Three patterns to understand e-government: The case of Colombia

José Rodrigo Córdoba-Pachón*, Kevin Orr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - E-government initiatives are becoming common worldwide, but conceptual elements to understand their development, implementation and consequences are still lacking. Drawing on a contextualisation of e-government in the information society and traditions in public policy, the aim of this paper is to offer three different patterns for thinking about e-government. The paper's inter-disciplinary and reflexive approach, as well as referencing a particular case (Colombian e-government initiative Gobierno en Línea), seeks to unsettle the taken-for-granted aspects of the policy discourse of e-government in ways that can illuminate practice. Design/methodology/approach - From policy-making and information systems, the authors review two dominant views on the information society to contextualise three patterns to think about e-government. The first pattern (idealist) focuses on adopting a "vision" or "best practice" for government's use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The second pattern (strategic) emphasises the shaping of designs and uses of such technologies by different stakeholder groups. The third pattern (power-based) conceives of any e-government initiative as being the by-product of power relations in a context, leading to different ways of thinking about e-government (traditions). Analysis can then generate opportunities for the use of power by individuals and governments. The authors study these patterns in the Colombian e-government initiative (Gobierno en Línea) by analysing relevant government policy strategic documents during the period 1997 to 2007 and validating these via a semi-structured interview with the director of this initiative. Findings - By using these patterns the authors are able to illuminate the complexity of e-government initiatives, and how each pattern contributes a different way of understanding. In the Colombian case we find that these patterns are intertwined and require us to go deeper in thinking about the context of relations between individuals and their governments. Practical implications - For public sector managers (and in particular for those in developing countries), the definition of these patterns can help them to assess critically the opportunities and limitations of the projects on e-government in which they are involved. The findings also raise issues that can inform implementation strategies. Originality/value - The paper presents an alternative and inter-disciplinary perspective to the study of e-government that unsettles taken-for-granted assumptions about it. Rather than accepting its idealist rhetoric uncritically, the paper provides individuals (citizens, researchers, policy makers) with ways to identify assumptions, strengths and weaknesses of our ways of thinking about it. The paper also opens opportunities to investigate contextual traditions that shape e-government policy, implementation and use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)532-554
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Public Sector Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2009


  • Colombia
  • Government
  • Information society
  • Management power
  • Online operations
  • Public policy


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