Category Archives: Other

Inclusive Community Engagement Online, Neighbors Online secured a major three year grant from the Knight Foundation. The Inclusive Community Engagement Online project will run at least through the end of 2014.

I am remain available for paid public speaking directly.

Further also provides consulting services and is developing its network of online communities of practices likely of interest to visitors on this site.

If you to view more recent presentations, see my slides from speaking trips to Libya and Kenya as well as these Neighbors Online slides. Go in-depth with the Neighbors Online screencast.

Also note my Episodes of Experience slides for my “lessons” by year from the graduate course I taught at the Humphrey School.


Social Media: Engaging Democracy and Communities Online

Fall 2011, Graduate Course at Humphrey School of Public Affairs, U of Minnesota

NEW: DRAFT syllabus – A work in progress Feedback welcome!

This fall, I will be taking what I know about “e-democracy,” mix in great guest speakers, and wrap it all up with awesome articles, guides, and videos curated from across the web into a new course titled “Social Media: Engaging Democracy and Communities Online.”

I’ve always fell rushed with a 35 minute presentation – so how about ~35 hours worth of discussion, hands-on experience, guest speakers and lectures spread out over a semester. Exciting.

Here is the official course listing.

This graduate-level course for rowing machine training will be taught at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, at the University of Minnesota.

The 3 credit Wednesday night course was added after students registered in the spring – so as of today, there is plenty of space. For those from out in the community not if graduate school, you may take the course for undergraduate credit at a much lower per credit price. Since this is my first course at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, please contact them for registration questions.

As an interesting twist, students in course will organize a tech-inspired “open space” CityCamp unconference on November 12 following cities like Chicago, London, and San Francisco. Think all things Local 2.0 – with a focus on government, community, and non-profits. It will be held on Saturday, November 12 and be open to government staff, technology developers, open government advocates, citizen media entrepreneurs, other students, and the interested public.

The full semester evening class starts on Wednesday, September 7th and runs through December 14th. The week by week course outline and reading list is in the works.

Here is the official course description from the catalog:

Social Media: Engaging Democracy & Communities Online, Explore the Internet and engagement with government, advocacy, local community building and citizen participation, elections and campaigns, international politics and trends (e.g. Arab spring), and social media use in the non-profit and public sector. In-person class time will be technology infused and include practical and collaborative use of tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and video streaming (remote guest speakers) and many less known online tools. A community “Un-Conference” will be produced by the class on Nov 12th. The instructor is the Executive Director of and international speaker across 30 countries.

For those not in the Twin Cities, if you are interested in an all online version of this course down the road, be sure to let me know and join my Democracies Online Newswire if you don’t want to miss any future announcements.

If you have any questions about the substance of the course or simply want to suggest things you’d like to see covered, feel free to leave a comment below.

My e-transparency promise – If I were running for local office – By Steven Clift – 2009

I recently posted this short list to the Running on Open Government discussion on the Open-Gov online group. Compare with ideas I shared online in 1999.

If I were running for local office, I’d promise an new city ordinance  that required:

1. All public meeting notices, agendas, and meeting documents must be  placed online at the same time they are distributed to elected officials.

2. All public meetings must be digitally recorded (audio is fine) and placed online within 24 hours of the meeting. Council meetings must also be webcast live.

3. An official e-petitioning system that can force the council to discuss certain issues at a certain threshold and take public comment.

4. All ethnics and campaign finaces disclosures must be posted online.

5. Any e-mail/public document sent to a quorum of elected officials by city staff must automatically must be posted online automatically.

6. Every council member will be supported with a combined e-mail news/blog tool for use in governance (that may not be used for election purposes and is transfer to the next council member (assuming districts).

7. Detailed government spending information posted online on a monthly basis (not just proposed budget or government staff salaries (which
the media tends to gather a post)).

8. Require every e-mail received by the city to be confirmed with a copy of what was received, given a tracking number, and be responded
to within two weeks.

9. Create a system for the public to comment on public meeting agenda items (stay tuned!).

10. Add a city presence on popular social networking sites.

11. Set up e-mail alerts about new content online and personalized keyword and geographic relevancy trackers so people can get timely notification of information that matters to them.

12. Real-time police blotter and e-alerts.

What would you add?

The best way to see your local government to do any of these things is get candidates to promise them before the votes are cast!

Steven Clift

Steven Clift’s articles, presentations, and speeches from 1993 through today

I’ve decided to upgrade my collection of articles, presentations, and speech from 1993 up through today. In 2009 the interest in the use of the Internet in governance and citizen engagement looks to be rising to an all time high. It is about time. Hundreds of people new to the field in the right place and right time (like those in the new Obama Administration) will have an opportunity to change the way democracy is done. You have an opportunity to open up our political process and engage the public is ways never imaginable. On the flip side, if you try something in government or any larger organization for that matter and it goes wrong, we won’t have another chance in twenty years until the scars of a failed e-democracy project finally leave the collective memory of a bureaucracy.

Over the years, from the age 24 to now almost 40 I’ve been gathering and synthesising ideas and trends related to “e-democracy” in an open source sort of way. I’ve been honored to speak in almost 30 countries and as you read might writings you’ll see the collection of international best practices emerge. While many come before me in the intersection of politics and technology/the Internet … I coined the shorten term “e-democracy.” I did this in 1994 with Minnesota E-Democracy before e-commerce, before e-government, before most “e” things except e-mail. While a number of my articles might seem dated, the field of democracy online – in governance and citizen engagement – has barely moved compared to online campaigning and advocacy. The later two areas have the engine of political competition for power and survival. The space I care about, requires democratic intent and both people and organizations who act in their enlightened self-interest. A few might make a buck or two and clearly the media – mass and citizen media – will play a larger role that I and many not coming at this from a journalism background expected.

Anyway, I’ll be adding my articles into WordPress starting with my oldest material and come forward as time allows. I look forward to your comments and questions.

Steven Clift

P.S. I will likely be retiring my Publicus.Net domain from active updates. After using a mispelled or at least a spelling variation of publius that no one is familiar with, it is time to move on.

Dream Bill for Decision-making Information Access – By Steven Clift – 1999

As sent in October 1999 to the Government Publishing on the Internet e-mail list. Fast forward ten years and compare with my recent 2009 message to the Open-Gov online group that I wrote not recalling my past post and see how far we haven’t come.


I am interested in your feedback on any efforts to fund/support government online development in terms of Internet access to legislative/rulemaking/decision-making information and interaction. I helped staff the Minnesota Government Information Access Council 1994-97 and it seems that anything that requires new resources to provide online (versus a leveraged HTML dump) hasn’t happened.

For example you can access most Minnesota legislative documents that existed in the older systems, but rulemaking information is rarely online except for (almost useless PDF state register files) because there is no uniform system to leverage. I am **thinking about** working with some MN legislators and perhaps Gov. Ventura’s office to draft up a dream bill for online access to official government “democracy” decision-making information.

Below are a set of ideas that have been bouncing around my head. These are expensive infrastructure ideas that would require new public investments – no creative budget shifting would bring these about.

Are you aware of any states/countries that have:

1. A requirement that all public meetings be announced via a statewide online system that includes the meeting time, place, agenda, live net audio/video feed information and perhaps searchable past agendas, official minutes, and archived audio/video files.

2. A state-level fully web-enabled rulemaking information system that covers all agencies with rulemaking authority.

3. A statewide directory of all public (state and local) elected and appointed bodies including information on each member and term of service.

4. A government-wide electronic correspondence system which assigns permanent e-mail addresses to all elective and appointed positions as well as a system for use by officials to sort incoming e- mail and develop auto-response routines.

5. A “My Democracy” system which allows the public to monitor and be automatically notified of state legislative or local council bill introductions, amendments, changes, meeting notices based on user preferences.

6. Comprehensive Internet access to audio/video feeds for all legislative committee hearings and floor sessions and searchable access to audio/video archives.

7. Live meeting support systems for full remote Internet access to meeting handouts and other materials distributed at the meeting. Complementing audio/video access such a system would allow handouts and testimony to be submitted in HTML and other popular formats for instant Internet access.

8. Legislative or city council chambers that have been fully connected for ISDN as well as standard **Internet-based** audio and video conferencing for remote testimony. Specially outfitted legislative offices that extend notebook access to include audio/video conferencing such that legislators are equipped to meet with constituents or make public/school presentations from their offices via Internet-based video conferencing.

9. A statewide open appointments system that contains announcements for all state and local open appointment opportunities include “My Democracy” opt-in notifications based on parameters preset by the citizen.

10. Rule of Law systems that extend from state statutes and rules to provide coordinated online access to all local and school ordinances and state agencies or university rules and procedures. I am interested in full hyperlinked system showing the extension of the state constitution down through every law, rule, or procedure that draws its legitimacy from that constitution.

11. Examples of state-level “C-SPAN” like organizations that have extended video coverage from just legislative event to executive branch and significant non-government public affairs events.

12. Model legislation to package the text, audio, and video services described here into an official, government-funded “democracy network.”

13. Creation of school and library-based “Democracy Centers” where dedicated Internet-terminals and support materials are presented to allow enhanced public access to online legislative information. This might include a training program for librarians to improve support for patron.

14. A requirement that all agency reports required by or submitted to the legislature be delivered in standard electronic formats and that those reports be stored and archived in an uniform and sophisticated system. This might include a fully electronic state document depository system.

15. An online conference center where commissioners and elected officials can interact publicly with citizens or where organized online events sponsored by government agencies can be held. Or official online partnerships among government, non-profit, and media organizations to create topical spaces for public policy discussions connected directly to the legislative/administrative process or general “public commons” forums at the local level. These interactive spaces would be linked from appropriate places on government web sites, from a “My Democracy” page, or for example allow people interested in a certain legislative proposal to opt-in to communication versus just receiving the bill one-way from government without any forum for online deliberation.

Please send any feedback to:

Steven Clift

North Star Project – Minnesota Government Online IRM Plan – By Steven Clift – 1997



ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA 55101-1314



*****DRAFT 1.0 TO IPO*****





Introduction and Principles

This North Star Project proposal lays out the framework for the transition of the current North Star Project to a comprehensive citizen-focused government service and information system.

The North Star budget proposal marks the beginning of a transition from a demonstration project to next century’s primary gateway for direct government to citizen public service provision and interaction through the use of information technology.

The proposal represents the realization that specific resources must be dedicated to the development of the official framework for coordination and planning of government online activities designed for public use. Through executive branch and legislative leadership, Minnesota will help lead the way by establishing a solid foundation for cost-effective and forward looking government online development.

  • The new North Star online database-driven directory service will:
    • provide the public with a comprehensive, organized, and user-friendly system to locate and navigate through government services and information;
    • will present the foundation for the migration to actual provision of government services online;
    • allow the public to choose their preferred technology for accessing government while also providing government an internal customer service tool.

The strategic budget investment of $600,000 a year in North Star likely represents less than 10 percent of the resource investment in this area, but it will help ensure that the other 90 percent spent by hundreds of Minnesota government units provides the public with exponentially more value for their tax dollars.

In anticipation of future resources the framework for a North Star Online Development Fund will likely be proposed in the future to the legislature for small government online planning grants and grants for inter-governmental applications development with a focus on services.

  • A core North Star staff with a mix of information content, planning, design, and management skills, will in sum represent a leadership hub for collaboration and coordination of overall government online development. The project will be dedicated providing the public as a whole with user-friendly access to a dynamic set of government services and information that are provided in the most cost effective manner possible.

Much of the vision we hold for more responsive government through use of information technology will be realized in ten years. The real challenge for the State of Minnesota is to act now because it understands that its vision can be realized in five years, but be done twice as well at potentially half the overall cost.

The following draft “Principles for Government Online” from a recent presentation to an inter-governmental audience have been designed to guide planning, development, and implementation of the North Star Project:

  1. User-focused design for user friendly access and intuitive navigation
  2. All of public sector is easily accessible from “single-window” starting point 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  3. “Digital” information or service organized so users may choose their preferred information technology for interaction – computer, TV, phone, FAX, paper, person
  4. Dynamic searching – users may locate or search for service and information based on their interests and needs regardless of place, disability, and preferred access technology
  5. Users may complete full service transactions and receive desired depth of public information access to the fullest capability of used access technology
  6. Collaborative intergovernmental “audience focuses” serve specific “publics” based on their interests and needs versus hierarchical display
  7. System is of direct use to government staff for information/service referral or provision
  8. Development and use is cost-effective and fully integrated into the business of government – planning is essential
  9. Measurement and feedback from users and general public guide level of service development and systems encourage public participation in what government services are provided (systems must create new information for policy makers to prioritize future allocation of public resources for services – versus automation of old systems)

  • Enclosed is the current text from the FY98-99 budget process:


Minnesota’s World Wide Web Presence

North Star is the State of Minnesota’s World Wide Web “Welcome” page. A growing number of state agencies are providing information to citizens and government via the Internet. North Star has provided a single point of reference, from which researchers can find and access a multitude of government information resources.

