Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



Tomasz Janowski, Top International Governance Authority and Founding Head of the United Nations University Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Tomasz Janowski.

Tomasz JanowskiTomasz Janowski is the founding Head of the United Nations University Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance (UNU-EGOV), a newly established research, policy and leadership education organization focusing on the intersection of technology, governance and development, and located in Guimarăes, Portugal.

Over his 20 year career in the UN system, he lectured and organized activities in over 50 countries. He founded and coordinates the International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance (ICEGOV), a leading conference in the area, and serves as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Government Information Quarterly (Elsevier), a leading journal in the area. His research, policy and education work focuses on the analysis, design and performance of technology-enabled governance in different national, local and sectorial contexts, and the transfer of governance mechanisms between contexts. His projects were funded by Macao Foundation, World Bank, Microsoft, UNDP, European Commission, Commonwealth Secretariat and several national governments.

He holds a PhD degree in Computer Science from the University of Warwick, UK and an MSc degree in applied mathematics from the University of Gdańsk, Poland.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the Canadian IT Pro Connection where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:33: From your early years up to the present, can you share a few notable events leading to your current roles and lessons you learned for success?
"....When I shifted my university study from machine building to applied mathematics that was probably the first major notable event that shaped my subsequent professional career....Ten years later in '91 I was lucky to earn a doctoral scholarship for East European countries at the University of Warwick to study computer science there. In '95 I got a job at United Nations University Institute in Macao, from which I departed in 2002 and returned in 2004. From then onwards I was engaged with Electronics Governance. More recently the challenge is taking on the position I'm holding right now to build a new research policy and leadership education institution under the United Nations university system in Portugal. These were the major events that shaped my professional career....I guess the main lesson is openness to change happening around you. We are not hostages of our background or education and it's important to continue adapting and learning..... The second lesson is investment in people. At some stage it's not what you achieve yourself, but how you are able to grow people around you that matters more...."

:03:12: What led you to the founding of the United Nations University Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance (UNU-EGOV)?
"....We have been engaged with Electronic Governance research, policy and education since 2004, and we experience continuing and growing demand in these areas for research training advisory services and more and more this demand is created on the sub-national level. The creation of UNU-EGOV is directly related to this demand, but this was not a sufficient reason. The second condition for the establishment of the unit was the transformation of the Institute in Macao from a more technical to a more social mandate, and the electronic government program finding its own home in Portugal. And finally, the willingness of the Portuguese government and our local host University of Minho to invest in the topic and the UNU presence in the country...."

:05:28: Can you delve even further into the purpose and your specific measurable goals for the organization?
"....The Millennium Development Goals program is officially ending this year and there is an ongoing discussion on what will replace it. In line with those discussions there is clearly recognition of the role of technology and the importance of governance for development, two elements not explicitly recognized in the MDG framework. Our purpose is to support the UN system and the UN member states in transforming the mechanisms of governance. This includes the working of government and building effective governance capabilities at the local, national and international levels through digital technology...."

:08:49: Do you see the benefits to the broader industry in terms of the work that you are doing?
"....The private sector is much faster in terms of adopting digital innovations and responding to digitally savvy customers, so government certainly follows the private sector. The private sector has a key interest in what is happening with the public sector in ICT because of the regulatory and policy making role of government, and the public sector is one of the biggest customers of information technology. In the past most of the innovation were coming one way from the private to the public sector. It's probably still the case today although the recent strong trend is engaging citizens in co-production of public services and this certainly brings a lot of innovation to the public sector as well....Another trend is that more public activities, and public sector activities and public services are delivered by the private sector. As government is not in the technology business, the outsourcing of specialized technological capabilities and the development of software is basically not performed by government but by the private sector. I would say sectoral issues are important, but very often we are crossing sectoral boundaries with the technology and with the technology-enabled innovation...."

