As they focus on the challenges that those who implement digital government face, computer science researchers practice nearly the entire spectrum of their discipline and work in collaboration with scientists from other disciplines in pursuit of answers to questions about information management, policy, and technology in government.
Digital government is the use of information technology to support government operations, engage citizens, and provide government services. As a result, digital government projects can, and do, involve a broad range of computer and information technology.
Digital government research
, on the other hand, applies computer, information, and social science methods in the investigation of the information-related needs, management, and policies of government or the information-related characteristics of a democratic society. 1
For computer science researchers, this might mean redefining others' research to fit digital government challenges or conducting original research to solve a problem that is not as critical to other, mainstream, domains.
What distinguishes digital government research from research in its primary disciplines of computer and social science is that those who practice it engage in active partnerships with government agencies. Further, they often collaborate closely with scientists from other disciplines to examine interactions between technical and social processes in the context of governmental organizations, practices, and processes. In other words, computer science research in this domain differs from other computer science research in that it always involves a stakeholder who will want to implement a system, and it often involves formal studies of technology assessment and adoption.
Digital government research is thus, in all cases, multidisciplinary. At its best, it draws together information science and technology, computer science and engineering research and development, and the social sciences. These disciplines in various combinations and permutations provide the foundation for explorations in the digital government realm.
In the nearly five years since a special issue of Computer first highlighted digital government projects, the field has come into its own, drawing research funding from the National Science Foundation and elsewhere and yielding successful, mainstream information technology and social science research results ripe for integration into real government systems.
Further, a now well-established annual international digital government conference draws hundreds of university researchers and government collaborators to present research and development, discuss challenges of working in the area, and highlight new focus areas. Recent efforts to launch a digital government society provide further evidence of the growing interest and investment in this area and the continued interest in bringing together a new digital government community of interest.
Two of the accompanying sidebars describe efforts to improve collaboration by integrating data across government agencies. In " An IT View of Emergency Management
," José H. Canós, Marcos R.S. Borges, and Gustavo Alonso provide an example of how modern technology can help improve the management of emergency situations by dispatching and tracking responders. " Public Safety and Cross-Boundary Data Sharing: Lessons from the CapWIN Project
," by Christine B. Williams, Janis L. Gogan, and Jane Fedorowicz, describes a multistate transportation and public safety integrated wireless first-responder network designed to "enable data interoperability for first responders wherever they are."
That making a law is only the first—and perhaps the easiest—step toward bringing about compliance under the spirit of that law presents another significant challenge for information technology. The " In the Real World of Digital Government: Successes and Challenges of E-Rulemaking
" sidebar by Neil Eisner describes how the US Department of Transportation uses modern information technology to develop new regulations and monitor compliance with them. He also outlines a vision for the future and discusses the challenges inherent in bringing about that vision.
Finally, in the " Research Issues in Healthcare Informatics
" sidebar, Sylvia J. Spengler presents a dream for future healthcare informatics. Significant progress has been made in medical research and hospital information systems, but many factors, including computing and health technology, national security and disease threats, and healthcare regulations, continue to create new challenges for hospitals, patient care, and public health—challenges that new research into policy, management, and technology could shed light on.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has identified emerging areas such as healthcare and natural resource management and is working proactively to alert computer scientists to new research and development opportunities in digital government, such as those for natural resource management ( www.evergreen.edu/bdei).
The five articles in this issue exemplify the range of perspectives, theories, and approaches that draw from the many disciplines of digital government research and are applied to the wide range of issues that digital government practitioners face.
These articles, selected from the best of the presentations at the 2005 National Conference on Digital Government Research ( dgrc.org/dgo2005/), provide a frame of reference for readers interested in learning more about the interdisciplinary research aimed at producing successful applications of information technology within government. The articles exemplify the focus of digital government research, that is, to identify the unique problems of government organizations, identify or develop relevant technologies, and explore interactions among those technologies and the social processes of government.
Digital Government Research in Academia
Digital government research is still in an embryonic stage; researchers from the many involved disciplines seek definitions and frameworks to consistently and effectively frame and guide research. Questions abound regarding the relationships among the various disciplines. In "Digital Government Research in Academia," dg.o 2005 conference chairs Lois Delcambre and Genevieve Giuliano shed light on these questions by discussing the future of digital government in academia, providing a means for readers to gain an understanding of the place of digital government research in universities.
In the seven years since the NSF began funding digital government research, every funded project has been expected to "enable the generation and use of a continuous stream of advanced information technologies for early adoption and integration in the federal information systems community."
The question is, how will US university researchers, who have long prided themselves on theoretical and conceptual findings of depth within a discipline, respond to this vision of digital government research? The authors grapple with this question and present a vision of future digital government research. Asking if digital government research is indeed a new discipline and if it is achieving recognition within the academy, they cite the challenges of pursuing interdisciplinary research in academia and identify the specific challenges and potential rewards for digital government researchers.
Using data collections
While a major thrust of e-rulemaking applications, as envisioned by Neil Eisner, lies in collating data from citizen commentary over the Internet, two articles in this issue address how researchers could more effectively use massive, already existing, government data collections.
In "Data Alignment and Integration," Patrick Pantel, Andrew Philpot, and Eduard Hovy highlight a partnership among information scientists and government agencies that was created to help make data collected by government agencies more valuable both within the agencies that provide the data and to the citizens who paid for it. In this work, information theory is applied to readily available data to create "new" knowledge of use to government.
In contrast, in "Accessing Government Statistical Information," Gary Marchionini, Stephanie W. Haas, Junliang Zhang, and Jonathan Elsas describe how ordinary citizens might in the future master "finding and understanding government statistical information"—data that hitherto could only be readily processed by those with sophisticated statistical and data processing expertise. Applying both new human-computer interaction research and a better understanding of organizing metadata facilitates these potential innovations.
Enhancing citizen participation in government
In "Building Community Information Systems: The Connected Kids Case," Teresa M. Harrison, James P. Zappen, and Sibel Adali describe how government agencies could effectively use new technology to help communities build cohesion and collaborate with government developers to build systems that help citizens on both sides of the digital divide, thus enhancing the democratic process.
"Analyzing Government Regulations Using Structural and Domain Information" by Gloria T. Lau, Kincho H. Law, and Gio Wiederhold provides an example of how university researchers are addressing e-rulemaking challenges. The authors' Regnet project aims to solve problems that arise when agencies or citizens try to determine the "correct" action in the face of multiple government regulatory documents. Regnet also considers e-rulemaking scenarios using public commentary on drafted regulations.
The articles in this issue paint a landscape of current digital government research, answering questions about data, interfaces, communities, and legislation. These articles, together with the sidebars highlighting current initiatives and future visions, provide an understanding both of key questions facing digital government researchers and of how digital government research applies to recognized problems and intriguing questions that new technology enables us to consider. The " Digital Government Research Resources
" sidebar provides additional information about key digital government research and researchers.
is a senior member of the computer science faculty at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington. Her research interests include information technology research for scientists, particularly for ecologists who want to integrate data in the service of research synthesis. She received a PhD in computer science and engineering from the Oregon Graduate Institute, Portland, Oregon. She is a member of the IEEE Computer Society, the ACM, and the Ecological Society of America. Contact her at email@example.com.
is the Deputy Director of the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany, SUNY, where she is also a member of the faculty of Public Administration and Policy and the Department of Informatics. Her research interests include information technology innovation in the public sector, preservation of government digital information, and interorganizational information sharing and integration. She received a PhD in information science from the University at Albany, SUNY. She is a member of the Academy of Management, the Association for Information Systems, the Association for Public Policy and Management, and the American Society for Public Administration. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.