However, the current version of North Star provides only a basic directory to government information resources on the Internet and these resources are really just information “brochures.” The next generation of the North Star Project will provide the public with a user-friendly, “single window” to Minnesota government services through the use of multiple information technologies.


North Star 2 will provide a citizen-focused, service oriented, secure transaction gateway to services offered by multiple state and local government agencies. A database driven application at the top-level access point ( will ensure that users can gain quick access to high volume service transactions and directory information with links to the depth of specific government unit applications. Potential inter-governmental clusters for the development of online government applications including the environment, business, citizen services, democracy, tourism, K-12 education (see educational technology proposal), local government, higher education, government “intranet”, rural-agriculture, libraries, and likely others.

Future developments will ensure broad public access to “digital” information and service through the use of new technologies. These multiple technologies include computers on the Internet, telephones, FAX machines, televisions with set-top boxes connected to the Internet and other technologies that ensure access for the disabled.

Project Rationale

The following rationales help establish the need for aggressive government development and operations in this area:

  • The public expects government to provide effective and efficient access to government services and information.
  • A full featured secure transaction gateway and dynamic, database driven search capability will help aggregate application development, allow for greater security, save resources, promote coordination and inter-operability, and allow for the potential of out-sourcing and competitive contract work. Providing the transaction gateway at a central location will ensure inter-operability of transaction systems, provide cost savings (by reducing duplicated efforts), and allow agencies to concentrate on providing services.
  • Information tools now exist to provide access to government through multiple technologies to most of the population. The development of a database driven top-level service with integration of tools that allow easy access through telephones, FAX machines, and eventually televisions is key to realization of benefits in this area.

Project Benefits

  • Government information infrastructure investments are leveraged not duplicated. For example, if North Star provides a means of secure Internet transactions, it will not be necessary for multiple agencies to develop transaction services. Agencies can instead concentrate on providing services online.
  • Public access to government information and services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Allows the public to serve themselves, which may reduce telephone inquiries, travel to government offices, and printing and postage costs.
  • Improved government service delivery and mechanism for collaboration and coordinated developments.
  • Citizen have choice of technology in their interaction with government.
  • Alignment to public expectation of government service regardless of the source of that service (state, local, federal). Future options would allow geographic based directories of government services through the use of a database-driven environment.
  • North Star becomes a information utility within government for use by staff in their information and referral needs. “Intranet” applications may be developed from the same platform.
  • Enables citizens to gain a better understanding of their government and to be more participatory.
  • Provides fundamentally different foundation for audience or topic-based inter-governmental applications.

  • CSF= Critical Success Factors
  • Note: Attachments are not available with on-line version. Sorry.

CSF 1: Executive Leadership and Involvement

1.1 Executive Leadership

  • A North Star Project Manager shall be appointed by the Executive Director of the Office of Technology in consultation with project participants. The specific duties shall be based on a non-temporary classification of the current North Star Project Team Leader position. See attachment 1.1.
  • The North Star Project Manager will represent the project in high-level relationships with state agencies, local governments, and other government units involved with publicly accessible online services. The North Star Project Manager shall in conjunction with the Executive Director of the Office of Technology, hire appropriate staff. In total, the currently envisioned North Star Project staff will consist of 6-8 FTE positions. The staff will represent a leadership structure and participation support for government-wide development of direct public-government interaction through information technology.

1.2 North Star Partnership and Involvement

  • Enacting legislation for North Star shall establish the framework for official government unit participation in the initiative. General legislative authorization shall enable multiple levels of involvement that shall be specifically defined and structured by the project to ensure broad government participation and citizen input.
  • The current North Star Project by its nature represents one of the most collaborative government initiatives to date, however, in its current form, the capacity for formal involvement and coordination is limited. There is likely no government branch, state agency, local government, college, school, library, or other government units and intergovernmental efforts that will not be affected by future government online activities. One core staff position would be assigned to outreach and coordination to enable the mix of policy and planning efforts across government that will in the end present a seamless package of government services directly to the public. See attachment 1.2 for details on MN-GOV-NORTHSTAR, the world’s largest state-level e-mail collaboration forum for government online development which has close to 300 participants from across the public sector.
  • A potential North Star Partnership for active participants, advanced development, additional support and project review that is made up of representatives from a core of highly involved government units and organizations would assist the project’s advancement once it receives official legislative status.

CSF 2: Policies, Standards and Guidelines

2.1 Government online Policies, Standards, and Guidelines

  • The next phase of the North Star Project is fundamentally about providing the necessary resources for the development of policies, standards and guidelines that provide a dynamic and stable development structure for publicly accessible online government information and services.
  • These policies, standards, and guidelines will focus on the development of the information and service resources designed for direct public access. Internet standards from the Internet Engineering Task Force, the World-Wide-Web Consortium and those adopted by the Information Policy Office, the Information Policy Council, and others present a technical foundation for information systems development. Close coordination with these bodies will be essential.
  • North Star sponsored policy, standard, and guideline development processes will focus on those areas essential to the development of a seamless government agency, service, and over the long run an information locator that may be accessed in an user-friendly manner through multiple technologies and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additional guidelines, policies and standards would promote government unit specific and intergovernmental government online application planning. In the end North Star activity is more about the application’s interface design, content format, transactional service security than what an agency says about itself on its own World-Wide-Web site or traditional information system issues of a more technical behind the scenes nature.

2.2 Possible Policies, Standards and Guideline Activity

  • The new North Star front-end will serve as an agency and service locator. The main menu page itself on North Star now has over 4,000 visitors a week. This page serves at the “single-window” to government and should be crafted to intuitively present the well designed options for accessing and navigating all of Minnesota government online. In Internet terms it is best described as a Minnesota government-focused advanced version of “Yahoo!” ( A set of standard database fields will be defined and modeled in its distributed operation in large part as a scaled up version of the intergovernmental environmental education project called SEEK ( Widely distributed access will be given to government units to input, update, and enhance core directory and frequently requested information remotely via the WWW. A database designer and meta-data expert will lead staff efforts in the development and implementation of such a directory. The manual maintenance of this information on current North Star directory pages is unsustainable and an automated indexing solution is a top priority. The new directory server has been given the temporary development code name of “Aurora”. See attachments 2.2.A for example print outs of “single-widow” front ends including the current North Star main menu.
  • A “Government Online Best Practices and Planning Guide” focused on Minnesota government could be modeled on the new guide from the Center for Technology in Government’s “Developing & Delivering Government Services on the World Wide Web” which was designed for New York State Government. They reference the 1995 draft Information Policy Office IRM guideline titled, “Internet Access and Information Dissemination: Selected Topics” which has not been updated or reviewed in some time. At this point it is clear that the issue of providing the publicly accessible government online services is a fundamentally different policy issue from issues related to government staff access or use of external resources on the Internet. At the state government level, the Information Policy Office and Information Policy Council should retain and increase their level of activity in related policy areas. In concert with these and other governmental organizations, the North Star Project shall take the lead in those focused areas where direct public interaction with government through information services is provided. For references to various resources, please see attachment 2.2.B for printout of the contents of the North Star Development Center and the summary from the CTG guide.
  • Guidelines related to the use of standard content formats will be essential to promote scalable use through user preferred interaction technologies. This will help ensure the broadest public access to the “digital source” of a document or service, including access by the disabled. See the section 4 on Models for details on the use of the Internet for multi-technology access and design of the “digital source.”
  • The privacy and data practices implications of more advanced government online services (those that provide transactions or some level of personalization) must be addressed through policy processes and may require legislative action before the public will accept with confidence broad financial and other service transactions with government.

CSF 3: Planning

3.1 Information Resource Plan

  • The North Star budget and legislative proposals are in essence planning and leadership processes. They include basic implementation of those applications absolutely essential to ensure a basic level of user-focused activity that presents government and to a certain extent Minnesota as a whole to the public. Additional resources for the legislatively proposed North Star Online Development Fund allocated either this session or in the future would largely be focused on the development of a service-oriented transaction system for directly delivery of government services. This will require extensive planning, the current level of proposed resources of $600,000 a year would help support this planning process, but additional resources and funding mechanisms would have to be available at a future date.
  • The current information architecture of North Star is very basic. The are two distinct parts of the WWW service – the North Star directory pages and the shared WWW service called the “North Star Hotel.”
    • A. The North Star directory pages consist of a couple dozen WWW pages that help users navigate from government unit to government unit or they provide access to various project or external resources on the Internet. These pages are currently manually edited (versus the proposed database directory) and not much more complicated than the creation of a word processing file. See attachment 3.1.A for sample directory pages.
    • B. The North Star Hotel’s information architecture is also extremely simple. An agency requests space on the WWW server and is given a login, password, and “virtual hosted” space for their HTML (hyper-text mark-up) files and graphics. The virtual host ensures that an agency may move WWW servers without having to change their publicly distributed WWW address (i.e. – a key to ensuring competition and portability over the long run. The University of Minnesota is on contract to provide support for the processing of account requests. The server is physically located at MNet in the Intertechnologies division of the Department of Administration. Once the technical account is established, agencies are 100 percent responsible for content development and maintenance. They develop their files on their local network and transfer the complete files to the WWW server in a few seconds via a file transfer program. There are now 49 state agencies with accounts. Around 30 have gone public with their WWW service. A rough estimate of total cost savings assuming that each agency would have gone online with their own server and dedicated at least 1/4 a staff position to establishment and technical maintenance of their server is in the range of $750,000. The estimated total expenditure for core North Star activities during its demonstration phase including staff time is less than $300,000. Agencies are responsible for the resource allocations related to content development. See attachment 3.1.B for a copy of the North Star Hotel Guideline. (A comprehensive list of agencies on the WWW, on our server, etc. will soon be updated.)
  • The future information architecture for the North Star Project and the general development of Minnesota government’s Internet-based applications should be reviewed and enhanced on a regular basis. While the WWW stands out in most people’s minds, a full information service requires the use and coordination of the public elements of a number of Internet-based services hosted by multiple state agencies. See attachment 3.1.C for a diagram of predicted Minnesota government Internet service developments. The primary anticipated technical investment as it relates to this proposal is focused on the “North Star Shared Server” (hotel) and the North Star ‘Aurora’ Server (Database Directory). The illustration seeks to display the depth and level of activity that will likely occur based on current trends.
  • The technical separation of the North Star Shared Server from the North Star “Yahoo!” style directory multiple technologies server is important to note. The issue of which hardware or software platform for these and other servers must be carefully evaluated. The size and complexity of government rule out the assumption that only one platform (Unix versus Window NT) will solve all of our technical needs. The technical needs for various project components must be evaluated based on the desired outcome and required system performance. For example, the technical complexity of the North Star Shared Server, currently a SunSparc20 workstation running on the Solaris 2.4 Unix operating system (will soon be upgraded to 2.6) , allows for remote administration and extremely easy use by government agencies on the “hotel.” However, the envisioned North Star directory server may find an advantage in the use of Windows NT based on its database oriented scheme. These issues will have to be examined closely before any decisions are made.
  • The North Star Shared Server will likely be in a position to be “outsourced” to MNet or potentially to an outside Internet Service Provider. The chief technical position of the North Star staff core will be responsible for initial support of this service and its potential migration. The set-up and account administration of a basic WWW presence service is not unlike that of other Internet-related services provided by MNet, MRNet, and dozens of other companies. Some agencies currently purchase WWW space from outside sources and nothing would prevent a mix of providers from competing to provide WWW services to government in relationship to the North Star Project. The current basic WWW service will be expanded to include at least one enhanced tier of service that will require the development of an economic model for the support of such enhanced service. In addition to an enhanced tier, agencies need to be able to purchase necessary advanced development skills and tools within in a competitive framework not restricted based on the technical house which hosts their WWW service. Also, depending upon available resources, the goal of the North Star Project is to continue a level of “subsidized” service for basic WWW presence for at least an initial year of development. Since most large agencies are now on the WWW, this would benefit the smaller agencies considerably. A determination about providing basic or enhanced WWW service to local governments will have to be made based on the available resources and other policy considerations.

