Joycelyn Harris and Lily Sun
School of Systems Engineering, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, Berkshire, U.K.
Keywords: e-Government, collaboration, group support systems, adaptability.
Abstract: This paper proposes a conceptual model of a context-aware group support system (GSS) to assist local
council employees to perform collaborative tasks in conjunction with inter- and intra-organisational
stakeholders. Most discussions about e-government focus on the use of ICT to improve the relationship
between government and citizen, not on the relationship between government and employees. This paper
seeks to expose the unique culture of UK local councils and to show how a GSS could support local
government employer and employee needs.
This paper proposes a conceptual model for a
context-aware group support system (GSS) to assist
local council employees in performing collaborative
tasks in council-led partnerships. The concepts
modelled are goal, context, norm, and business
process. This paper identifies the phenomena within
UK local councils and the context in which
employees work. ‘Government’ is an organisation
that has the authority to make and enforce laws for a
specified territory. E-government has been described
as the intensive use of information technologies for
the provision of public services, the improvement of
managerial effectiveness and the promotion of
democratic values. Collaborative public
management (CPM) is the arrangement and
agreement between two or more organisations to
deliver government services. CPM is driven by a
need for coordinated and more efficient service
provision to provide a seamless service to citizens
(Vangen and Huxham, 2003). Collaborative working
allows private and public sector stakeholders to
share resources, expertise, good practise, costs and
risks in achieving their goals.
There has been much discussion about how e-
government benefits citizens, but less into how it can
benefit government employees. E-collaboration is
the use of electronic technologies by individuals to
realise a common task (Kock, 2005). E-government
in the form of a context-aware GSS would support
collaborative working, could improve the efficiency
of work and empower local council employees.
Government organisations differ from private
organisations because they a face unique challenges
due to their social obligations, higher legislative
accountability and public accountability (Stemberger
and Jaklic, 2007). A preliminary study of local
councils within Berkshire, England was undertaken
to uncover their unique context. This study was
conducted through investigation of publications.
Local councils work in accordance with policy set
by central government and within statutory and
discretionary powers awarded by acts of parliament.
They consist of elected councillors and full council
elections are held every three or four years.
Elections can have a direct impact on council
employees because they are likely to lead to a
change in a local council’s goals and business
Local councils produce strategies that are
applicable to the local council as a whole or to a
single organizational division. They state divisional
goals, how goals are to be achieved, and the
resources that will be required. These documents
guide employee behaviour. Through a comparison of
the strategies of local councils in Berkshire,
England, a general pattern emerged (Figure 1).
Harris J. and Sun L. (2008).
In Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - ISAS, pages 203-207
DOI: 10.5220/0001682202030207
Figure 1: Pattern of strategy and plan development within
local councils.
The top-most strategy is the Community Strategy.
These are created by a partnership between the local
council, community groups, authorities, voluntary
organisations and private businesses. The
community strategy is used to inform the
development of a Local Area Agreement (LAA) and
a Corporate Strategy. The LAA provides a
framework within which local councils, other local
organisations and government departments, work
together to develop solutions to local problems
(United Kingdom Parliament, 2006). It is an
agreement between a council, its partners and central
government about the priorities for local
improvement. LAA targets are often linked to
funding. Both the community strategy and LAA are
statutory requirements (Her Majesty’s Stationery
Office, 2000).
The corporate strategy specifies the goals that the
council will work towards. Its development is
informed by the community strategy, the LAA,
national, regional and local strategies, and
recommendations from inspections. It will contain or
refer to key documents that form strategies for
council directorates, service departments and teams.
A ‘directorate’ is a high-level council division
headed by a permanent officer. The names of the
directorates vary across Berkshire local councils, but
there are commonalities in service provision. The
typical directorate divisions are:
Chief Executive Office or Corporate Services
Finance, Procurement and Resources
Leisure and Culture
Children and Young People
Social and Community Care
Many high-level goals cut across directorate
boundaries and satisfying them requires individual
employees to liaise with a large number of
stakeholders that are external to their team. For
example, the Environment, Culture and Sport
directorate within Reading Borough Council works
in partnership with 30 or more intra- and inter-
organisational stakeholders.
The business processes of local councils are
subject to inspection and review by citizens within
the electorate, councillors and central government.
