E-participation rising, but UK now beats Australia at e-government

By David Donaldson

August 4, 2016

Pixelated word GOV made from cubes, mosaic pattern

Australia has maintained its place as the second-best country for e-government in the biennial United Nations e-government survey.

It took out second place to the United Kingdom — which shot up the ranks thanks to early adoption and a concerted focus on digital by the British government — on both this year’s e-government development index and e-participation index.

The UN noted a sharp global rise in the number of countries using one stop service platforms. In 2003, only 45 countries had a one-stop-platform, and only 33 countries provided online transactions. According to the 2016 survey, 90 countries now offer one or more single entry portal on public information or online services, and 148 provide at least one form of online transactional services.

More countries are making an effort to use e-government to ensure public institutions are more inclusive, effective, accountable and transparent, says the report. 128 countries now provide some datasets on government spending in machine readable formats. An increasing number are moving towards participatory decision-making, aided in particular by social media.

While Australia’s e-government ranking is unchanged from the last one in 2014, it’s risen on e-participation, from seventh to equal second with Japan.

The e-government development index is based three measures: the adequacy of telecommunication infrastructure; the ability of human resources to promote and use ICT; and the availability of online services and content. The e-participation index measures three things: e-information — provision of government information on the internet; e-consultation — organising public consultations online; and e-decision-making — involving citizens directly in decision processes.

Top ranked countries, UN e-government survey 2016
Top ranked countries, UN e-government survey 2016.

The UN report noted Australia’s success in using e-government to create joined-up, integrated service delivery in social security and health. Digitally joined-up services are allowing governments to make some services conditional on citizens fulfilling obligations:

“The significance of e-government for integrated policy implementation is evident in the co-joined service delivery of the Australian Government’s Maternity Immunisation Allowance and Child Care Benefit service delivery. Child benefits are made conditional on a child being fully immunised. Due to this conditionality, social protection (with its goal of reducing child poverty) becomes co-joined with public health. Moreover, e-government — in the form of automatic electronic data exchange between computer systems in two government agencies — provides the means with which to efficiently administer the family payments, which are conditional on childhood immunisation status. The networked nature of e-government has given rise to a growth in the conditionality of policy, whereby eligibility for a government service or policy in one policy domain becomes conditional upon the policies and data that fall within another policy domain.”

GovHack rates a mention as an example for the potential in non-government sectors using government data in innovative ways.

The UK “scored well in all areas” and has benefited from early adoption, says the UN:

“Its early adoption of e-government and the considerable evolution since, including many course corrections to integrate lessons learned, contributed to this achievement. In the last decade, the government worked continuously to establish the needed infrastructure; and secure government gateways, interoperability standards, authentication and broadband availability, while also deregulating the telecommunications sector. With the basic infrastructure in place, attention was turned to ensuring faster and more innovative adoption of new technologies for online service delivery. The e-government service progression went from simply publishing information to offering basic interactions, (e.g., e-forms), to full transactional capability (e.g., filing and processing tax returns, welfare benefits, passports, etc.) and to a more complete transformation and reform of public sector online operations and public service delivery. The governance of online public service delivery was changed with the introduction of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) Council and between the e-Government Unit of the Cabinet Office and the Office of Government Commerce. This team was set to transform online service delivery and make it citizens centred, self-service, accessible and enabling. This marked a Whole-of-Government approach in online service delivery, where services are available in a more integrated fashion from various departments; local and central governments. Digital authentications, as well as secure access to the full spectrum of services are being ensured along with efforts to promote digital inclusion.

The report includes a warning about the need to ensure e-government leaves noone behind:

“Advances in e-government must go hand in hand with efforts to bridge the digital divide. Too many people do not have access to Internet or mobile devices. Bridging the digital divide and ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable benefit from the progress in the area of ICT and e-government requires an integrated approach to public policy. This means addressing the various facets of inequality between people, countries and regions — an effort which ICT can also greatly facilitate — while also taking measures to bolster access for all and increasing regional and international cooperation. “Leaving no one behind” thus requires improving access to high-speed broadband connection for all through reliable and high-quality infrastructure, and taking a holistic approach that addresses the social, economic and environmental factors that influence digital inclusion.”

Although Australia has been overtaken by the UK, former head of the UK’s Government Digital Service Mike Bracken told an audience this week he believes Australia is better placed to escape the old ways and develop open platforms of digital government. At the same event the head of Australia’s Digital Transformation Office Paul Shetler — himself a former employee of the GDS, on which the DTO is based — said one of the biggest attractions of the job was the opportunity to do a few things better than GDS.

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