:11:43: What is the purpose and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals of the International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance (ICEGOV)?
"....ICEGOV is a truly global forum where electronic government research policy and experience can be shared and discussed across and above any national informatics sectorial development borders. This is a conference that we established in 2007 and it has gone through 8 editions....All together we brought 102 countries as part of the conference. The goal of every edition of the ICEGOV conference is to bring together the leading thinkers, policy makers and innovators to discuss ways to move forward with technology-enabled governance (which is not just the business of the public sector because all sectors are involved in technology-enabled governance)...."

:15:35: What kind of lead times do you normally need?
"....It's really like a 12 month lead-time in terms of preparation and I would say at least 18 months lead-time in terms of deciding the future locations of the conference...."

:16:38: Can you provide an overview of the lessons from the top articles with Government Information Quarterly (Elsevier)?
"....The most frequently cited article is the one that concerns the cultural transparency using information technology. It's an article from 2010 and it specifically refers to the use of e-government and social media as a tool for openness and anti-corruption, and the article is by John Bertot, Paul Jaeger and Justin Grimes. It looks at digital technology as a cost effective means of promoting transparency and reducing corruption and addresses a critical question whether e-government has a potential to create a social change or a cultural change in attitudes towards transparency....Another article refers to the government use of social media. This is a 2012 article by John Bertot, Paul Jaeger and Derek Hansen. It examines how government organizations are interacting with citizens through social media and for the first time it actually identifies that social media use by government raises significant legal and policy issues concerning privacy, security, data management, accessibility, social inclusion, etc, and that the way government has enthusiastically adopting social media use outpaces the development regulatory framework.....The last article that I would like to refer to (to appear in the July issue of GIQ) is about political determinants of the government performance comparing democracies and autocracies by Sebastian Stier. Basically the paper examines the performance of countries in e-governments, considering the political system in these countries whether it's democratic or non-democratic, and the capacity of government where we talk about high capacity or low capacity government...."

:22:03: What does this mean that your research, policy and education work focuses on the analysis, design and performance of technology-enabled governance in different national, local and sectorial contexts, and the transfer of governance mechanisms between contexts?
"....I define my research interests currently along these lines. The rationale is the performance of public sector technologies, electronic governance; for example, performance in terms of effectiveness of public service delivery or effectiveness of engaging citizens or how well we can do in terms of simplifying administration and administrative burden. The performance of these depends on many external factors that are beyond the design of the initiatives themselves, so factors having to do with legal, institutional, economic, social and other aspects of the environment where we deploy the electronic governance initiatives....If we go beyond just technological development there are a lot of factors that play into the importance of taking context into account...."

:25:41: Why do you have these organizations funding your work: Macao Foundation, World Bank, Microsoft, UNDP, European Commission, Commonwealth Secretariat and several national governments?
"....All of these partnerships are based on specific projects or programs; we have been running with these organizations funded by these organizations, and sometimes in co-operation (also in technical co-operation) with these organizations....For example, Macao Foundation is a key partner for us in an electronic government program that we have been carrying out close to a decade in Macao in support of the Macao government, but also transferring outcomes of this program to many developing countries. Macao Foundation has been critical in supporting the ICEGOV Conference series...."

:29:11: What are the key projects and wins from the past and into the future including for 2015 and into 2016? What is the value to stakeholders? You've covered some of this already but can you get into more detail?
"....We are currently commencing two projects that will transfer from 2015 to 2016 and both of them have this complement of context-specific development of electronic governance. One is EGOV for Administrative Burden Reduction....The second project is EGOV for Context Specific Public Service Delivery....We are also completing SMART City for Sustainable Development Project with IDRC (a Canadian research funding research center), and we would also like to continue our work on this project into 2016. In all 3 cases the main value for the stakeholders is establishing state of the art and policy alternatives in the related areas....."

:32:45: How do you view CIO governance challenges and how they can be addressed?
"....I will talk about what I know, which is the role of CIOs for enhancing public governance, (public sector CIOs are my main interest rather than the private sector CIOs). I know that the two worlds are somehow intersecting but also very different, so government CIOs have a different set of challenges than private sector CIOs.....The challenge for public sector CIOs is the need to experiment versus the need to get the most value out of ICT versus the traditional risk aversion typical for government organizations. We see this as a major challenge because particularly in the public sector, people prefer to play this very safe and so innovation is much harder to come by than in the public sector than in the private sector. The second challenge is changing political priorities versus agenda versus 'changing and shifting' all the time of the technological landscape versus long term programming and missions required by government organizations. These to me are always a balance a public sector CIO would have to find and struggle with, knowing very well that the job goes well beyond the technological concerns and even beyond organizational concerns...."

