Agencies advised to take a more tailored approach to IT

Developers should take into account how different groups of citizens interact with the government, specialists say.

The federal government must take a more nuanced approach to developing technology, scientists and government practitioners said during a workshop earlier this week.

Too often agencies fail to consider the context in which information technology products and services will be used, said Theresa Pardo, director of the Center for Technology in Government at the State University of New York at Albany. CTG organized a two-day workshop at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., to discuss challenges in melding technology and governance. The event, which drew 40 participants, was co-sponsored by NSF and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

Often IT projects would benefit from more research on how the citizens they are designed to help interact with government. "There is a consensus among computer and social scientists, as well as practitioners of state, local and federal government that we don't understand this interaction sufficiently, nor do we have the resources available to build that knowledge," Pardo said.

"People intuitively understand that there are differences, but we continue in government to develop technology strategies that treat them as if they don't matter," she said. "There's this overwhelming sense that one size fits all and context doesn't matter -- because it's technology, of course it will work. We know that's not true, but we don't understand what do to about it."

Nabil Adam, a researcher in the infrastructure and geophysical division of the Homeland Security Department's science and technology directorate, pointed to the government's recently launched Web site, which acts a depot of government statistics, as another example of an IT offering that could benefit from customization.

"This site has some valuable information, but is it really being used to the full extent that we'd like to see it used? We need to find a way to dynamically customize the information for the individual users," he said. "As more and more data is being provided by government, providing some context would help ensure the public can best make use of that data."

One major lesson that came out of the workshop was the need for federal officials to collaborate more regularly with their state and local counterparts, as well as researchers in the computer science and social science communities. NSF plans to consider the recommendations made by participants when allocating research funds.

"Let's get back to when this concept of e-government came about, and let's get the whole community involved to try to reassess where we are and where to go from here," Adam said. "Involving interdisciplinary teams of people will help us prepare ourselves to deal with this technology, as it applies to everything we do."