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E-Mail in Government: Networks in the Shadow of Hierarchy

E-Mail in Government: Networks in the Shadow of Hierarchy
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Author(s): Albert Jacob Meijer (Utrecht School of Governance, The Netherlands)
Copyright: 2005
Pages: 3
Source title: Managing Modern Organizations Through Information Technology
Source Editor(s): Mehdi Khosrow-Pour (Information Resources Management Association, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-822-2.ch094

Abstract

Government organizations all around the world use e-mail as a medium for internal and external communication. One could easily argue that many governments could not function properly without the use of email. Communication research has led to interesting insights in the effects of the use of e-mail on organizations (for an overview: Van den Hooff, 1997). One of the most significant findings is that the use of email may lead to other connections between people in organizations (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991). This research has not paid specific attention to the effects of e-mail on government organizations. The effects of the use of e-mail on government organizations warrant special attention since these organizations function within accountability requirements. Parliamentary control depends on the ability of political representatives to control the functioning of bureaucracies and steer bureaucratic output. Political representatives must rely on bureaucracies to execute policies in a reliable manner. The principles of bureaucracies have been laid down by Max Weber (1968) and these principles have been used to form government bureaucracies. Formal hierarchical relations are a crucial element in Weber’s ideal-typical bureaucracy. Research in public administration has led to interesting findings concerning the effects of information and communication technologies on government organizations (Snellen & Van de Donk, 1997; Heeks, 1999; Fountain, 2001). This research has paid little attention to the effects of e-mail. It has been suggested that e-mail is different from other technologies (Bekkers, 1993; Blanton, 1995; Meijer, 2002). Use of email seems to challenge bureaucratic coordination whereas workflow systems and databases strengthen bureaucratic control. Systematic empirical research concerning the effects of e-mail on government organizations is lacking. In this paper I will deal with the following research questions: (1) how do civil servants in a government organization use e-mail? and (2) what are the effects of the use of e-mail on this government organization? I have investigated the use and the effects of e-mail in one government organization in the Netherlands. I will call this organization ‘Government Office’ since it is primarily an organization with office workers. The empirical research in Government Office was explorative and focused on creating an in-depth understanding of how e-mail is actually used by office workers. The research consisted of extensive interviews with nine civil servants with different functions in the organization. Seven of these civil servants also registered their e-mail communication during a period of several days. Documents concerning e-mail facilities and policies were studied. The objective of this case study was not to test theoretical relation but to build theory on the basis of empirical findings and theoretical assumptions.

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