:37:10: Do you have any recommendations for mid-stage developing nations looking for ways to do CIO governance or a repository of information on CIO governance which they could look at or adopt?
"....There are established government CIO systems that have been operating successfully for some time and are often willing to share the lessons of success. Some of the very open systems that I know about; for example, Estonia has a specific dissemination platform called e-Governance Academy. Another is Singapore and there is a corresponding dissemination platform called Infocom Development Authority International, which is like a government CIO office for the government of Singapore. And of course, looking at the experience from the US itself with its extensive legal support for the performance of the government CIO function and the CIO university..... I would say that these are the best sources I can think of, but I would also point out the noticeable lack of formal education in this area to offer an international curriculum...."

:40:39: Do you see the UN providing this function at some point, perhaps through the programs that you already are part of?
"....This is a good question, particularly due to the United Nation's e-government survey being run from the United Nation Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), which would clearly be a good platform for promoting such a repository. The UN Public Administration Network (PAN) could perhaps serve this purpose but is not specific to the government CIO function. But that is certainly an interesting possible host of advisory services and education programs that could be deployed for the needs of government CIOs...."

:42:19: What are the key issues with the ICT sector (particularly computing), and what are your recommendations?
"....If you don't mind I will narrow it down to public sector ICT or e-government and the key issue here is that technology alone cannot deliver. So technology has to be accompanied by organizational and more and more often inter-organizational change, which unfortunately also makes every technology intervention somehow specific, unique, and difficult to transfer from one context to another....Another challenge is that technology alone is value-neutral so it can be used both positively and negatively....Another challenge is more and more, technological knowledge is diffused across different sectors and intersects with domain knowledge, and how increasingly difficult it will be for us to keep these two sources of knowledge separate and also to educate technology and domain professionals separately...."

:44:49: Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials?
"....The short answer is yes, absolutely....A longer answer is that it would be more and more difficult for us to neatly separate technological and non-technological domains and knowledge....We should also be aware of what the boundaries are between computing as a profession and computing as a technical skill and recognize both. So we need both and we need to see the boundary of where a university degree is required to perform computing jobs and where a technical degree is perhaps sufficient. I completely agree with you concerning professional development and quality issues that have to be addressed very much for the computing profession...."

:46:58: From the last question, can you expand on ICT professionalism and your recommendations?
"....Here I would refer specifically to the government CIO profession which is a hybrid of technology, management and public policy experts. For these types of specialized ICT professionals we do need formal education and do need this on the international level. ICT is global; every government needs ICT and increasingly governments have to just work together to resolve common regional and global problems and all of these require the use of ICT. The ICT profession and government CIO profession have to be delivered on the international level so that people speak the same language, not only the natural language, but also the technological language...."

:48:23: How about ethics and your recommendations?
"....Absolutely. Integrity, professionalism, respect for diversity, etc. – no question, a foundation. The responsibility, the influence that ICT professionals hold is such that the training and ethics and a common system of value is critical...."

:49:07: What other areas particularly related to computing do you feel need to be brought into focus for discussion and policy?
"....A lot of weight is on very intelligent ways of responding to the needs of citizens in terms of public service delivery. Knowing what public services a citizen needs, when he or she needs them, how he or she would like to receive them and providing them in a pro-active way. So knowing about the circumstances of citizens and from these circumstances being able to deduce what kind of public service one needs...."

:50:26: Are there any stories that you can share about perhaps some "impossible" challenges you were able to master and perhaps some lessons you've learned from those challenges?
"....I think my main impossible challenge (as you call it), was switching from a very technical computer science background to becoming e-government researcher, policy expert and practitioner. That was a process that took me some years and has been professionally both a rewarding and challenging experience...."

