This article, first published on April 13th 2022, has also been published on Apolitical. Join the Forum Network for free using your email or social media accounts to share your own stories, ideas and expertise in the comments.
As the world hurtles from one crisis to the next—from a global pandemic, to record inflation and geopolitical strife—citizens are looking for reassurance from their governments that they will be protected and provided for. The digital revolution has added an extra layer of complexity for governments in meeting these expectations, asking more of them than ever before.
Citizens today expect their interactions with government to be as fast, efficient and seamless as those with the on-line purchasing platforms they use every day.
Using digital technology to better inform and engage citizens and provide services—while tackling mis- and disinformation, protecting personal data and enabling people to digitally identify themselves in a trusted way—are but a few examples of the new basics on governments’ to-do lists. Citizens today expect their interactions with government to be as fast, efficient and seamless as those with the on-line purchasing platforms they use every day.
However, delivering public services digitally is considerably more complex than delivering shoes or other consumer goods. And, if those “transactions” go wrong, it can open the door to citizen disappointment and distrust of public institutions. On the flipside, when governments are able to fully deploy digital technologies, they become a means to empower citizens as actors in developing stronger and more responsive democracies. Data show that when citizens have meaningful occasions to interact with their governments, they see them as trustworthy.
Governments need to break down silo-driven structures and decision-making processes and think collectively about improving citizens’ user experience when they are interacting with government.
The Covid-19 pandemic revved up many governments’ digital capabilities in the face of the crisis. How can governments consolidate these gains over the long term and deliver on the outcomes citizens have come to expect?
Digitally transforming the public sector is not just about “checking boxes” by adopting new technologies and techniques. It requires a whole-of-government paradigm shift that includes reform of institutional governance, HR management, working methods, and—perhaps thorniest of all—in culture and mindsets.
To overcome a lingering stereotype of a public sector that only engages with citizens when it needs something from them (e.g. “don’t call us, we’ll call you”), governments need to break down silo-driven structures and decision-making processes and think collectively about improving citizens’ user experience when they are interacting with government. Digital technologies can be a great ally in this regard, on the condition that robust digital governance is in place.
But what does that mean in concrete terms?
Building the new now
As administrations seek to mainstream the use of digital technologies and data across sectors and levels of governments, the effective design and implementation of digital government policies need clear and solid leadership, together with the involvement and accountability of all stakeholders (e.g. public sector, private sector and civil society). It also requires the right skills, so that public sector employees have the vision and know-how to effectively transform the way they operate and better meet the needs of the people they serve.
However, in this complex landscape, it is not always easy for governments to know where to start or how to move forward. The OECD E-Leaders Handbook on the Governance of Digital Government provides a practical and easy-to-use toolbox to help policy makers evaluate their administrations’ digital maturity, assess strengths and weaknesses, and chart a path to progress. It identifies three critical governance facets to consider when devising digital governance frameworks:
- What is the national context? Understanding a country’s specific political and administrative culture and structure, socio-economic factors, technological and policy context, and environmental and geographical considerations is a critical starting point. Whether a country has a federal vs. decentralised structure; its level of political continuity; a favourable economic climate; the maturity of its digital industry; its current ICT coverage; and local and regional characteristics are some of the many variables that must be factored in.
- What institutional models are needed? How a government manages its public sector organisations to advance the digital government agenda, how leadership is structured, how—and how well—different government bodies co-operate, and to what extent civic participation has been developed should also shape digital strategies in the public sector.
- What policy levers does a government have at its disposal? Policy levers are the foundation on which enablers for digital government and data are built: strategy and plan, project management tools, financial management mechanisms, and regulations and standards. Using the right mix is also a key consideration.
Real transformation takes time, work and courage. The digital revolution is here to stay, and citizens’ satisfaction with and trust in their governments—and the strength of our democracies—will increasingly be linked to how responsive governments are to their needs. Digital technology can be an accelerator that helps bring citizens closer to their governments and, in the process, create better outcomes for all. Finding the best path to make this happen may take more work than delivering a pair of shoes to the right address, but the OECD stands ready to guide policy makers in this effort.
Read the publication E-Leaders Handbook on the the Governance of Digital Government
Barbara Ubaldi will be a speaker at the On the Road Meeting of the OECD Global Parliamentary Network - Building a secure and inclusive digital future in a post-COVID world (30 June - 1 July 2022).
Find out more about the meeting and the OECD's Global Parliamentary Network, a legislative learning hub for legislators and parliamentary officials.
|Reimagining Democracy||Digitalisation||Tackling COVID-19|