eGovernment? What’s that?
Ask almost anyone, I just tried, about eGovernment and, if my experience is any guide, ten out of ten will say, “Huh? What’s that?” Of course, I didn’t ask any experts, just casual acquaintances, sales people and a few unlucky souls at the gym where I work out. Nevertheless, I was astonished to find that this important development in digital democracy was almost unknown. By explaining a bit and coaxing answers, two people replied, “voting machines?”, and another spoke of paying taxes online. Perhaps in other parts of the world the response would have been different – perhaps, but I suspect in most places the responses would have been roughly the same.
Ok, then, what is eGoverment about, what does it do, how does it do it and what is expected of it? eGovernment, or electronic government, simply put, uses information and communication technology (ICT) of all sorts to provide public services.
Although, eGovernment is known primarily for the access to information and to government services it gives citizens, it also refers to the internal use of information and communication technology to facilitate the workings of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and their agencies. There are, in fact, several recognised forms of eGovernment including government-to-citizen (G2C), government-to-government (G2G), government-to-business (G2B) and government-to-employees.
eGovernment can facilitate the delivery of public services, cut costs and improve efficiency throughout the government, increase government transparency and help insure that a government is working effectively and honestly on behalf of its citizens. In many respects, it is not much different than the way businesses use ICTs for marketing and sales, customer support or for internal operations of all sorts.
The introduction of ICTs changes the way businesses operate, it changes more than the processes; just as often it changes the outlook and the vision of where the business is going and of the mission it has to accomplish. Just as ICTs can set in motion the reinvention of a company, it can be expected to do the same for many governments.
A fully connected government – with fully connected governance – is a different government. It is not only more efficient internally, it is more responsive to the needs of its citizens and much better able because of information sharing to support the country’s economic development, provide disaster relief and coordinate instantly between all the agencies involved in responding to a crisis. The ability to share information between agencies and branches of government also makes it possible to coordinate policymaking and the implementation of cross-agency programmes.
Among the most important benefits of a fully connected government is the platform it provides for citizen participation. Is there a new project, an economic policy, a need to engage a great number of citizens to support grand programmes? A fully connected government makes all this easier; it not only gives citizens a way to get involved and express their opinions; importantly, it also makes it hard for governments to ignore them.
Nevertheless, despite all the advantages of eGovernment, a number of studies, including by the United Nations, have shown that where online public services are common, but traditional channels are still available, citizens prefer to have both available. There are times it is more comforting, and more effective, to speak with – or satisfying to harangue – a person instead of a machine.
Clearly, though, eGovernment programmes can improve the management of government activity, increase efficiency and the speed of government reaction, provide more accountability and transparency and offer quicker, better, channels for public services. The biggest advantages of eGovernments, of fully connected eeeeeeeeGovernments, though, are the degree and types of interactions they make possible.
Generally, as a first step governments begin by making information available online – laws, regulations, legal notices, holiday closings of offices, public hearings, agricultural information and the like. The second step offers interactive communications; citizens can ask questions, send comments regarding proposed regulation, lodge complaints and so forth. In the next phase, one can file tax returns, request documents, renew licenses, request services, do business with the government or participate in government tenders for goods and services.
In more advanced phases, good governance is the goal.
Governance is a not an easy idea to define; it has many different definitions according to its context. For businesses and organisations, good governance often means establishing policies and consistent procedures for corporate control, accounting and decision making that guarantee the rights of shareholders and the ethical behaviour of corporate officers.
For governments, some of the same elements apply, but the emphasis is upon the transparency of government operations, the rights of citizens to access information regarding government decisions and operations, upon properly directing the use of political power and public resources to administer social and economic problems and affairs. The main focus of governance, as related to government, then, has to do with the proper use and monitoring of political power and public resources in behalf of its citizens.
There is even a mashup between political science and the open source/ open content movements called Open Source Governance that wants to use the principles behind the Wikipedia to let citizens – anyone, really – insert their ideas into policy documents. This variant of the eDemocracy philosophy opens policy and, perhaps, legislative development processes to the wisdom of society as a whole by providing online interactive tools.
Open Source Governance substitutes electronic iteration for the open forum of Greek democracy. Democracy was first conceived about 500 BC when the world’s entire population numbered around 100 thousand people; the population of Athens, the city-state where first democracy first developed was tiny by today’s standards and, even then, not everyone was entitled to vote. Open Source governance and eVoting, using the power of ICTs are the only way we might one day develop a system capable of making fully participative democracy possible in today’s overcrowded world.