3.2 Project Management

  • The project will require a project manager that has both experience in the development and planning of online services, but also an understanding of and experience in the public sector. The level of skill required for those positions in the core staff team will be extremely high and competitive wage pressures from the private sector make it essential that the project be managed in a way the engages staff in a highly rewarding professional manner. Project manager connections to broader online activity in the state and other government online initiatives will be very important.
  • The project in its essence represents a coordination and collaboration effort that as a whole will seek to manage the direction and development of publicly accessible online government information and services. To that end, the following positions will likely make up the core North Star staff team of 6-8 full time equivalents:
    • Project Manager
    • Database Designer
    • Section and Content Designer
    • Technical Coordinator
    • Collaboration and Outreach Coordinator
    • Development Fund Administrator (future)
    • General Office Support and Student Employees/Interns

3.3 Contract Management

  • The legislative authorization for development and coordination of government online contracts will be sought. This will be essential to positioning North Star as a purchaser of advanced online development tools and platforms versus a technical provider.
  • Depending upon legislative resources, a North Star Online Development Fund is envisioned. That fund would be used for both contracting online services for government-wide and agency specific use as well as grants for planning and intergovernmental applications development. A position to oversee these relationships and positions will be required if such a fund is established. The current budget does not include support for such a fund at this time, but is anticipated in future years.

3.4 Project Plans

  • A detailed time line for development of policy, guideline, and standard processes will need to be established.
  • A detailed time line for planning, demonstration and phased implementation of core services will need to be established.

3.5 Life cycle cost, Benefits & Risk

  • The North Star Project will evolve over time. To both the users and content and service providers the system will look radically different in a few years. The project name itself will go on indefinitely, however the current construct as it relates to the Office of Technology and other government entities should be viewed as an incubation stage. Future legislative sessions will be faced with much more significant resource requests emerging from all corners of government, however, in the spirit of integration, the publicly accessible component of information technology investments should become a part of general government operations and proposals.
  • The North Star Project should assist agencies in the development of methods to evaluate the costs and benefits of government online activities. While the current level of government online investment is relatively limited, the long-term “tails” or commitments of service to the public are often viewed as high. The lack of a strategic investment in the mission of the North Star Project will present significant risks to the goal of cost-effective development.
  • The use of more “open systems” and widely used standards will minimize the risk of government investment in this area. The concept of the Internet and its system of standards development is still unfamiliar to most information resources management staff. The creeping of proprietary mentalities into the Internet environment can be seen in the current WWW browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft, where the addition of non-standard features attempts to build market share at the expense of an open information environment and in the end confuses users. The greatest risk to useful and cost-effective government online development is the investment of time and resources to produce content and features in non-standard formats.
  • One of the primary benefits of the use of core North Star services will be access to and use of more advanced tools across a wider swatch of government agencies. Another will be the ability of agencies to place their more stable content on the North Star Shared Server which will be placed for optimal access from the Internet community and have secondary servers at the agencies for more complex services or database interactions. The primary benefit of such an arrangement will be the reduction of public Internet traffic into the State’s network unless absolutely necessary.

3.6 Estimated Project Costs (DRAFT):

  • Based on a budget of $600,000 a year, including staff costs, the following estimated project costs per year are as follows:
  • $200,000 – North Star Database-driven Directory Server – Planning, Development, and Phase Implementation
  • $100,000 – North Star Shared Server – Continuation, Improvement and Expansion
  • $100,000 – North Star Project Support for Coordination and Collaboration Policy Activities
  • $100,000 – General Office Expenses – Rent, Supplies, Personal Computers*
  • $50,000 – Additional North Star Supported Services – Potentially include North Star “Alta Vista” Style Search Engine, Electronic Conferencing Tools, Audio Server Access, and experimentation with secure WWW server applications.
  • $50,000 – Educational and Public Outreach Efforts
  • $0 – North Star Online Development Fund – Current

  • Total – $600,000 per year
  • * The potential co-location of staff with an advanced development team based on the level of anticipated funding for information technology oriented initiatives in higher education, K-12, trade and economic development and other public sector online areas should be considered in order to bring down costs and expand diffusion of expertise and standard applications.
  • Also see attachment 3.6 for sample cost allocation sheets from the Center for Technology in Government. While geared to agency specific online project, they will be useful in identifying more specific cost allocations.

CSF 4: Models

The use of modeling will be essential to the design and operation of user-friendly, distributed, cost-effective, and useful government online services. The following modeling work is envisioned:

  1. Data Model
    • The primary data modeling initiative will be the most important part of the design of the North Star database driven directory server. This server will be host the content and database used as the public front end to all of Minnesota government over time.
    • Over time government units will want to move from static WWW pages to database driven services as well. The components of more sophisticated services could be outlined in a data model to promote creation of modules for specific government unit use. (i.e. the similarity in content and service by counties lends itself to the development of a prototype county, city, school district, etc. WWW presence/server.)
  2. Process Model
    • Models displaying the process for North Star development of policies, standards, and guidelines as well as how general Internet standards development processes will impact Minnesota efforts will be useful.
    • Suggested government unit WWW management, content, and technical development models would help government units address the organizational issues and conflicts that often arise with the use of this cross function cutting medium.
    • A model that explored the “public’s” interaction with government online and government in general would assist with the design of the navigation, search, and keyword indexing scheme used to allow various avenues for public interaction with government online. As the “one-start” to government, North Star must develop a system which serves multiple audiences and needs from an integrated perspective. See attachment 4.2 from the Government of Victoria, Australia for an example of intergovernmental public service modeling.
  3. Event Model
    • The strategic “to do” list for the various project priorities will be needed to create realistic timeline for implementation of required project improvements.
    • An event model which laid out a suggested government unit development process that included initial basic planning, experience building, detailed planning, and large scale implementation process would be of use.
  4. Technology Model
    • The basic technology model for the North Star Shared Server was described in the information architecture section 3.1.B. The current implementation is not dramatically different from other Internet WWW presence providers. General technology models from this industry would be useful in project development.
    • The most significant advancement in the North Star Project’s perspective toward service to the citizen, is to position the “digital source” for access through multiple technologies. One example is the use of the WWW as a platform for integrated telephone access through interactive voice response and FAX-back. Attached are two diagrams from the Web-On-Call product which illustrate this concept. This approach will demonstrate the value of integrated access to the “digital source” versus burdensome maintenance of different versions of the same information or services for different technologies.

CSF 5: Information Resource Organization

The substance of this document extensively describes how the North Star Project as a whole is an information resource organization that will represent the overall coordination, collaboration and management structure for government-wide online development.

The organization must engage in activities that provide for direct public outreach and input into future resource dedications in the government online activity. This can be done through the use of surveys and comment form, focus group meetings, usability testing, and analysis of summary use statistics. As more is learned about the public demand function in this area, government units and legislature will need to use that information in the prioritization of expenditures and allocations of resources on government online initiatives.

CSF 6: Skills

  1. 6.1 Organization IR Skills
    • A North Star Project will require a high concentration of information resource skills. The types of position to be created based on the limited level of resources will present a significant challenge to the project. As noted above the competitive wage pressures in the Internet expertise market may make it difficult to retain staff unless the operation presents professional opportunities and intangibles not available elsewhere. With this in mind the project must establish mechanisms for access to external skills based for short-term needs and developments. It must also develop formal mechanisms to share or borrow staff time with other government units. The skills needed to move North Star forward exist across the public sector, the challenge that must be met is the establishment of formal mechanisms that would allow for skills exchange toward the goals of a comprehensive project from the experience gained in the creation of government unit specific online applications.

6.2 Project Skills

  • The core North Star team position titles have emerged from extensive experience and analysis. At a minimum the project requires the following skills: project management, strategic planning, technical coordination, technical knowledge and experience including use of multiple technologies, content and editorial, indexing and librarian skills, electronic conferencing, training, multimedia development, human factors design and testing, security analysis, outreach and communication, contract management, office and fiscal support, and likely many others.
  • The core North Star team will also be called on to provide extensive skill support to government online initiatives across the public sector. In some cases the core North Star team will be in a position to help government units directly, in other cases the North Star team will be a facilitator directing requests toward other public sector or private sector entities that may be of assistance.

Putting Pen to Paper: Electronic Democracy, Write On! – By Steven Clift – 1996

Putting Pen to Paper:
Electronic Democracy, Write On!

By Steven L. Clift,

Founder and Board Chair, Minnesota E-Democracy
Written in May 1996 – Short and sweet.

Imagine a world where the only communication tools are paper and pens. In this society there are only three actors. They are the business-media, the government, and the citizens.

There is plenty of paper to go around. However, only the business- media and the government have pens and therefore the ability to distribute written words. It only takes one a moment to realize who has real power and a voice in agenda setting in this world.

Citizen-based “electronic democracy” is about getting pens to the people.

It is about making the online communication tools for many-to-many civic discussions, organizing, and public involvement widely available. It is based on the belief that open communication and participation is the foundation of democracy. Electronic democracy is also about the important need to prepare people to communicate effectively and responsibly in this interactive medium. The value of citizen exchange and public communication is contingent on each individuals contribution and respect for others and their expression of views. It is where citizens see themselves as active producers of ideas and opinions not just consumers of information.

At this very moment electronic democracy is a part of our “real democracy.” It is not a replacement, however it is changing its nature. It will only thrive and lead to improved democracies across the world if individuals and organizations come together to build shared online “civic participation centers”. An online civic participation center requires a local/regional base that has relevant appeal. Experience shows that long-term individual and organizational commitment and participation must be built one person at a time.

The civic participation center is built through the use of online tools like electronic conferencing and the shared development of civic content through the World-Wide-Web. It represents a third ring of electronic communication that is in part overlapped by the business- media and government rings on either side. The civic participation center gives electronic democracy its citizen-based authenticity and relevancy. Building on the strengths, tools, and content of the other rings, it is where electronic democracy will grow and thrive.

This essay was also available from the G7 Government Online Project’s – Online Support for Democracy sub-project. The fact that it was there for a year is an example of electronic democracy itself.

Copyright 1996, Steven Clift. This posting may be freely redistributed in its entirety. Permission to redistribute this essay to public e-mail lists or publication in print is granted immediately upon notification of the author at:
Version 2.2 – August 10, 1996

[ Home ]

Government Information Policy Issues and Questions – By Steven Clift – 1994

I drafted this list while working for the State of Minnesota’s legislatively created Government Information Access Council way back in 1994 (Final GIAC report from 1997). Most of these questions are still relevant today. Back in the day this list of policy questions was circulated around the world. I posted it on some “Open Government” e-mail lists hosted by the then CCTA of the UK Government and recall a conversation where a civil servant thanked me for their timeliness as many of the questions were integrated into their early policy explorations. This in part planted a seed for the many UK government investments in e-democracy over the years.

Appendix A:

DRAFT:  FOR REVIEW AND COMMENT  (electronically released 11/15/94)

Government Information Policy Issues and Questions

This is an extensive draft list of policy issues and related questions that have been identified. Some of these policy questions may be easily resolved and others may take years to deal with appropriately.  The Government Information Access Council will need to determine which issues are of a _higher priority_ for emerging Working Groups to address and which issues will need to be considered by the Council and government over the long-term.

Many of the policy questions are meant to inform the process, but do not necessarily need to become part of the recommended principles to the legislature. It should be stressed that the Minnesota Data Practices Act already addresses many of these questions in some way or another.  A short summary of principles in the Data Practices Act follows:

1.  All government agencies must allow citizens to inspect (physically look at) public government data, free of charge.

2. If a citizen requests copies of public government data, an agency may charge the actual costs associated with providing copies.  Costs must be reasonable.

3. If a citizen asks for electronic transmission of copies of the data, and agency may charge for the actual costs of electronically transmitting the data.

4.  If a citizen asks for copies of data that have “commercial value” and that the were developed at significant cost to an agency, the agency may, in addition to copying costs, charge an add-on fee to recover a reasonable portion of the development costs.

5.  If the legislature has specifically authorized a fee for copies/electronic transmission, the agency may charge that fee.

