The world’s best digital governments, 10 important lessons for Africa
Promoting digital rights in Africa
Only 4 countries out of 54 in Africa scored higher than the world average in the E-Government Development Index (EGDI), according to the latest biennial UN E-Government Survey, whereas 14 countries, namely Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan scored very low EGDI.
The UN’s Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) collated data on 193 countries’ online services, digital infrastructure and citizens’ wellbeing to determine their score on the E-Government Development Index (EGDI). The index measures governments’ ability to deliver public services digitally.
The entire Africa region lags in e-government development compared to the rest of the world according to the report. While the share of African countries with improved EGDI scores expanded in 2018, the upward movement has mainly been from low to middle EGDI-level groups. The number of African countries within High-EGDI level group remains at the relatively modest count of six, including Ghana, Mauritius, Morocco, Seychelles, South Africa, and Tunisia.
Meanwhile, Denmark jumped from ninth to first place in the ranking of the world’s best-performing digital governments. The country of just 5.7 million people comes well ahead of larger economies like the US, which spent an estimated $103 billion on digital last year and failed to crack the top ten.
iWatch Africa’s Gideon Sarpong explores how African governments can adopt some e-government initiatives to improve its ability to deliver quality services digitally.
Digital First Strategy
The UN report attributed Denmark’s quick turnaround to its progressive digital-first strategy, which makes it legally mandatory for citizens to access public services online.
Denmark’s latest digital strategy, introduced in 2016, mandates that all citizens must use public services online and receive email, rather than physical post, from the government. There are exemptions made for people who don’t understand Danish, have a disability or don’t own a computer.
The key to the strategy’s success, according to Rikke Zeberg, director of Denmark’s Agency for Digitisation, is coordination across the entirety of the public service.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s unique in Denmark: this cooperation between the local level and the national level,” said Zeberg. “This means that we can give citizens a digital public sector that’s comprehensive and that appears as one unit from the user’s perspective.”
By making the digital strategy a joint effort across different levels of government, municipalities with fewer resources can benefit from data infrastructure provided by national government. All governments have committed to the same goals and strategy, and all contribute financially, giving it the feeling of a shared venture.
Safety and Security
To retain that trust, the Danish government has focused on upgrading cyber security measures.
According to the report, cybersecurity should be a key focus for governments bolstering their digital services. It points to the growing prevalence of ransomware attacks on governments, such as the 2017 WannaCry attack that disrupted hospitals and businesses in more than 150 countries. It recommends security measures be incorporated early, ideally during the design phase. UNDESA also suggests that governments focus on improving public servants’ digital literacy.
The next step for Denmark, Zeberg said, is delivering a smarter, more personalised user experience. The Agency for Digitisation has already begun testing targeted content: when a citizen nearing the age of retirement logs onto Borger.dk, for example, they will be shown planning options.
“Our public sector is very complex,” said Zeberg. “Digitisation has turned it into a more united one, where you can do almost anything from one digital portal.” —Jennifer Guay
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Below are 10 broad e-participation areas African governments should take keen policy design interest in to improve e-governance development around the continent.
- Development of e-participation policies/mission statements
- Development and design of online tools (on the national portal) to seek public opinion and other input in raw (non-deliberative) form policy formation
- Create sources of archived information (policies, budget, legal documents, budgets, etc.); use of digital channels (including mobile devices/platforms) and open data technologies in the areas of education, health, finance, social welfare, labour, environment.
- Availability of online information on citizens’ rights to access government information (such as Freedom of Information Act or Access to Information Act)
- Develop free access to government online services through the main portal, kiosks, community centers, post offices, libraries, public spaces or free WiFi.
- Availability of open datasets (in machine-readable non-proprietary formats), related policies/ guidance.
- Evidence about engaging citizens in consultation/communication to improve online/mobile services and raise citizens’ satisfaction.
- Evidence about engaging citizens in consultation/communication on education, health, finance, social welfare, labor, environment.
- Availability of “personal data protection” legislation online.
- Evidence about opportunities for the public to propose new open datasets to be available online.
By Gideon Sarpong | iWatch Africa | Follow @gideonsarpong