For example, each year central government sets out
a number of measures called Best Value
Performance Indicators (BVPI) that are designed to
assess the progress of local councils against national
priority areas. At the end of each financial year a
local council to report:
1. 2006/07 performance against 2006/07 targets.
2. Brief explanation of any significant variances.
Systems designed for commercial organisations are
not ideally suited to meet the needs of government
organisations because e-government is situated in an
environment of distributed control and
interdependency (Scholl, 2006). E-government has
been categorised as government-to-government,
government to citizen, government-to-business
(G2B), government-to-civil societal organisations
(G2CSO), and citizen-to-citizen (Brown and
Brudney, 2003). The conceptual model will assist
local council employees conducting G2B and
G2CSO business processes.
Business process systems in government
organisations do not make full use of the advantages
that IT can provide (Lu et al., 2004). Layne and Lee
(2001) have defined a four-stage model of e-
government development:
1. Catalogue/presentation
2. Transaction
3. Vertical integration
4. Horizontal integration
Berkshire local councils have fulfilled stages 1
and 2. They all have a website providing a
‘catalogue’ of the services they have to offer and
allow citizens to perform transactions via the
internet. Stages 3 and 4 relate to the integration of
scattered systems at different levels (vertical) and
different functions (horizontal) of government
services. Many institutional arrangements and
organisational structures found in government
contexts offer incentives for single-agency work.
These structures can hinder inter-organisational
information integration and, consequently, cross-
agency collaboration (Luna-Reyes et al., 2007). The
degree of e-government adoption in UK local
councils falls short of stages 3 and 4. The
Transformational Local Government paper states:
ICEIS 2008 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
“Much of our intelligence remains in organisational
silos, however, or in the heads of individuals, and is
not yet fully used” (Chief Information Office, 2006).
No evidence was found to show that Berkshire local
councils have reached stages 3 and 4; however, a
more in-depth investigation might yield different
To achieve stages 3 and 4 organisational changes
need to take place alongside technological changes.
Government organisations are lacking in data
standards that facilitate the sharing of government
information (Lu et al., 2004). The UK government is
addressing these issues by providing best practice
guidance to government agencies, such as the E-
Government Interoperability Framework (Cabinet
Office, 2005). The challenge of collaborating with
the owners of the data to share information resources
may require working across organisational
boundaries and will have implications for change
management, business-process reengineering and
training (Lee and Kim, 2007, Luna-Reyes et al.,
Organisational, social and political structures and
attitudes are impeding the take up of e-collaboration
systems because the values associated with these
structures are regarded more highly than the benefits
that e-collaboration systems could deliver. One
impeding structural aspect is centralised hierarchies.
Yet centralised hierarchies are less common in
partnerships; they usually have a more decentralised
and flatter structure (Vangen and Huxham, 2003), so
e-collaboration systems may be ideally suited to
support partnerships.
Partnerships are created because it is thought that
working together will yield more benefits that
working alone. To achieve collaborative advantage,
there needs to be an appropriate interface to an
between each partnership member that they can use
to lead and represent their organisation in the
partnership (Vangen and Huxham, 2003). A GSS
aims to create efficient, effective and predictable
pattern of working amongst a group (Chen et al.,
2006) and to provide a shared representation of
activities that the group performs (Moran et al.,
2005). The main objectives of shared activity
representation are:
To guide, support and coordinate work, but not
to overly constrain it.
To provide a single place for people to manage
the whole range of their activities.
To capture, reuse and evolve best practices in
activity patterns.
To integrate informal business activities and
workflow-driven business processes.
It is highly likely that partnership members are
required to attend a number of face-to-face
meetings. These are useful because they enhance
project awareness, all partners are able to take part
in discussions and negotiations, and decisions can be
made together (Chen et al., 2006). However,
meeting minutes may not be taken or maybe
inaccurate and decision rationale may not be
recorded. This can lead to business process problems
for individual employees when the information they
need to be able to perform a process (or to create a
new process) is unknown to them or is unavailable
(Weerakkody et al., 2006). An electronic
information system, such as a content management
system, can support organisational memory
(Cegarra-Navarro et al., 2007, Raghu and Vinze,
2007). However even when a partner is in
possession of information required to execute a
process they still may not be familiar with it enough
to be able to use it to achieve a goal (Vangen and
Huxham, 2003). Including goal information for
activities in process narratives could reduce
decision-making difficulties. It may result in a better
recall of process details, a greater confidence in
solutions and a greater comprehension of the process
(Kuechler and Vaishnavi, 2006).