Part of the Council report to the legislature this session will likely highlight the high priority issues.  The Council, with legislative input, will then produce policy recommendations and principles as required by the legislation.  This policy process is designed to run parallel electronic access demonstration projects.  These demonstration projects will inform the policy process and provide the experience required to make important policy decisions.

Please submit additional policy questions or comments to: Government Information Access Council Information Policy Office Minnesota Department of Administration 320 Centennial Office Building St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 (612)296-6451 – voice     (612)296-5800 – fax

The numbered (x) sections come directly from the legislation, 15.95 Section 20, Subdivision 5.

(1) the most effective and efficient means to make information available to the public in a manner that is designed primarily from the perspective of the citizen;

– How will citizens be involved in the development of information services?

– What new information technologies should be considered?

– How will government use a variety of information delivery methods (paper,  Internet/computers, fax-back, telephone, public kiosks, etc.) to broaden convenient, user-friendly access?

– How will electronic interaction between citizens and their government  develop (not  only with information services, but with government staff through such communication methods as electronic mail)?

– What changes might be needed in the regulatory environment to facilitate access to   and distribution of government information?

– How should a government unit balance the need to use emerging information  technologies with the use of generally accessible information technologies for information and service delivery?

– How should government avoid access barriers related to the use of new technology?

– What types of education efforts will be required to help citizens utilize emerging services?

– What types of education efforts will required to reorientate public agencies and employees toward a belief that providing information to the public is part of their mission as a public agency?

– What types of easy to use, intuitive, government information locator tools need to be developed?

(2) how to provide the greatest possible public access that is demand driven to the widest possible array of public government data and information maintained by state or local governments, including open access through libraries, schools,   nonprofit organizations, businesses, and homes;

– How will government units measure demand for information services?

– How should government units plan for and organize their own information services?

– What types of costs/benefits should be evaluated as part of providing greater public access?

– How should different levels of government organizations coordinate and present  their information electronically?

– What telecommunications and information networks exist or may exist for the provision of statewide “open access” through the sites listed above?

– What types of public, private, and citizen investments will be required to make this a reality?

– What regulatory reform will be needed to ensure competitive, statewide, reasonable cost telecommunication service for high-speed electronic access?

– What kind of regulatory reform will be required to help the state’s public telecommunications network ensure basic access to government information in electronic form statewide?

– How should the citizen interest or requests for public information be processed when they conflict with the priorities or mission of a government unit?

– What steps must government take to make sure emerging services are available to those with disabilities?  What issues does the Americans with Disabilities Act raise?

(3) what information should be made available free of charge directly from government agencies, in addition to information that is available for inspection free of charge under section 13.03, subdivision 3;

(4) what information should be sold, either by government agencies or through private businesses, and what factors should determine the prices that government should charge to citizens for providing information directly, and to businesses who will resell information;

QPlease see Data Practices Act summary above for context

– Along with the “Tools of Democracy” section, what guidelines can be developed to assist government units in the pricing or free access to information services? Sub-points follow: – How should GIAC carry out their duties from the “Tools of Democracy” section?

– When should an information service be fully subsidized by general taxpayers?

– When should the customer of a public information service be charged for the  delivery of that service?

– How should different types of government information (general mission-  related information like reports or brochures, information “tools of  democracy,” government transparency or inner-workings information, and *public* information on people or things) be treated from a principle or policy perspective?

– In an on-line information environment, how does the notion of “electronic  inspection” affect public access from local or remote sites?

– Should royalties be charged to businesses that resell government information?   Under what circumstances?  Can or should reuse be restricted?

– Should businesses be charged for government information if used for commercial purposes? How much?  Or what should be the charge for electronic access?

– Should taxpayers receive a “return” for investments in public information systems if the information in that system is used for non-governmental purposes?

– Should the end use of government information for charging purposes be discerned or documented?  How is commercial use/value defined?

– Should government information itself be sold by government for profit?

– Should fees for more convenient delivery of government services and licenses be developed?

– How are advanced interoperable telecommunications networks presenting new policy challenges?

– Which information delivery costs will likely be transactional based versus flat-fee  priced from the perspective of the government unit? (cost to provide X units of information versus cost to ensure X capacity for delivery)

– How will trends in telecommunications and Internet pricing affect longer-term information and service delivery plans?  How will these same trends impact the citizens ability to gain affordable access to information resources?

– If a government units loses revenue from the current sale of information services (commercial value, special statutory fee, data pricing exemption) , how should that revenue be replaced? What affect would this have on the state budget?

(5) how government can encourage the creation of new private business endeavors by making digital information available for the purpose of distributing enhanced government information services to citizens;

– How will businesses, community networks, and others likely repackage, enhance,  or provide links to government information services?

– How should the State encourage private and community on-line networks to provide direct access to Internet-based on-line information services?

– What types of government information should be promoted for the creation of new business endeavors?

– What are current Minnesota information industries doing to provide their own services and products in electronic form?  How will these private services interact with the public sector?

– How might tax policy facilitate the growth or development of private information businesses?

– How might tax policy improve the availability or access to government information services?

(6) what changes need to be made in governmental operations to assure that more government information is readily available to citizens, whether provided directly by government agencies or provided through private businesses;

(10) what technological changes governmental agencies need to make to facilitate electronic provision of governmental information, either directly to citizens, or to private businesses who will distribute the information;

– What types of training and education do government units and staff need to integrate electronic “store-fronts” and information transmission into their operations?

– What public finance and resource reallocation requirements will be required to  support electronic public access systems and access points?

– What kinds of issues need to be addressed in government to ease resistance, temper inadequate planning or prevent information system security risks?

– What statewide information resource management policies and standards need to be developed in the area of electronic access and service delivery?

– How will federal work on the Government Information Locator System (GILS) impact the provision of Minnesota government information in electronic form?

– How will the use of Internet applications like Gopher, the World-Wide-Web, and e-mail by other levels of government and commercial services affect the expectations of our citizens?

– What types of competitive/collaborative pressures may develop among levels and jurisdictions of government? (state, local, and federal)

– How should long-term electronic archiving issues be addressed? Where should key policy documents in electronic form be placed for research and historical analysis?

– How can government use information networks (like the Internet) as a resource for their own information needs?  How will this use impact their interest in providing information to the public electronically?

– What needs to be done to ensure that all citizens, at differing levels of educational attainment, literateness, economic status, access to institutions, can receive quick and supportive electronic access to government information and services?

– What role will state agency libraries have in the organization of agency information products and external Internet information resources relevant to the work of the agency?

– How will agency public information offices be involved in the development and dissemination of government information in electronic form?

– How might contributions by private corporations, foundations, or the Federal government be used to aid these general efforts?

– As information flows in and out of government increase, how should liability issues surrounding accuracy, timeliness, and officialness be approached so as to not constrain the usefulness of the emerging communications power?

(7) whether digital information should be made available on an exclusive or nonexclusive basis, and how different types of information should be treated differently for this purpose;

– Should a government information service be provided by a sole supplier(government or business)?

– Are there types of public digital information that should be provided on an exclusive basis?  Which should be non-exclusive?

– What types of arrangements should be made to promote access to government information services through commercial information services, libraries, community networks (like Free-Nets), and others on a non- exclusive basis?

– Are there kinds of public information that should be made available through public access terminals located at government units, but not through remote sites?

– How should the use of digital information on state issued licenses or identity cards for non-government purposes be viewed?

– Should digital information delivery be treated differently than other forms (paper,  microfilm, photographic)?

– If an exclusive provider system is used, how should government ensure that all the information they wish to see disseminated to the public is available at a reasonable cost?

(8) how the state and other governmental units can protect their intellectual property rights, while making government data available to the public as required in chapter 13;

– Should government agencies be allowed to claim intellectual property rights for government data beyond the current authority to do so for software programs and components of programs?

– What types of government information should/should never qualify as intellectual property?

– What intellectual property rights do government units hold?  Do governmental units currently express those rights?

– Does adoption of intellectual claims by agencies conflict with the presumption of public data in the Data Practices Act?

– If government claims of intellectual property are allowed, what methods for contesting claims should be established?  Court- based/non-court hearing? What about public access to public data that may at one point (in its final form) be claimed as intellectual property?

(9) the impact of data collection and dissemination practices on privacy rights of individuals;

– A lot of *public* information about individuals is held by government, should the method of access (electronic, on-site inspection, etc.) affect the core policy around whether it should be public or private?

– Will improved access and searching methods raise public concern over the use of public information on individuals? Or how has it already?

– What methods will individuals have to correct mistakes about them contained in  government data?

– Will individuals have the ability to securely view private information held about them from remote sites?

– How is the use of information technology increasing the amount of public information stored or available on individuals?  The demand for creative uses of that information?

– How might the increased ability to compile and utilize data for multiple purposes affect privacy?   How can the private sector use of personal information inform us of current uses and trends?

– What types of new government information might unknowingly be developed from the use of electronic information services? (transactional information, document retrieval information)

– How should encryption technologies be utilized when private or even public information flow through open networks?

– How should “fair information practice principles” be applied in the area of public information on individuals?

– How should citizens be made aware of government practices and use of public information on individuals?

– Should citizens have the right to determine access public information held about them?  Should businesses have the right to determine access to public information held about them? How will the use of government numbering systems (i.e. drivers license, social security numbers) outside of government impact individual privacy?

– How should the issue of “single-card” identification for multiple government purposes be addressed?  What are the current trends?  How should issues surrounding non-government use of digital government information kept on magnetic stripes be addressed?

– How should the responsibility for protecting individual privacy be distributed? (on the individual, government unit, private sector)

– In general, what should Minnesota’s public policy be on the social implications that are a result of decisions on information collection and dissemination be?

Q(10) is included with (6) above.

(11) how to avoid duplicating services available from private providers, except as necessary to achieve goals set in subdivision 7.

– What types of government information services are currently available from private providers?

– How can government encourage public-private collaborations to provide the greatest access to the greatest number of people? When should an information service based on government data not be provided by government?

– When should a base floor of access to government information be introduced to ensure that “tools of democracy” are available?

– What level of sophistication (search tools, indexing, etc.) should be developed for the dissemination of government information in electronic form?

– How much “value” should government add, if private providers all ready provide a valued-added service? (basic competition versus actual duplication)

Please submit additional policy questions or comments to:

Government Information Access Council Information Policy Office Minnesota Department of Administration 320 Centennial Office Building St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 (612)296-6451 – voice     (612)296-5800 – fax

The Origins of the North Star Project (Minnesota E-Government) – By Steven Clift – 1994

The Origins of the North Star Project


In July 1997, North Star will become the official public sector-wide government online project for Minnesota.
It received a $935,000 total budget for two years and has its “legal operating system” now in law.

With an eye to the future, I thought it might be useful to reflect on where we have come from and what a
tremendous success it is to have finally received both Executive and Legislative support for moving
aggressively forward with electronic access to government information and services.

In January 1994 a draft proposal for a coordinated government online service was released. The Minnesota Public
Information Network name was quickly dropped for Access Minnesota.   When the legislature changed direction
toward a policy council, the Government Information Access Council, the name Access Minnesota was given to the
Extension Service-led Internet public access terminal project.  The Government Information Access Council was
formed in the fall of 1994 and will cease to exist in July, 1997.  North Star, work started as a demonstration
project through GIAC/Information Policy Office/Department of Administration/ University of Minnesota in the
winter of 1995 with a public launch that summer.  In the summer of 1996 North Star was transferred with GIAC to
the new, and now legislatively confirmed, Office of Technology.

For more information on the current North Star Project, please see:

Sincerely, Steven Clift Project Coordinator, North Star June 2, 1997

Date: Monday, 24 January 1994 10:48am CT To:,,,,,,, STEVEN.CLIFT From:
STEVEN.CLIFT@MNEMC2 Subject: Legislative Proposal – Minnesota Public Information Network (DRAFT)

This is a DRAFT proposal from the Electronic Access to Public Information Task Force of the Information Policy
Office, Minnesota Department of Administration.  This is probably the first time a draft proposal of this
nature has been released electronically within government and to the public in Minnesota.

Please send us your comments and suggestions by February 4, 1994 as indicated in the text of this document.  As
of January 20, this proposal has been presented to the full Electronic Access Task Force and the Information
Policy Council.  They are just beginning to review this proposal.  The one thing that is guaranteed is that
this proposal will change as it moves toward and through the legislature process.  This draft proposal is more
of a concept paper and much of this proposed activity does not require legislative action, but the overall
concept and funding will need legislative support.

