By Sherrie Voss Matthews, International Media & Marketing Coordinator, Office of International Programs
A random email to College of Public Policy associate professor Christopher Reddick resulted in an international partnership.
In 2009, Hisham Abdelsalam searched through the scholarly work of researchers and experts on egovernment’s possibilities. Abdelsalam, an associate professor at Cairo University in Egypt, wanted to explore how technology might assist in Egypt’s governance and offer regular Egyptians more access to local, regional, and national government information.
Reddick’s book -- “Handbook on Research on Strategies for Local E-Government Adoption and Implementation: Comparative Studies,” a two-volume work that collects studies from 21 countries on the adoption and impact of e-government -- lead to Abdelsalam’s terse note asking if Reddick would participate in his project, LoGin2EYGPT.
LoGin2EYGPT, headed by Abdelsalam and the Decision Support and Future Studies Center at Cairo University, examines the possibility of gaining access to government data and improving government services using the country’s mobile network and websites that will be more accessible to the average Egyptian citizen. LoGIn2EGYPT is funded through a grant from the International Development Research Centre in Canada and is sponsored by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Administrative Development.
Reddick, chair of the College of Public Policy’s Department of Public Administration, spoke in Egypt this summer (2011) at a two-day workshop and serves as a LoGIn2EGYPT consultant. He has developed surveys and assisted in the research and writing of several academic papers. Abdelsalam, an engineer by training, develops the website infrastructure that LoGIn2EGYPT ultimately plans to use.
The workshop included Egypt’s heads of governance and heads of the administrative arms of the country’s departments and ministries; professors from Cairo University and scholars from other Middle East and African countries also attended. Reddick explained how egovernment tools could assist the wider populace as well as a country’s leaders to develop a more efficient and effective system of government.
Survey results on various Egyptian government websites to see who was doing well from an average user’s perspective ended with a rather tense moment in the otherwise congenial conference:
“It was pretty controversial,” Reddick recalls. “The rankings of websites shocked some of the leaders. They were surprised at how their websites landed."
Reddick’s hope is that controversy might result in real change, as administrators who landed on the bottom of the rankings work to improve their websites.
The recent Arab Spring uprisings have led to the possibility of more open government than Egyptians have experienced during the past 40 years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Time will tell as the results of 2011 fall elections develop and a new constitution is written, but Reddick and his colleagues have hopes that they will be able to acquire database records from some government agencies for a new open government data project. With that data, they can begin to build prototypes of online web-based systems that Egyptians can use to request information, similar to the U.S. website http://www.data.gov.
Egovernment offers a tool that has the potential to create a more transparent government, Reddick says. There is no open records law in Egypt, so the LoGIn2Egypt team will have to rely on their ability to persuade department and governmental authorities to release the data.
“How can an egovernment change corruption? Instead of a counter, services can be done online, which reduces the ability to ask for bribes,” Reddick explains. “Seventy percent have access to mobile phones; you don’t have to be literate to use a mobile phone and text. This could be the next wave of egovernment in the future.”
As Egypt develops its new form of government, with elections this fall and the myriad of changes that could happen, nothing is certain, Reddick explains. There is still a lot of research groundwork to do before usable egovernment tools can be developed.
The next step will be further surveys of national government officials, Egyptian citizens and the business community to examine the feasibility of open government data for Egypt. Abdelsalam and Reddick await word on a second grant from the International Development Research Centre in Canada. If they receive funding, the next phase of the project will begin, which will ultimately lead to a prototype website that will allow the average Egyptian citizen access to government data.