An online direct democracy calls for the use of the Internet and other communications technologies to create electronic forums and otherwise use ICT to make wide ranging, universal, deliberative process possible. Online voting – which would raise a series of profound security, privacy and identity authentication issues – is an essential part of an online direct democracy. In an online direct democracy, citizens would propose, comment upon, modify and vote on legislation.
Ross Perot, twice an independent candidate for President of the United States (1992-1996) and the founder of Electronic Data Systems (EDS), a data processing powerhouse, proposed electronic town halls during his presidential campaigns. No country or government has yet adopted online democracy. Although ICT has been used for voting, it has been tightly controlled and used only at traditional polling places; it is still far from being an everyday, log-on-to-the-Internet-and-vote affair. No government that I am aware of has yet adopted full-scale electronic town halls where citizens, not legislatures, debate the affairs of state.
eGovernments are coming; you can already find varying degrees, greatly varying degrees, of eGovernment in countries throughout the world. The United Nations evaluated the state of eGovernment readiness and of the extent of eParticipation of each of its 19 its member nations and created an index to rate them based of an assessment of their websites, their telecommunications infrastructure and their human resources.
The first five countries had readiness ratings between 0.91 and 0.86. In contrast, the world average, at 0.4514, is less than half that of the leading countries. Parts of Africa hold the tail light at an average of 0.2110, and a number of countries there barely pass the mark of 0.11
Rank Country Index
1 Sweden 0.9157
2 Denmark 0.9134
3 Norway 0.8921
4 United States 0.8644
5 Netherlands 0.8631
eGovernment and the social, economic, health, educational and other service it can provide will have a big impact on the world, especially the developing economies, in the coming years. Indeed, it must.
If governments do not take the lead, especially through eGovernment programmes of all types, there is little hope that the digital revolution, the Information society, will flourish in many of the world’s developing regions.
Masdar City is the most ambitious sustainable development in the world today – it will be the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste, car-free city powered entirely by renewable energy sources. It is part of the Masdar Initiative; a long-term strategic endeavour by Abu Dhabi to accelerate the development and deployment of clean future energy solutions. By taking sustainable development and living to a new level, Masdar City will lead the world in understanding how all future cities should be built. The City is a free zone cleantech cluster, which is already attracting the world’s best in all areas of sustainability, from renewable energy to biomass. All types of companies including innovators, incubators, research and development, pioneers and solution providers will be part of the journey to create, work and live in Masdar City.
Masdar City is more than a concept – it is happening. Phase One of Masdar City has now begun – The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is underway and Masdar City will be home to 100 students and faculty by fall 2009. Masdar is embarking on a global drive to attract industry partners in the field of ICT to achieve this important objective.
Your expertise in ICT solutions will contribute to the development of a blueprint for the cities of the future.
To find out how to become a partner please visit us at http://www.masdaruae.com
The next issue of Connect-World Europe will be published early next month. This edition of Connect-World will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows such as: Mobile World Congress, (Barcelona, 16-19 February), CeBIT 2009 (Hanover, 3-8 March), and IPTV World Forum, (Olympia, London 25-27 March 2009).
The theme of this issue of Connect-Word Europe will be – Mobile and wireless – much more than voice and entertainment.
Wireless, both mobile and fixed, is rapidly growing in importance throughout the world. The boarders between mobile and fixed wireless are blurring with the advent of the femtocell and the use of mobile networks for fixed broadband access in regions not reached by fixed broadband infrastructure. Either LTE or WiMAX, depending upon the region and the local operators, will soon bring true wireless broadband to many with no other access. The advent of inexpensive smartphones will stimulate demand from businesses and individuals alike for a wide variety of more sophisticated services and applications. Internet services, Web 2.0 applications, location-based technologies, unified access (a single phone number for everything) and of course an increasing variety of high-level entertainment services – both time and place-shifted – are all going mobile. Web-based social communities are going mobile as well.
Device size and capacity limitations, user-friendliness and quality of experience considerations, especially those associated with mobile communications, will stimulate the use of cloud computing – using the Internet itself for the services once available only on a computer – and should propel the growth of SaaS (software as a service) as well. The almost unlimited functionality that cloud computing and SaaS bring will also accelerate the trend towards more versatile user equipment – especially touch screen and two-way camera phones.
The growth of wireless communications, especially wireless broadband, is driving fierce competition among operators, service providers, network equipment vendors, end-user equipment suppliers, software developers, applications developers and content providers. Outsiders, such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others are entering the market with their own platforms and applications and changing the rules of the game.
Everyone is after a piece of the market, but the market has its limits, so new business models, some advertising-driven, are emerging.
This issue of Connect-World Europe will explore how the changes brought by this wireless revolution will affect the sector and the region’s businesses and citizens.
Europe I 2009 Media Pack; Click here