While I have been researching and developing this proposal since early fall, (I have been on the Internet for
two years and run a public policy (PUBPOL-L) electronic mail list at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs)
the timing of its release is very good. It should be of interest to a number of people and gain some public
attention.  On a lighter note, I think government interest was illustrated by the good turnout we had at our
Task Force meeting on January 18 when it was about -20F.  I have a new theory about why Minnesota is known for
having innovative government programs: we spend our cold winters thinking up good ideas for public services
because there is little to distract us.  If this is a relative theory inversely related to how cold it is, the
Minnesota Public Information Network should be a great proposal.  However, we need your feedback to ensure that
it is developed with broad government and public support.


Steven L. Clift Information Policy Office


Information Policy Office Department of Administration State of Minnesota January 18, 1994 Electronic Version –
Release 1.1

Prepared by Steven Clift Information Policy Office For the Electronic Access to Public Information Ad-hoc Task

MINNESOTA PUBLIC INFORMATION NETWORK Legislative Proposal – Draft for Review and Comment


During the 1993 legislative session, a proposal was introduced that raised a number of issues around the
need to improve public access to government information and the delivery of services through the use of
information technology.  The Information Policy Office, with the support of the Information Policy Council,
established the Ad-Hoc Electronic Access to Public Information Task Force to address those issues and propose
an overall strategy for coordinated state-wide electronic public access and service delivery.


The Minnesota Public Information Network will be established to improve public access to government
information and the delivery of government services through the use of information technology.  This draft
legislative proposal covers the purpose, responsibility, and authority of the MPIN.  The MPIN will assist
government planning, coordination, and collaboration to ensure that the public interest is served through the
creation of an open, accessible, and organized electronic communication enviroment for the citizen’s
interaction with government. It will develop access methods to government information through a common access
point that use multiple information technologies.

Most information and services will be provided by State agencies, local governments, educational
institutions, libraries, and other government units through the expanding government information networks. This
proposal takes the approach that the use of information technology in services to the public need to be
integrated into the work of a government unit.  It also defines a set of information resources, the “Tools of
Democracy” that are important for citizen participation and should be made available at no or low cost.

It is proposed that the MPIN be administered through the Department of Administration.  A direct
Legislative funding request will be developed and it is likely that Federal matching funds will exist for
planning and demonstration projects.  The final section lists a number of recommended changes to the Data
Practices Act to ensure electronic access to public information and it addresses some other  important issues.

Comments and Suggestions

This proposal will be widely circulated in both paper and electronic formats.  Written comments and
suggestions are requested through Friday, February 4, 1994.  The proposal will then be written into legislative
form for consideration during the upcoming legislative session later in the month.  Please send your comments
to the IPO:

Electronic Access to Public Information Task Force c/o Steven Clift Information Policy Office Minnesota
Department of Administration 320 Centennial Office Building St. Paul, MN 55155

Telephone: (612)297-5561


Electronic Mail:


1.0 Overview – A Time for Action

The time for action is here.   The demand for government services is outstripping the public resources
available.  This requires that Minnesota develop more effective and efficent ways to deliver public services.
The use of information technology in the interactions between the public and government will be a public
investment that will allow us to develop those methods.

We are in a new information era and with it comes opportunities for the citizens of Minnesota and their
government.  Advancing information technologies and expanding information networks make the citizen a more
active and energetic information consumer and producer.  The challenge for our democratic society and its
governing institutions is to determine how we will use this energy and possibility to address the public
challenges that face us all.

Whether it is Vice-President Al Gore giving a speech about the “information super highway,” another cable
and telephone company partnership, or a story about the millions of people using electronic mail, we sense that
a fundamental shift in how communication determines what kind of world we live in is occurring.  The State of
Minnesota must begin to address these challenges by concentrating its efforts on organizing a portion of this
new communications environment.

The Minnesota Public Information Network (MPIN) will be established to improve public access to government
information and to improve the delivery of services to the public.  The general purpose of the Minnesota Public
Information Network is to make government more open, efficient, effective, and responsive to each and every
citizen through the application and use of a wide array of information technologies.  It will help build and
organize an electronic communications environment that will allow the citizen to interact with all levels of
government by concentrating on improving public access to government information and the delivery of public

While the private sector and government as a whole addresses the building of the “information super-
highway,” and the development of more advanced information technologies, the Minnesota Public Information
Network will create a central coordination point for government information in electronic form.  It will be
built with citizen, government, and private sector involvement and with the needs of the information consumer
in mind.  While the Nation determines what “universal service,” “open access,” or “public-right-of-way” will
mean in this new information age, Minnesota will work to ensure that its citizens have information tools,
resources, and services to make those concepts mean something.

Note:  The flow chart graphic has been omitted from the electronic version.  If you are located within North
America and would like a copy, I will fax it to you upon request. Please send me an e-mail message at
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX with subject: Fax Chart Request.


Minnesota Public Information Network


The MPIN will be responsible for developing a state- wide, comprehensive, and coordinated public access
system to government information and services.  It will provide leadership in planning and help set Minnesota’s
direction in the creation of major government information resources and initiatives geared toward the public.
It will help coordinate and bring together demonstration and planning projects.  It will work to ensure that
the public interest is served through the creation of an open, accessible, and organized electronic
communication environment for the citizens and their government.

2.1 Guiding Principles

1.  It is in the public interest to improve and promote public access to government information in electronic

2.  It is in the public interest to use information technology to improve the delivery of public services and
to encourage more convenient and efficient transactions between the public and government.

3.  The application of information technology in communications between government and the citizen is by its
very nature interactive and should be used to help the citizen access and develop an interchange with
government institutions.

4.  Scarce resources and significant costs make it imperative that government entities at all levels coordinate
their efforts and integrate these activities into the whole of their organizations in order to achieve the best
possible outcome for the public.

5.  Government collaboration and cooperation must ensure the inter-operability of public access systems, a
diversity of information sources, and the development of an open, accessible, and organized electronic
communication environment that is user-friendly.

6.  This communications environment must be designed from the citizens’ perspective and allow for broad public
involvement in its growth and development.  The public access system should also be developed with an
understanding of the global nature of information networks and of the important role the private sector will
play in the development of the Nation’s information infrastructure.

7.  The MPIN must work to ensure universal service and open access to government information and services
through libraries, schools, businesses, and homes through telecommunications and information networks.

2.2 Responsibilities and Authority

1. Lead statewide planning efforts and assist state agencies, local government, educational and other public
sector entities in the planning and development of information resources and services geared toward the public.

2. Coordinate and assist demonstration projects at all levels of government in this area.  With sufficient
funding, the MPIN will help support initiatives requiring matching funds from the Federal government or other
funding sources. (See funding section 5.0)

3. Ensure inter-governmental coordination and collaboration and the adoption of general standards and protocols
where appropriate.  These standards must be flexible and anticipate the introduction of new technologies and

4.  Ensure that planning and project evaluation efforts include public involvement and user feedback.  This
should also include an evaluation of consumer interest and demand.

5.  Develop a pro-active approach in the promotion of public access to government information and improved
delivery of services.

6.  Develop outreach, training, and education efforts geared toward the public and government.

7.  Develop positive relationships with community-based and civic networks, Freenets, commercial information
services in order to broaden public access to the state-wide public access system.

8.  The MPIN is not authorized to serve as a network service provider (i.e. full Internet access, sale of
individual electronic mail accounts, etc.), where other commercial, non-profit, Internet providers and
government telecommunications networks are more appropriate. (i.e. USWest, Minnesota Regional Net, MNet
(STARS), etc.)


3.1 Common Access Point and Government Information Locator System

The MPIN will create a government information locator system and a common access point.  The common access
point will bring together all networked government information resources and services in order to present a
“single-face” to government that is organized and user-friendly.  The government information locator system
would provide details on possible government information resources and provide directions on where to obtain
government information not accessible through the common access point.

The distributed nature of government information networks and resources will require an approach that
understands that participating government units will likely be the primary information creators and providers.
Also, the expansion and increasing inter-operability of government information networks and the need for
government agencies to integrate electronic access and service delivery in to their work at all levels, will
require a coordinated approach. The past models of information service centralization will not meet the
requirements of the new information age.

These systems will be accessible through the Internet (see Section 3.5) and through dial-up connections
with a modem and computer.  As digital data networks expand, whether it be through a “digital dial-tone” or
through cable television lines, the MPIN will seek to ensure that these services are accessible through those
networks.  Also, the common access point must support widely accepted network applications and government
information resources must be flexible enough to allow access through multiple interfaces and applications.

During its initial phase, the common access point will provide access to Minnesota government based
information servers that are geared toward the public, government sponsored computer bulletin boards and
databases, library catalogs, local, educational, Federal and other important public sector information
resources and to the “Tools of Democracy” which are described in the next section.


3.2  General Information and Services

State agencies, local governments, educational institutions, and other units of government produce and
distribute information in the pursuit of their mission. This is the kind of information that governments are
beginning to distribute electronically.  In most cases, through information servers housed at a government
agency, they will provide access to the electronic equivalent of newsletters, brochures, press releases,
reports, and other publications.  Of the 14 government agencies present at the first Electronic Access to
Public Information Task Force meeting in October 1993, almost all reported current activities or plans in this

Governments are also developing more convenient and efficient ways to deliver services to the public
through the use of information technology.  These transactions with government may take place in the home, at a
public access terminal, or through an information kiosk.  Examples of services include renewing motor vehicle
tabs, ordering an official copy of a birth certificate for mail delivery, or registering for an interview at
your local Jobs and Training Office.

3.3 “Tools of Democracy”

The MPIN will plan and help develop major state-wide information resources and tools that will provide
means to help the citizen access the government bureaucracy, find government information, offices, and
services, and improve democratic participation.  These core information resources must be made available to the
general public at no or low cost.  Local and regional units of government will be encouraged to complement
these tools with information resources that encompass similar information geared toward their citizens. The
“Tools of Democracy” include:

A.  Directory of Government Services and Institutions –

This directory would be a combination of the State Telephone Directory and the Guide to State Agency
Services which would eventually cover all levels of government and allow for easy access to government contacts
within government and by the public. (A Request for Proposals has been issued by the State for the integration
of disparate electronic mail systems and for directory services which should offer a base for activities in
this area.)

B. Legislative Information –

The MPIN will work with the State Legislature and the Revisor’s Office to provide electronic public access
to legislative information including public information newsletters, bill text and summaries, meeting
schedules, research reports, and other information vital to promoting citizen participation and understanding
of the legislative process.  This also includes electronic access to the basic text of the State Statutes and
Rules.  (The House of Representatives and the Revisor’s Office have developed “Gopher” servers that are
accessible through the Internet at: .  It is likely that these legislative
branch gopher servers are currently the most developed in the world.)

C.  Governor’s Office, Constitutional Officers, and Executive Branch Information –

The MPIN will work with the Governor’s Office to make important documents, releases, speeches and
proclamations available to the public in electronic form.  Much of the core information about the Executive
Branch and information from the offices of other Constitutional Officers will be contained in the “Directory.”
The MPIN will provide access to the information resources and services developed and maintained by those
offices through the common access point.

D.  State Virtual Public Library –

Working with the various networks of libraries in Minnesota, an information system containing the
digitized text of important government documents and publications will be created.  This is a long-term project
that will require planning, the major involvement of the State’s libraries, and an allocation of resources.

3.4  Fee-Based Services and Transactions

Many of the services of this type would likely find an increase in demand for their services if they made
them available through the common access point.  The Data Practices Act allows agencies to charge a fee that
recovers demonstrated information development costs when it is commercially valued.  In most cases, this type
of public information is on individuals, entities, or properties. Many of the currently operational government
information services are the result of demand from the private sector for information.  In many cases the State
Legislature has developed special requirements that state agencies fund the provision of those resources
through fees on the information user.  Examples include the electronic provision of business registrations by
the Secretary of State or motor vechicle record searches in the Department of Public Safety. (Section 6.0 more
fully addresses some issues in this area.)

Another type of fee-based service might include an information service geared toward a narrow
constituency. The agency might decide that this service should not be subsidized by the taxpayers as a whole
because the benefits are received by a small portion of the public.  In these cases, the agency may charge no
more than the cost to provide the service.  However, when such a service is made available through the common
access point the agency may be able to support an expanded level of service due to an increase in demand.

