Digital Era Governance (DEG) – the new acronym?
2012 may not be the apocalyptic year that the Mayan mythology suggests, but it will undoubtedly be a year when some of the most radical changes for a generation will affect the social housing landscape. The challenges for good governance will be enormous. Trying to find one unifying strand is difficult, but developing a theme from an academic perspective (1), it may be that for the social housing sector one idea may be coming into vogue: digital era governance.
The concept of ‘digital era governance’ has gained some currency in the public sector but has yet to make any real inroads in the social housing or third sectors. However, its key themes seem remarkably relevant to the emerging landscape: accountability, transparency, and being subject to tenant and customer scrutiny. Using new media and information systems to show good governance and value for money outside the boardroom may well be a defining characteristic of this new world. The increasing ability of some IT systems to capture governance processes and align them with corporate performance, put together with a regulatory framework that is now less prescriptive and (dare I say it) more open to innovation, means the potential for a significant leap forward is greater than it has been for a generation.
Digital era governance is not just about new ways of doing old things. It can address the perceived political legitimacy gap of some models of social housing such as ALMOs and stock transfers. The advent of Web 2.0 technologies and social networking as communication media means that, in time, the so-called democratic deficit can be made good.
Of course, there is still the digital divide to overcome, and a new framework of digital era governance will not emerge overnight; planning the infrastructure for governance in the digital age may take some time. In the meantime, those that take the initiative now may see enhanced accountability, far easier tenant scrutiny, increasingly good governance and, tantalisingly, may also provide a governance model for moving beyond politically entrenched attitudes of ‘who?’ into qualitative questions of ‘how well?’
(1) Patrick Dunleavy, Helen Margetts et al., Digital Era Governance: IT Corporations, the State and E-Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
Mark Sweeney is a Senior Consultant with Altair and can be contacted at or 07887 512165