An Interview with Dr. Wohlers

Jacob Jardel
Voices Editor
@JJardel_Writing

Associate professor of government Dr. Tony Wohlers recently saw his first book hit publication.
Wohlers wrote the book “Setting Sail into the Age of Digital Local Government: Trends and Best Practices,” co-authored with Lynne Bernier of Caroll University. He talked with the “Collegian” about the book and the process of putting it together.

Tell us a little about your new book.
“We have all these new technologies – we call them information communication technologies (ICTs). Of course, the Internet is the major medium to make those new ICTs possible. The private sector has been using ICTs for a long, long time to interact with the customers and provide services.
“Eventually, government also bought into this. It first started off at the national level. Then it kind of spread, and eventually the local governments got to use them as well. The book is really about the application of those ICTs to provide information, provide services and allow citizens to engage with their local government.”

How did you take on this topic?
“The way we approached it was to look at it from a comparative perspective. How do other countries employ these new tools at the local level. The book consists of several case studies. We have the United States, Germany, France and Japan. Each chapter provides a macro-analysis of what they do as far as electronic government goes at the local level, then specific case studies in each country. In the United States, it is Seattle. In France, it is Bordeaux. In Germany, it’s Nuremburg. In Japan, it’s Shizuoka.”

How long have you been working on this project?
“This is a project that I have been working on for many years now – probably since 2008. I started looking at ICTs, specifically eGovernment at the local level. I was aware that things have already been done at the national level as far as both research and the use of it. But I noticed that, at the time, not much was actually done at the local level and what kind of strategies local governments use to implement those ICTs and what kind of services they offer with ICTs.
“The first one I looked at was Oklahoma. I compared it to the neighboring states – the southwestern part of the United States. I quickly expanded. I had these case studies in the southwestern part of the United States, and I started taking a sample from each region in the United States – the Midwest, the West, the Northeast, the Southeast and what have you. I ended up with about 30 states.
“I basically took a sample of cities and divided them by population.
“I got a representative sample based on population categories. From that point on, it was all about content analysis of all those websites they had based on a rubric that told me what information they provide.
“The last category is sometimes referred to as electronic democracy, or eDemocracy. That one is the most difficult [and] most sophisticated one. Here, you’re looking for ways local governments engage the citizens. You get kind of different levels in terms of functionality.”

When did you decide to bring in other countries’ policies into the research?
“Once that was done with the United States, I presented things at conferences. That’s where I met Lynne Bernier. She was at the panel where I presented and already doing some research in this area. We decided [to] expand it. At that point, I was already studying Germany. I did the same things. Germany is a federal system, so I did the same things I did here. I did my sampling all over, came up with the basic rubrics for Germany and applied the same principles to France and to Japan.
“We thought, we kind of have an overall idea of how eGovernment functions in all these countries. Now, we also want to know how cities go about implementing it, what strategies they use to implement eGovernment.
“Lynne was there at the University of Bordeaux anyway, so Bordeaux was the next natural fit. I just had to look for a good case study in Germany, and we were looking for successes. A great success story in Germany in terms of implementing eGovernment is Nuremberg. Eventually, we reached out to someone in Japan. He did the content analysis and provided the results.”

What were some of the differences you found among the countries?
“In other countries, like Germany and Japan, you have a more top-down approach – especially in Germany. The German national government has been pushing to implement eGovernment on the local level, providing money and saying, ‘Here’s the money – do it.’ The local governments have to work out the specifics. Nuremburg – they were always ahead of the game compared to other cities that got that national support. Bordeaux is an interesting one. It falls in between Germany and the United States with how they did it, somewhere between top-down and bottom-up.”

Did you have any help from around Cameron?
“I worked with the Office of Public Affairs, and I had them design an image for the book. I suggested to Springer to put it on the front. It was more than the boat. It had a scene. The boat was on the water, but behind was a scene of a city with Japanese features, some Western features. The boat, in the sail, has some flags on it with eGovernment. That image was supposed to reflect the title of the book. I was very happy about that they took the boat and put it inside the book.”

How did you get it all into a book?
“This is the culmination of all the work I have done in eGovernment and public policy. There are book chapters that I’ve published that deal with this. There are some journal articles that deal with it. It fits in nicely in terms of the research agenda I established back in 2008 and 2009 and seeing it through. You start off with something you can easily handle that leads to a presentation at a conference. Then you think about publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Then you keep working on it, keep expanding it. Then you find the co-author so you can handle it. Down the road, there’s enough there for a book. You compile everything, add more things to it, and there’s your book.”

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