The third fee-based arrangement may include the enhanced delivery of a public service or government
product, like a form, license, etc..  In some cases the development of an enhanced level of service may be
supported by what amounts to a surcharge to support the operation and development of that service.  This is
used to support a portion of the costs for a number of kiosk networks in other states.


3.5  Internet and Dial-up Connections

The Internet is often referred to as a precursor to the “information super-highway”.  It is a global
network of networks that allows for the transfer of digital information of all kinds.  It will likely provide
the most cost efficient method to ensure broad public access to government information over the long run.  In
the short-term allowing for dial-up connections and public access terminals to the common access point will
need to be available.

The most frequently cited Internet information server is called “Gopher.”  The software was developed by
the University of Minnesota and is now used around the world to present basic textual information and link
access points to other information systems.   For those with a high-speed data connection, it is possible to
use a program called Mosaic which allows for the use of graphics, linked text, sound, etc. through these
networks.  Also, some cable systems and telephone companies in the United States are now offering high-speed
digital access to the Internet.  The MPIN will work to assist the public sector in efforts to take advantage of
these advancements, but will ensure that technological capacities do not create barriers for the public
attempting to access government information or services.

3.6 Electronic Mail Distribution

The MPIN will develop an information server that can distribute selected government information and
documents through electronic mail and eventually through a fax-back system.  This server will allow most
citizens who have commercial or Internet electronic mail accounts to retrieve documents by sending basic
commands to the server.  This is based on a model currently used by the USDA Extension Service and the
Americans Communicating Electronically initiative.  To test their systems, send an empty e-mail message to: .

This server will also have mailing list capabilities (often referred to as a “listserver”) that will allow
agencies to broadcast or distribute information to established lists of subscribers.  State agencies and other
government units will also be able to use this server to develop electronic mail working groups for a specific
program or within the context of their mission.  This server will not be the host of general social or
political debate which should remain unencumbered by government sanction or oversight.

3.7 Kiosks

The MPIN will be the host for the coordination of an information kiosk initiative.   This initiative will
involve interested State Agencies and other units of government. The information kiosks will be used to improve
the delivery of public services and allow for transaction based services. The MPIN will be responsible for the
development of a general kiosk platform and network for government use in Minnesota.

Kiosk initatives are highly visible and currently provide the best platform for secure transactions
between a member of the public and government services.  The Info/California kiosk effort and the activities of
other states need to be fully examined and the lessons from their experience should be integrated into
Minnesota efforts.

3.8 Clearinghouse

The MPIN will develop a clearinghouse on the use of information technologies, including interactive voice
mail response systems and fax back retrieval systems, used to improve the dissemination of information or
delivery of services to the public.  This clearinghouse will also collect information from sources both inside
and outside of Minnesota on information services and activities used in the public sector.  The MPIN will also
use its electronic mailing list capabilities to establish links for the sharing of knowledge and experience
among those government units using or developing plans to use specific information tools in their interactions
with the public.


1.  The Minnesota Public Information Network will be administered through the Department of Administration.

2.  The Information Policy Council and the Information Policy Office (IPO) will act as the advisory bodies to

3.  The MPIN will create working groups that involve other units of government in statewide planning, the
development of major services, assist with the creation of standards and protocols for public access systems,
and work to integrate the use of information technology into government interaction with the public generally.

4.  The IPO will have the ultimate authority to establish standards and protocols for government organizations
to follow in the development and use of information kiosks, network applications and systems used to access
government information, government computer bulletin board systems, and other systems that allow electronic
access to government information and services.  These standards and protocols must be flexible in nature and
not constrain the use of new technologies and applications.  They must focus on ensuring the development of
user-friendly systems and the creation of common government electronic communication environment.  The MPIN
will work with the IPO in this area.

5.  The IPO and MPIN will report on policy issues that arise during the development and implementation of this
initiative.  They will also lend advice on issues related to government access to the advancing information and
telecommuncations networks and develop policy guidelines and recommendations for legislative action.  The IPO
must address the development of fee guidelines to assist government units in pricing of information services
according to the Data Practices Act.

6.  The MPIN will issue a report during the 1995 Legislative Session on how it proposes to carry out its
mission and meet its responsibilities.


Appropriations and other funds made available to the Minnesota Public Information Network for staff,
operational expenses, and grants will be administered through the Department of Administration.

The majority of the initial planning, demonstration, and general operating resources will come from an
appropriation from the Legislature and matching grants from the Federal government.  The MPIN will explore the
issue of whether it should establish fees to fund a portion of the operating costs and future development of
information resources and public access systems.

It is likely that major public investment in this area will be spread out across all levels of government.
This view fits with the perspective in this proposal that the use of information technology to improve public
access and service delivery must be integrated into the work of government.  The MPIN will assist government
units by developing a state-wide framework and with an appropriate level of funding, issue grants for planning
and demonstration projects in this area.

5.1 Legislative Appropriation

The MPIN will request a $__________________ appropriation for FY95 for the first phase of the development
of this initiative.  They will return to the Legislature with a budget request for FY96-97 during the next
legislative session.

5.2 Federal Matching Grants

The United States Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
(NTIA), will be releasing a request for proposals for its National Information Infrastructure Planning and
Demonstration Grants Program in the near future.

The MPIN will apply for major matching grants in the areas of state planning and demonstration projects.
The total amount to be distributed this year is $26 million. (Pending U.S. Senate approval the authorization
for FY95 is $100 million and FY96 is $150 million.)  It looks like they will be allocating sixty percent for
demonstration grants, twenty percent for local planning and twenty percent for state planning.  Overall, if
Minnesota received only two percent of the total matching grants in these areas it would total over $500,000.

The NTIA expects proposals to come from all levels of government and from other organizations.  With
adequate funding, the MPIN will assist selected Minnesota based proposals.  This assistance may include
contributions toward planning or demonstration projects of up to the full amount required by the Federal
matching grant program.  We will be watching for more details about this program as they emerge.



Minnesota Statutes Section 13.03, Subdivision 1. requires that for public data, “The responsible authority
in every state agency, political subdivision and statewide system shall keep records containing government data
in such an arrangement and condition as to make them easily accessible for convenient use.”  The advancing use
of information technology and information networks in both business and society requires that government
maintain a relative level of convenience.  The amendments to the Data Practices Act will affirm this analysis
by establishing the State’s interest in promoting electronic access to public information and the use of
information technology to improve the delivery of public services and allow for electronic transactions.

6.1 “Tools of Democracy”

Define a core set of government electronic information resources that must be provided at no cost or low
cost to the general public.  These “Tools of Democracy” (as mentioned in the MPIN section) are geared to help
the citizen break through government bureaucracy, find government information, offices, and services, and
improve democratic participation.  The core information resources are:

1. Legislative information, reports, documents, meeting notices and bill text.

2. Releases and official documents of the Governor’s Office

3. Basic text of State Statutes and Rules

4. State Telephone Directory and Guidebook to State Agency Services or a new combined electronic version
thereof. Agency Service’s or a new combined electronic 5. Development of a Statewide Virtual Public Library
over the long-term.

6.2  Equity of Access to Fee-based Services

Government units that provide fee-based information services must also ensure equity of access to public
information contained in those services.  Options include on-site public access terminals, arrangements by the
government unit with public libraries or other institutions, a rebate system, time-based no-fee or subsidized
access (non-peak hours), or a base time or search allotment of free trial access.

Note: The current Statute allows agencies to charge a fee no higher than it costs to provide an information
“service” that goes beyond basic “convenience”.  In cases where the information has “commercial value,” fees
may be set to recover “actual development costs of the information.” The cost savings or benefits to both the
consumer of government information and services and to the government itself will be difficult to measure until
such services are developed.  This proposal, which establishes the “Tools of Democracy”, assumes that
specialized information services created by an agency and a core group of client institutions, for example, may
require a fee based set-up to fund the development and delivery of such a service.  The question of when an
information service should subsidized by the taxpayers as a whole must be viewed within the context of a
government unit’s mission and authority.

6.3  Public Access to Search Tools

Establish the right of public access and use of electronic search and database tools.  In situations where
a government unit has created a database or information system where the value of the information, or
combination/manipulation of pieces of public data is affected by the use those search tools the public shall
have the right to use those search tools.  Government units shall have the authority to determine how best to
ensure access, but it is the State’s interest to promote both on-site and remote access.

6.4  On-site Electronic Inspection

The notion of electronic inspection will be established as it relates to the public’s right to view
information stored on-site in electronic form.  Government units must ensure that the public has access to
public information in whatever form, but may develop policies and procedures that maintain the security of
their information system.  These policies and procedures must not deny the public the right to inspect
government information in a timely manner nor may they inhibit the public’s access to the available public
information.  (In some cases an agency may have an employee assist someone or they may ultimately print the
information and allow inspection that way.)

6.5  Government Subscription-based Publications in Electronic Form

If a government units function is to develop and distribute fee-based subscription based information in
print form, the addition of electronic dissemination or access may be integrated into the overall fee
structure.  A government unit may choose to provide subsidized or free access to past publications and must
provide for electronic dissemination when possible and found to be in the interest of the information consumer.
(i.e. State Register, etc.)

6.6  Monopoly Control Prohibited without Statuatory Exemption

Units of government shall not enter into agreements that provide for exclusive of monopoly control of
public information in electronic form through a single commercial entity unless provided for under Statute.
This does not prohibit non-government entities from offering value-added services that contain public
information.  Also, government units may enter into non-exclusive agreements with commercial or non-profit
information services.

6.7  Commercial Provision of Public Information

The provision or sale of public information by a commercial information provider must contain accurate
information on how and where that information may be obtained directly from government.  This applies to
situations where the information has not been enhanced significantly or was copied from the government
information providers public access system without an agreement between the government unit and the commercial
information provider. This section represents a balance between the private entities right to use the public
information for whatever purpose and the public’s right to access it as established by government.

6.8  MPIN and Non-exclusive Arrangements with Non-Government Entities

The Minnesota Public Information Network is authorized to establish non-exclusive arrangements with
commercial and non-profit information and network service providers.  These arrangements may allow access to
the state-wide public access system through those service providers.  Fees may be established in accordance
with the Data Practices Act, but should be structured to ensure broad public access.   This provision, for
example, could provide for access to the state-wide common access point to be available through a community-
based information network or Freenet at no cost to that provider.  A commercial information provider through
negotiations with the MPIN may be charged a fee associated with the commercial value of the information


Version 1.0 Paper version to Task Force, IPC, and others Version 1.1 Electronic release with minor grammatical

This is short summary that was presented to the Information Policy Council on January 20, 1994:

Minnesota Public Information Network Highlights

The Minnesota Public Information Network will:

*  Improve public access to government information and the delivery of services to the public through the use
of information technology.

*  Help organize an user-friendly electronic communications environment that will allow citizens and businesses
to interact more effectively and efficiently with all levels of government.

*  Lead state-wide planning projects and help bring together demonstration projects from all levels of
government that are geared toward the public.

*  Provide outreach, training, and educational programs for government and the public.

*  Develop a common access point to government information and services that can be accessed through multiple
technologies and applications.  This will include the use of the computers, public-access terminals, and kiosks
through the Internet, dial-up connections, and through future high- speed information networks that will
provide service to homes and businesses.

*  Be funded through an appropriation from the Legislature and through potential Federal matching grants.

* Be located within the Department of Administration and the Information Policy Office and the Information
Policy Council will act as advisory bodies.

State Agencies, Local Governments, Libraries, Educational Institutions, and Other Government Units will:

*  Be the primary information and service providers through the common access point that is coordinated by the
Minnesota Public Information Network.  The expanding information networks will allow government units to
develop, organize, and maintain responsibility for the information and services they provide  from almost any

*  Need to integrate the use of information technology throughout their organization to assist in its dealings
with the public where useful and appropriate.

*  Begin to develop plans and proposals for public information electronic access and service delivery.  The
MPIN will be a major information resource in this area and will help develop collaborative projects that allow
government units to pool their resources and expertise. This will help address budget constraints for both
large and small government organizations

*  Participate in working groups organized by MPIN to help government units share knowledge, expertise, and
develop appropriate and flexible standards and protocols for public access systems.


Comments and Suggestions

Please send in your written comments and suggestions by Friday, February 4, 1994.  The proposal will then be
written into legislative form for consideration during the upcoming legislative session later in the month.

