeks, as depicted by Homer in the Odyssey , are faithfulness and loyalty. These values are today the blueprint for e-government design and implementation. Even the way the ancient Greeks treated their guests can be reflected in modern governance. The paradigm of Xenios Zeus, the king of the gods as the patron of guests, can be seen as a road map to the one-stop portals that are implemented to provide e-services to citizens in many countries around the world. The notion of individualism, which was stressed in the poetry of Archilochus and Sappho, among others, deserves to be examined separately. The moral worth of the individual is one of the most critical characteristics of modern e-government portals.

These values were an inseparable part of ancient Greek thought, and made their culture one of the milestones of the universal humanistic inheritance. The ancient Greek Golden Age has left humanity not only with a legacy of philosophy, literature, art, and architecture, but also with values that have become the moral bedrock of all modern civilized societies.

Undoubtably, the Greeks of the Golden Era made a universally acknowledged contribution to the notions of democratic governance by emphasizing the importance of both the individual and the community. The personalisation features that many e-government services provide can reflect this notion in a modern way. Moreover, the notion of equality was repeatedly stressed in ancient Greek manuscripts, and all attempts today to address the emerging barrier of the “digital divide” are made with respect to this very notion.

Although the ancient Greeks did not always provide the final answers to these eternal topics, which are incapable of single or conclusive answers by their very nature, in our time researchers and practitioners are trying to implement e-services for the public sector that will be able to properly address them. The ancient Greeks invariably handled these topics in an insightful and contradictory way, which makes the richness of their legacy greater, and the need to explore its relevance to our unstable and highly materialistic times even more urgent.


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