Field and case studies indicated that efficiency
and effectiveness was enhanced when using a GSS
in comparison with face-to-face and manual
methods (Fjermestad and Hiltz, 2000). Under certain
circumstances, productivity and participant
satisfaction can also be increased (Chen et al.,
2006). However the high level of association
between participation and effectiveness maybe due
to results being based on perceptions of
effectiveness rather than operational indicators of
effectiveness (McCaffrey et al., 1995).
A GSS based on the conceptual model below
(Figure 2) is proposed to support collaborative work
in local council-led partnerships. Five concepts are
modelled: goal, context, norm, and business process.
A system based on this model will facilitate the
communication and work conducted between middle
managers, knowledge workers, and operational
managers that are employed by local councils and
the other partnership organisations.
Figure 2: Conceptual model of an adaptable GSS.
Each council goal will be described using natural
language. There will be a hierarchy of goals: the
topmost being the council’s LAA objectives,
cascading down to service plan goals. Goals and
contexts will be linked.
The context is the environment in which goal-
related activities take place, such as the directorate
or team. Two types of change may take place within
a local council that will affect context: change to the
organisational structure, and change to priorities.
These changes are likely to necessitate an adaptation
to service provision and council goals. A change in
the goals will also affect once more the context in
which employees work.
A unique identification number will represent
each organisational group in the system. The number
will define the group’s position in the council, as the
numbers will be inherited and placed in a hierarchy:
1. Environment directorate
1.1 Highways and traffic department
1.1.1. Road safety team
Changes in goal and context will affect business
processes and norms. A local council will want to
adapt its existing processes and norms to these
changes to prevent a lack of alignment between
these items and to ensure that conflicting goals do
not arise. A lack of alignment and conflicting goals
will result in inefficient working practices. It may
also result in employees not achieving council goals
and targets, which could have an effect on the
funding a council receives. This system will respond
well to changes in the context in which it is used.
The adaptation should be transparent in the sense
that changes made to the file structure or content
should be traceable back to their original
The specific procedures a local council needs to
follow to achieve their goals could be described as
norms. Norms in an information system (IS)
prescribe the actions of components and may
involve social rules, operational rules and standards.
It is important to have a well-defined and managed
collection of norms in an IS because they constitute
its knowledge and guide its behaviour (Gan et al.,
2007). Norms are dependent upon a context for their
necessity, usefulness and application. There are six
components to norms (Liu, 2000). The character of a
norm prescribes whether it is mandatory, permissive
or prohibitive. The content refers to the activity. The
condition dictates when the norm should be applied.
The agent that issues the norm is the authority, and
those that can apply the norm are the subjects.
Finally, the occasion refers to the time and space in
which the norm is issued. A BVPI obligation could
be expressed as:
Whenever <BVPI is due>
If <2006/07 targets are available>
Then <team or department>
Is <obliged>
To <compare 2006/07 targets with
2006/07 performance>
It is envisaged that the system will use norms in this
manner to guide the activities of stakeholders.
Performing business processes will enable
employees to achieve council goals. The business
processes performed by stakeholders will be located
in a space defined by contexts, norms and goals.
This system area will be the interface to the majority
of stakeholder-facing functions and features, which
Electronic communication
Documents management
Goal management
Process narratives will include goal information to
stimulate a greater comprehension of the process.
This paper introduced a conceptual model of a group
support system to assist employees within a local
council to work in collaborative partnerships. It
provided an overview of research relating to the UK
government, e-government provision and
collaboration. The current state of local government
in the UK has been examined, paying particular
attention to the issues affecting local councils. A
number of problems relating to e-government
implementation and collaborative working have
been discussed.
Further investigation is needed into the use and
effectiveness of e-collaboration tools within UK
local councils. Also needed is investigation to
ascertain if UK government guidelines are vigorous
enough to underpin vertical and horizontal
integration. Future work will include identifying a
partnership within a local council to case study in
ICEIS 2008 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
order to uncover its business processes, and to
ascertain if a GSS based on the given conceptual
model could make it more effective, according to
perceptual and operational indicators.
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