Electronic Access to Public Information Task Force c/o Steven Clift Information Policy Office Minnesota
Department of Administration 320 Centennial Office Building St. Paul, MN 55155

Telephone: (612)297-5561

Electronic Mail:

Transnational and Intergovernmental Electronic Communication: Policy Questions and Implications of the Emerging Global Information Network – by Steven Clift – 1993

Transnational and Intergovernmental Electronic Communication: Policy Questions and Implications of the Emerging Global Information Network

By Steven L. Clift

Global Survival and Sustainable Infrastructure Graduate Course Institute for Future Studies, Stockholm, Sweden Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Fall 1993

Note: It is now almost 1996. I currently coordinate the North Star Government Online project for the State of Minnesota and now find myself involved in projects that are addressing a number of the questions that I had raised back in 1993. With the development of the GOVNEWS initiative ( I thought now might be a good time to make this paper available online again. – Steven Clift

Note 2:  It is now 2002. All of my current articles are available at:   When it comes to inter-governmental communication online, it is amazing how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

Note 3: It is now 2009 and there is still lots here that is relevant.


It could be said that for the governments of the world to prepare now for the effects of the current information and communications revolution, would have been like the government preparing a program to deal with airport noise problems before the jet engine was built. With the development of each new technology and applications to use those technologies the way our societies operate and allocate resources shift. The changes that occur often have positive and negative results. The opinion someone has about those changes may also vary from person to person. Also, the infusion of new technologies and their effects is not static and the development of different technologies or adaptations by others in society often alter the original results.

The survival or strength of an institution depends on its ability to read and understand how the changing world around them might affect their work and purpose in society. Government organizations from national legislatures to local social service agencies operate in a complex and increasingly globalized economic and political system and are not immune from these shifts, especially as they relate to the use of information technologies in their work.

This paper will examine the development of intergovernmental and transnational data networks and explore the potential policy implications and challenges government institutions may face as a result. It will summarize some of the technological aspects of inter- networking, present examples of current application and efforts by governments, and explore some of the potential policy implications. It will conclude with proposals on how government can capture the positive benefits of electronic communication, and prepare itself to deal with the policy issues and potential downfalls as they emerge.

This paper centers on those countries that have developed more sophisticated information infrastructures and does not address these issues from the perspective of a developing nation.(1)

Information Technology and Networking

Over the last few decades governments around the world have invested billions of dollars into the research and development of new technology including high performance computing, communication devices, and data transmission networks. Examples include the High- Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) and National Research and Education Network (NREN) in the United States, the European Strategic Programme for Research and Development in Information Technologies (ESPRIT), the European Nervous System (components of which address transnational electronic communication and will be presented later) and Japan’s New Information Processing Technology project of the Ministry of International Trade & Industry (MITI).

The following statement from the paper “Information Networks and New Technologies: Opportunities and Policy Implications for 1990’s” from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) sums up the general public purpose developed for most of these initiatives:

Information technology (IT) developments, originally driven by defence and space needs, are increasingly geared to meet commercial and industrial demand. It is now recognized as indispensable to many economic activities, and industry experts consider broader IT production and use as a basis for further economic and social development…. IT has become a strategic tool in the contemporary economic and political environment, as well as for the opening up of new markets and patterns of demand.(2)

Except for the mentioning the use IT as a strategic political tool, most government support of research and development in this sector has been geared toward building a competitive national industry, improving the collaboration of scientists and researchers, and in higher education. The benefits of IT have been conceptualized by these various projects in functionary terms or by sectors of the economy. The development of technological capacity is not generally presented as a means to improve processes. However, the creation of basic and more advanced applications helps explain how IT is becoming a tool that changes the way organizations work and communicate.

The OECD report is one of the few reports that presents the public sector as one of the beneficiaries of its own investment in IT research and development. It was not until the late summer of 1993, with the release of the Clinton Administration’s National Performance Review, that the notion of IT causing changes in the way government delivers services and makes decisions received high profile attention. It was estimated that Federal government investment in and the use of IT could save billions dollars over a number of years. How this will change the way government functions will be important to watch. Most of the literature on the effects of information technology and systems on organizations examine businesses and not government. While general observations can be drawn from that literature (group work across geographical distances, flattening of hierarchies, etc.) the public nature of government work and general lack of a firms profit motive and sale of products provides for enough of a difference to demand more study of IT impacts on public sector processes. This paper should bring out a number of those areas requiring research.


The current use of IT applications and the development of networking standards over the last decade has brought us to a point where local area computer networks can be linked to other computer networks via routers and high speed data backbone network connections. The “Open Systems” standards (OSI), the Government Open Systems Interconnet Profile (GOSIP), and TCP/IP Internet protocols are all contributing to a general government acceptance of the concept that government agencies need to move from proprietary computer systems to systems that can be networked and communicate with other systems based on a general set of operating standards. This is occurring, however slowly, at all levels of government in most countries that have highly developed information infrastructures. Countries that do not have developed infrastructures will likely use these protocols as they develop based on normal distribution patterns of technologies to the developing world.

Within the United States four or five states are considered leaders in the promotion of Open Systems for use by state government. The draft National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE) titled, “Serving the Citizenry through Opening the Enterprise,” it states that “the fact that standards are agreed upon by national or international organizations has little to do with adoption and use by an enterprise or a community of enterprises.” While many information resource offices have been policy advocates of Open Systems the actual movement in State agencies has been slow. The report argues:

If, instead of setting our goal to achieve Open Systems, we sought to open the enterprise and interconnect it to the world, we would have defined a practical goal. Also, as we look at “states” or “governments” as an enterprise, we are challenged to rethink “the organization” within which interconnectivity is required.(3)

This statement is a sign that government entities are, from their experience, moving toward Open Systems without integrating it into the work of their public mission or business plan.

A November 1993 report by Anderson Consulting titled, “Open Systems in Minnesota State Government: A Readiness Assessment” summarizes this State’s readiness for Open Systems:

¥ Minnesota is in the very early stages of readiness for open systems.

¥ Understanding and commitment to open systems have not significantly penetrated the State’s technology community. Most activity has been at the policy level. Policy progress has yet to be translated into concrete actions to move away from proprietary information technology toward open systems environments.

¥ Key enablers driving the State toward open systems are the needs to: 1)share data across the enterprise, 2) cut costs, 3) cooperate for service delivery, and 4) respond to market forces and federal mandates.

¥ The barriers to implementing open system environments in Minnesota state government are formidable, but not insurmountable. Those barriers are: Lack of knowledge, training and skill base, Perceived lack of industrial strength products in the marketplace, Lack of open systems champion, and Large installed base of proprietary legacy systems, Government fragmentation and fiefdoms, and Conversion cost.(4)

While Open Systems goes beyond the TCP/IP Internet connections, the State of Minnesota will have invested $25 million dollars in a state-wide high speed data network by late next year that will among other things provide for extensive Internet access, the next challenge is to migrate the hundreds of government systems to that network. We are already seeing government use of electronic mail over the Internet and a few State agencies and the State Legislature have put menu driven information on the Internet through an application called “Gopher.” This information is available to anyone in the world who is interested in looking at it.

Given the time it will take for most governments in different countries and levels within those countries to be inter-networked, this paper will begin exploring the possible interactions of governments based on current examples and efforts at a smaller scale. How will the various government institutions shape this environment for their benefit? What will the characteristics of this networked world be? What types of applications will they develop for it in the carrying out of their missions?


While more advanced applications and tools are being developed for the Internet on a regular basis the most commonly mentioned uses for these networks include electronic mail, file transfer, electronic data interchange (EDI), and remote access to databases and information. Once an organization adopts a basic level of connectivity it is unlikely that they will retreat from that. It could be compared with throwing away your fax machine because the process for sending a fax confused you at first. It is also predicted in the future that this will be the platform for the development of a digital information infrastructure that will include voice, video, and high speed transfer of extermely large quantities of data.

One of the most important communication tools used on electronic information networks are those that allow collaboration or automated communication among groups of people. There are thousands of electronic mail forums or lists that allow an individual to “broadcast” a message to those subscribed to that list. The parameters and openness of these forums vary. Some may involve only ten individuals on a private list or thousands on a public list. Some lists are moderated, some allow anyone to post, some only deliver an information service from the list owner. This allows for the creation of “affinity networks.” The OECD report describes the characteristics of these networks:

Such “affinity” networks may result in national and international networks. In principle, it would then be possible to receive and exchange information presented in whatever form in real time, from a large number of intelligent stations (human and PC and/or intelligent work stations), on whatever subject, worldwide, coupled with feedback at the local or global level. Such networks could be used to sense or act on all types of parameters (economic, social, environmental, etc.) when designing, producing and marketing goods and services or any other activity or process.(5)

Current Efforts, Examples and Analysis

The European Community

One of the most advanced policy documents on transnational data exchange between governments comes from the European Community. It is titled “Proposal for a Council Decision on a series of guidelines for trans- European data communications networks between administrations.” What stands out about the creation of an IDA programme (interchange of data between administrations) in European Community is the existence of an articulated purpose. Greater data sharing and communication will “enable national administrations and the Community institutions and bodies to meet their new responsibilities” and contribute to the “effective management of the Community area without frontiers.”(6) This situation includes a supranational organization in the inter-networking among nation states which has special characteristics not present elsewhere.

This case illustrates how supranational institutions like those in the European Community view the potential usefulness of moving toward open and integrated information systems. It could also be viewed as a way for the EC institutions to strategically place themselves in the middle of information flows between the member states and assist them in the management of “common agricultural, environment, education, and health policies.”

The EC is also a central organizing point that will invest resources in building applications to manage and add value to the electronic communication that occurs between governments. In the United States there is a need for more intergovernmental coordination, but the incentives for Federal agencies to create communication systems that may lead to a decentralization of their decision-making process and that may require them to share power with those included in their information flows make it less likely that Federal agencies will take the lead without management acceptence or political leadership. A new report released in December 1993 by the voluntary inter-agency Working Group on Government- wide Electronic Mail, titled “A Unified Federal Government Electronic Mail Users’ Support Environment” represents a movement by primarily government information technologists to move move forward. The report states, “Regardless of the approach chosen [specific IT applications and services], the Federal Government needs to see that our American society is plunging headlong into the world of electronic information flows, and that an insular, each-agency-for- itself approach will be detrimental to the Nation.”(7)

The EC contributions in this area, including efforts to create tools for language translation, will likely enhance their power and ability to manage the affairs of an integrated market. The use of Open System protocols by the EC also means that transborder data flows will not only expand from the EC at some point to the other nations of Europe as the report mentions, but to the entire world. It should be pointed out that Open Systems does not mean unrestricted access or non-secure communication. The tools and forums that the EC creates to improve communication between governments at all levels within the EC may result in the flow of information and ideas to governmental agencies in other countries dealing with similar issues.

Local Government

In the United States the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association among others, have created a service called Local Exchange. While it is not accessible through the Internet, subscribers from local governments all across the United States dial in with their computer and modem to share information on topics of interest to local governments. Their services include the creation of computer conferences geared to exchange information on specific issues, electronic mail, a database called “Local Government Solutions” that contains “one-page description of thousands of recent, successfully implemented problem-solving city and county programs, complete with names and numbers for follow-up information,” and abstracts of articles from more than 400 local government publications.(8)

With a fee based service like this, one of the incentives for people to participate relates directly back to the work they are doing with their local government. When they are able to improve their work, they will be more likely to exchange information that is useful to others in the service. This service also posts “Federal legislative alerts” which illustrates how governments may use the medium to organize themselves politically along lines of common interest.

As local governments begin gaining Internet connectivity these types of exchanges will occur more frequently between local governments in different countries. Will this allow new or innovative ideas to spread to various localities in a fraction of the time that it occurred in past? For example had local governments been inter-networked when the idea for the new German packaging laws emerged, where the manufacturer is essentially responsible for the packaging after the consumption of the product, would there have been local governments in the United States that would have adopted that policy early instead of waiting to determine the success of the German initiative. What implications does this have for industries that try and prevent regulatory ideas in one part of the world from gaining credibility in parts of the world? And moving beyond the use of this medium by local government staff, will local elected officials use it on a regular basis to communicate with each other and with their constituents? Will the range of interest groups from the local to international level use this medium to organize local political activity or attempt to set the local public agendas?

