5 Questions with J. Ramon Gil-Garcia

A smiling J. Ramon Gil-Garcia in a suit jacket and tie
Center for Technology in Government Director J. Ramon Gil-Garcia

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 8, 2021) An expert in government information management and policy, inter-organizational collaboration, and the use of emergent technologies in the public sector, J. Ramon Gil-Garcia was appointed the Director of the Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany) on June 1. He is also associate professor of Public Administration and Policy at UAlbany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.

Under Gil-Garcia’s leadership, CTG UAlbany works closely with multi-sector and multi-disciplinary teams from the United States and around the world, to carry out research and problem-solving projects focused on the intersections of policy, management, technology and data in government.

Gil-Garcia has significantly contributed to the top-ranked academic program in Information and Technology Management offered by Rockefeller College and has chaired this specialization since 2014. He is a member of the Mexican National System of Researchers and of the Mexican Academy of Sciences.

On June 11, Gil-Garcia was named as one of the two inaugural Digital Government Society (DGS) Fellows, which is the most prestigious award given by DGS.

What is the Center for Technology in Government?

The Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany) works with governments worldwide transforming public services through innovations in technology, data, policy and management. A research institute of the University, CTG UAlbany was established in 1993 to pursue new ways to use technology to address practical problems of information management and service delivery in government. CTG UAlbany collaborates with hundreds of domestic and international researchers as well as local, state, federal and international government bodies on understanding and applying emerging technologies.

Some of our recent partners and funding agencies include the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations, United Arab Emirates, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the NYS Department of Health, NYS Board of Elections, the Center for Internet Security, the Adirondack Health Institute, NYS Department of State, NYS Local Government Information Technology Directors Association and the Cities of Schenectady, Syracuse, Gloversville, and Amsterdam.

How has the field of government information management — and CTG — changed over the years?

What we now called Digital Government started probably in the ’60s and ’70s with the introduction of mainframe computers in government agencies. Later, at the end of the ’90s with the invention of the internet and the world wide web, people started talking about electronic government and electronic services. Initially, most studies of information technologies in the public sector were focused on the technical aspects, but more recently there is a recognition that digital government is not only about technological artifacts, but also includes data, management and policy aspects.

CTG has been at the center of this evolution and always exploring the potential of new technologies for government from the internet and websites to social media, artificial intelligence, blockchain and data analytics. CTG was also a pioneer in proposing a more comprehensive view of digital government that acknowledges the central role of emergent technologies, but also explicitly identifies and studies many other organizational and social elements that are essential for a successful implementation.

What role does CTG UAlbany’s location play in its mission to collaborate with local, state, federal and international government bodies?

For CTG, being in Albany has provided an opportunity to closely collaborate with many local governments and state agencies interested in exploring the potential of information and technology to improve their internal operations and service delivery. In addition, being part of several international networks of academics and practitioners, has position CTG as a bridge between researchers and public managers as well as between New York State and the rest of the world.

CTG projects with New York State agencies and local governments have contributed to a better understanding of digital government as a socio-technical phenomenon, which benefits researchers and practitioners around the United States and internationally. Overall, CTG has been able to develop new knowledge based on its projects and infuse this expertise in consulting with and advising New York State agencies and local governments. Translation from research to practice, but also from practice to theory have been hallmarks of CTG for almost 30 years now.

How do your roles of director at CTG UAlbany and associate professor intersect?

My main research focus is the selection, design, implementation and use of information technologies in the public sector, what has been recently called digital government. Digital government is a multi-disciplinary field, which includes, among others, computer science, management information systems, information science, public administration, communication and political science. So, being part of the faculty of Rockefeller College provides me with a unique perspective into the study of digital government; one that emphasizes the importance of managerial practices, organizational structures, governance principles and the generation of public value as the main goal.

In addition, there is a partnership between CTG and Rockefeller College which started many years ago and has as one of its main outcomes the concentration on Information and Technology Management, which has been consistently ranked as one of the top-5 in the nation among all public affairs programs in the United States for the last 20 years. Finally, some of our best students, who work on CTG projects as research assistants, come from Rockefeller College, the Information Science PhD Program, and the Computer Science Department. We highly value our partnerships with other units at UAlbany.

What  are you currently reading?

In general, I like to read science fiction and I particularly enjoyed good utopias and dystopias. I feel that reading science fiction is a good way to imagine the potential impacts, positive and negative, of technologies in the distant future including effects on governments and societies. Similar to how we have learned from Julius Verne, I think good writers can help us travel to situations and specific realities that are still not feasible, but could be part of our future society. I also read fantasy, poetry and books that are not directly related to my work, but could give me interesting ideas.

One example of this latest category is a book I am currently reading. The title is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. It was a recommendation of a CTG colleague and it tells the story of Pixar Animation studios and the lessons one could learn about creating and growing an organizational environment for innovation. Similar to other books like this, some of the recommendations are too general and it is not clear how to apply them to your own organizational setting, but there are a few that really make you rethink about important assumptions we follow without questioning in our daily lives, particularly in our work environments.