:53:06: Are there any lessons that you can share based on these "impossible" challenges?
"....The first one, the transition from technical expert to policy expert has been to me personally a stretch assignment....I had been thrown into deep water at one moment in my career by having to manage e-government projects with 44 government organizations without having prior experience in the area of electronic government (at that time it was 2004, nobody had much experience). That has been transformative to me in terms of trying to keep my head above the water while all the time looking wise and competent on questions that I was not really wise or very competent about, but also having an opportunity of learning in the process....For another important lesson I will go back to your question about values and the ICEGOV experience, i.e. building specific organizational functions on specific system of values, delivering these values, and aiming in the process at the highest quality you can achieve as well as taking care of your network...."

:55:27: In your current role, what are some of the top resources and lessons that can you share with the audience?
"....Government Information Quarterly as the leading source of information on information technology governance and policy is relevant, authoritative and rigorous....ICEGOV would be an interesting resource for all who would like to learn about the latest developments in information technology for governance, particularly in the development context with a lot of news happening around the world....Going beyond e-government, one of my favorites is EconTalk. This is hosted by Russ Roberts and it delivers weekly reviews and discussions with authors of important research and policy work in economy in general, but also an intersection of economy and technology...."

:57:22: Do you have any predictions that you can make for the future?
"....A few weeks back there was a special issue of the Economist on "On Demand Economy" and I recommend having a look. Based on this my prediction will also be an observation for the growth of the "on demand economy" with all its advantages - flexibility for employees, employers, and customers. And also dangers - social security for employees and quality for employers and customers. I also see a similar trend taking place in the public sector with the just-in-time civil service increasingly being used in the public sector to deliver specialized competencies at the time in the place where they are needed...."

:59:39: What about the sharing economy and its impact (being evidenced by Airbnb and Uber and so much more)? The other one that we are starting to see in the press is deep learning (this rising use of machine learning), and its implications because who knows how it will shape economies, culture, science, business and industry and also governments. What about the impact of those and do you see any discussions about that?
"....There is a tremendous amount of discussion on the trends you mentioned and of course mobile, big data, data analytics. A very interesting publication came up recently from Deloitte on Gov2020: A Journey into the Future of Government that talks about a number of drivers of change and mega shifts that are really worth paying attention to and going onward from the ones that you mentioned..... I feel it is very important to look at the trends, but not to jump into territories where we didn't learn enough so there are limits of risks one can take, particularly in the public sector with new untested technologies. There is a need, a process for the technologies to mature before they're fully adopted, but there is also clearly a need for experimentation and some risk-taking...."

:01:03:24: How can people in the audience act on your predictions?
"....If we talk about on-demand economy I feel that acting on predictions means two things in terms of hiring decisions which increasingly will have to take on-demand economy into account. There are some jobs that are difficult to perform online, but of course ICT is one industry where one can do this online. Then there is an issue of embedding technological solutions in an enterprise context where it's not so easy to perform without knowledge of the local context. The second aspect are the opportunities for software developer/development that power the on-demand economy, because there is clearly no on-demand economy that could happen without platforms (software platforms) that make it possible. I foresee that there will be more opportunities to work with the public sector and more of the public money being spent by the private sector companies, and being able also to engage in innovation in transferring of innovation from the private to the public sector and perhaps back...."

:01:05:08: As a successful executive, what are your best leadership lessons that can be used by the audience?
"....Don't ignore the value system upon which one would like to build his/her organization; define this value system and look for people who share these values and educate and empower young people both in technical and managerial skills and values....It's important for leaders to take this educational role and make young people aware about the importance of keeping their work and life balanced and not pursue career at all costs. So there are boundaries and limits and healthy balance is very important, not only for personal development but also for career development as well...."

:01:07:31: You have many interests. Are there any that you want to share or talk about briefly?
"....Travel would be my interest and I travel a lot, but for some years now I have been unable to separate my traveling from business trips, so I have been unable to fully appreciate traveling for pleasure and discovering new places (though I've been in some interesting places)....I hope to be able to separate this in the future and just travel for its own sake...."

:01:08:25: Tomasz, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.