Legislatures and Parliaments

The United States Congress will complete a fiber optic network for the Capitol Hill complex within the next year that will allow for high speed data transmission and complete Internet connectivity. A report by the Congressional Research Service titled, “Congressional Reorganization: Options for Change,” states that the full impact of using advanced information technologies will not be known until they are used as universally as word processing is today.” Within this very political environment “developing such an advanced infrastructure will require a degree of cooperation and collaboration between congressional offices that is, so far, unprecedented.”(9)

Both the U.S. House of Representative and U.S. Senate have moved forward in the last few years with the research and database tools available electronically and a large portion of staff can now send and receive electronic mail to and from the Internet. The infrastructure envisioned by Stephen Gould of the CRS includes moving most of the printed information used by Congressional offices to electronic format, including bills, committee reports, etc., use of “groupware” software to “streamline congressional work processes,” and the use of video conferencing. It could be argued to explicitly plan for a system such as this, and deal explicitly with the political ramifications would be extremely difficult. It seems more likely that technology will advance within the walls of Congress and they will structurally respond to technology and not use IT as a tool to force reform.

In terms of more basic inter-networking the House Representatives launched a project to test electronic mail from constituents in about 6 member offices. Legislative institutions and staff are already overloaded with information and they operate to manage and control the information flow and do not desire to increase it. The pilot project requires that the people who want to send electronic mail must write to the Members office first and register in their system to verify that they live in the district. Unlike the White House which accepts electronic mail messages from anywhere and has a relatively high volume, this project has not generated high volumes of correspondence. In fact, many have been disappointed by the low volume of traffic. (This should change over the years as more of the public begins to use electronic mail services.) It could be argued that the qualities of electronic correspondence do not lend itself to the generation of high volumes of mail from one individual to a single office and the lack of residency in district may make the ease at which an incoming message can be deleted enough of a deterrence to prevent abuse of such a system. (The White House has set up a system that auto- responds to message to verify receipt and it is printed out and responded through normal postal channels.)

As Congressional staff have more experience and training on the Internet they will see it more as a staff resource tool. This is beginning to happen. The use of electronic mail forums will allow them to link into the currently established research networks that are involved with the issues they are assigned to. When they have a need to find information quickly and the databases provided to them do not return useful information, many will find posting a basic question to scores of experts in that field through one electronic mail address an attractive option. This same idea can be applied to legislatures and parliaments at both national and regional levels in all countries. Over time active staff on these networks will become aware of each other and new lists and forums will be created to suit their needs and perhaps create international networks of legislative staff.

The questions that can be raised in this are are many. How will this affect how the public agenda is set in a legislative body? Will increased communication result in a coalescing of political forces with similar ideologies or agendas across nations? And will this lead to the conceptual globalization of public problems and proposed solutions?

Policy Implications and Analysis

The paper will now examine a few overarching policy implications and factors that are important in the context of electronic communication and inter- networking.

Human Networks

With all the discussion of computers, data networks, and databases it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these networks are based on the interaction of people. The application of more advanced information technology allows the individual to expand their presence into other social, political, and economic circles that was not possible before at such a relatively low cost. Within an individuals organizational context the information and knowledge that a person has to contribute is most often transferred through human interaction.(10) So the electronic networks that a person is tied to are a foundation and information and input source and become represented by the actions and policy positions of an individual in their organization. The existence of a database may assist in making specific information available when needed, but time for the person to analyze and convert the information into applicable knowledge is important.

The various “affinity networks” can also be viewed in social terms. Like various groups in any society, there are norms, values, and rules that people operate by. It is often the case that people new to the medium of electronic communication conceptualize the receiver of their communication as a machine and not a person. With experience and an understanding that longer-term relationships with people are being built, a person will get the sense that this is a human network. And while people will be less likely evaluated on their physical characteristics or age, they will be scrutinized on their use of language and writing style, their ability to construct rational arguments or questions, personality quirks, or lack of substance that can be perceived easily in many situations.


One of the commonly stated effects of electronic communication and its ability to break through other communication and bureaucratic barriers , is that it flattens hierarchies that can lead to a decentralization of power. This has been most observed as IT has spread through corporations:

By its very nature, electronic mail blasts aside typical corporate hierarchies because the messages are undifferentiated – there is no fancy letterhead…. [it] “has produced a new social fabric for the R&D community that cuts across corporations and the hierarchy of organizations that creates a new kind of accessibility. It is easier to send e-mail to very important people, people whom you would never consider calling or writing.”(11)11

These lessons apply to interaction within a government agency and beyond. Not only will people within an organization gain new ways to access information that used to flow from the top of the organization, they will also be able to compare their own status and work effort to others they have built connections with in other government organizations. Information control is one of the prime sources of power a bureaucratic agency has. If the organization cannot maintain control over their information, their relationships with other government agencies will likely shift. These shifts are considered by many to be positive and it is argued by many that it will lead to a more efficient public sector.

Policy Development

As described earlier, information networks will change the way policy is developed. There are advantages to having the world at your finger tips, but that does not necessarily mean you will utilize those networks. For organizations and people to capture the potential in this area they need to rethink and plan for how they will use this resource and integrate it into their work. The problems of information overload, sifting through useless information, and the need for training will all need to be dealt with. Also, as we have observed with the prevalence of the fax machine, rapid communication does not necessarily bring about better policy. It may actually reduce the time people have to digest information and to create workable knowledge for use in determining policy directions. As the public sector has more experience with this type of communication we will have a better sense of how to address these issues or at least gain a better sense of our limits.

The use of electronic communication is often a good channel through which to better define the issues, but it does not necessarily bring you toward a solution. Over time weaker arguments (or granted, those with fewer in-house research resources) may become apparent. However, the relatively low cost of basic electronic mail may actually allow smaller voices to be heard. This may lead to the raising of more policy questions and require more work to be done to bring a policy issue to a point where policy makers at a certain site feel comfortable making a decision. One addendum to the inclusion of smaller voices is that strong economic and political interests will adapt to this technology as well and attempt to use it to their benefit.

The Media and Political Importance

The role of the media is very important in public policy. The use of IT has also revolutionized the way news flows around the globe. What will happen when more and more governments go straight to the people with their press releases in an attempt to inform the public or to influence public opinion? The Clinton Administration releases speeches and important documents electronically and NATO has a press release service on the Internet as well. The fact that the leader of the United States puts releases out for public consumption may spur more national governments and opposition parties to do the same.

Over the last year the number of articles in the popular press on the Internet, the National Information Infrastructure, etc. has numbered over a thousand. The year before it was about fifty. What happens when the Internet moves from being covered as a thing, to a respectable gauge from which of public feeling or interest can be determined? When will fifty people protest an issue electronically to a government entity become equated with fifty or say ten people physically picketing a government office? How will policy makers and government staff approach the Internet if it becomes a source for story ideas about what government is doing, not just related to technology? How will they react when they are quoted in their local paper from a message they posted to a public electronic mail list? And how will the media react when the public and government officials send their comments and opinions about stories directly to the reporters electronically?

Role of Government

The role of government in the economy and society is geared toward the promotion of economic growth through the market system and addressing issues related to social and educational development. The general trend in market countries is to move from more coercive regulation toward more non-coercive education of the consumer that will spur industrial and social changes driven by consumer demand. The predominant role for many government organizations is to compile and produce information for others to make decisions from. The expense involved with publishing and broadcasting often limits the amount of awareness a government organization can build from released information.

For example, a government might collect data on when an industrial plant has violated pollution standards. Through the use of IT, information may be readily available to the public and retransmitted by concerned local citizens to environmental groups across the country and used to put pressure on other offices in the corporation. This might influence the company to deal more seriously with their pollution problems or risk consumer backlash. Another example might be an international government organization that deals with human rights. They might not have the power to place sanctions on a country for human rights abuse, but they would be able to inform the humans rights and trade offices of the member countries on a regular basis and spur a coordinated response. This also raises the possibility that governments and citizens of different countries might become more deeply involved in monitoring and reacting to the domestic activities within other countries in areas beyond the normal pervue of foreign policy.


The overview of the policy implications and current efforts in the use of information technology networks sought to bring out some of the issues government will need to deal with. While improving the governments use of information technology and promoting increased inter- networking is important, the essential ingredient is the creation of a purpose for improved communication. Government organizations need to prepare for increased communications and where appropriate restructure their organizations and information flows to take advantage of the benefits of inter-networking.

To help this process along a few suggestions include:

¥ Collecting evidence and anecdotal stories about how the government has been made more efficient, effective, or that services provided to the public improved because of ideas imported from elsewhere.

¥ Setting up a few pilot initiatives that use current technologies to link government workers based on common interests between nations.

¥ The redirection of some of the public resources geared toward the R&D in technology toward the development and testing of applications in government.

¥ Create incentives for government workers to scan the global information networks for ideas on how to improve their work and their agency’s delivery of services and incentives for employees to share information and knowledge electronically.

¥ And create a role for the United Nations, UNESCO, the International Telecommunications Union, the OECD, and other international organizations to assist in the creation of government “affinity” groups based on potential areas of collaboration and to work to build the value of these forums for the participants through electronic group facilitation.

With projects like these and the ability of people and the ability of institutions interested in these issues to communicate through the established internetworking, it will be possible to capture the lessons for the public sector. In the near future perhaps we will see the creation on an international “affinity” group of people, advocates within the public sector, who are interested in developing initiatives to ensure that government moves forward in the application of electronic communication to improve its work.


1 A good source of information on the issues facing the developing world see Global Communication and International Relations (1993), written by Howard Fredrick.

2 OECD “Information Networks and New Technologies: Opportunites and Policy Implications for the 1990s,” Information Computer Communications Policy #30. (1992) p. 23 Note: I sent a general research request to a number of people on the Internet and asked if anyone had the e- mail address for Dieter Kimbel who wrote most of this article. After being referred to someone at the International Telecommunications Union who used to work at the OECD, I was given Dieter Kimbels e-mail address and have had correspondence in reference to my original research request.

3 NASIRE Report, “Serving the Citizenry through Opening the Enterprise.” Draft, August 1993. p. 1-4 This draft report was developed by the Open Systems Subcommittee of the Information Policy Committee of the NASIRE.

4 Anderson Consulting, “Open Systems in Minnesota State Government: A Readiness Assessment” (November 1993) p. 3

5 OECD “Information Networks and New Technologies: Opportunites and Policy Implications for the 1990s,” Information Computer Communications Policy #30. (1992) p. 33

6 European Commission, “Proposal for a Counncil Decision on aseries of guidelines for trans-European data communications networks between administration.” (March 1993) p. 8 Note: After I electronically released a draft of this paper on the Internet, I received a few comments back that were more skeptical of the European Communities actual implementation in this area. The general consensus was that it will take some time before the various government bureaucracies start major electronic communication among member states.

7 Working Group on Government-wide Electronic Mail, Integrated Services Panel. “Final Report: A Unified Federal Government Electronic Mail Users’ Support Environment.” Part I, near end. (December 1993)

8 Public Technology Inc. “Local Exchange.” – flyer and information packet

9 Gould, Stephen. “Employing Information Technology to Facilitate the Conduct of Congressional Business.” Chapter 9 from Congressional Reorganizations: Options for Change. (Sept. 1992) p. 62

10 Grosser, Kerry. “Human Networks in Organizational Information Processing.” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology p. 349-50

11 Tekla, Perry and John Adam. “E-mail pervasive and persuasive.” IEEE Spectrum. (October 1992) p. 28 . The subquote is attributed to Lucky at AT&T Bell Laboratories.


Anderson Consulting, “Open Systems in Minnesota State Government: A Readiness Assessment” (November 1993) p. 3

European Commission, “Proposal for a Counncil Decision on aseries of guidelines for trans-European data communications networks between administration.” (March 1993)

Gould, Stephen. “Employing Information Technology to Facilitate the Conduct of Congressional Business.” Chapter 9 from Congressional Reorganizations: Options for Change. (Sept. 1992)

Grosser, Kerry. “Human Networks in Organizational Information Processing.” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology

NASIRE Report, “Serving the Citizenry through Opening the Enterprise.” Draft, (August 1993).

Public Technology Inc. “Local Exchange.” – flyer and information packet

OECD “Information Networks and New Technologies: Opportunites and Policy Implications for the 1990s,” Information Computer Communications Policy #30. (1992)

Tekla, Perry and John Adam. “E-mail pervasive and persuasive.” IEEE Spectrum. (October 1992)