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CLARITY – Eight considerations for the up-take of open eGovernment services in Europe

By Thordis Sveinsdottir, 16 June 2017

We are the project co-ordinator for the Horizon 2020 funded CLARITY project, which focuses on driving up-take of open eGovernment services in Europe.  Further to leading the project, Trilateral has also undertaken research to arrive at key considerations for the up-take of eGovernment services in Europe, which are presented in the newly published  project report D2.3 Considerations for the up-take of eGovernment service in Europe.

The focus of our work is to ascertain the drivers and needs that lie at the heart of open eGovernment service provision and the barriers that slow down or hinder successful take-up of said services within four focus areas:

  • General practice health services
  • Local government services
  • Services to SMEs & Self-employed
  • Services to disabled citizens

The considerations are the result of the findings from the desk research and a horizontal analysis of drivers, needs and barriers across the four focus areas. These are presented here in summary form but are available in full in the report on the CLARITY website.  The literature and the experts we interview broadly  agree that these steps must be considered to increase the take-up of open eGovernment services across Europe:

Strong national policy will provide the necessary push and a framework around open eGovernment efforts within each member state. It will provide a drive for regional and local governments to develop and implement their own policies, that are tailored to their context.  Strong national, regional and local policies also give a push for the dedication of resources, and prioritisation of eGovernment development, which is needed to design, develop and implement services across Europe.

Long term planning, which includes an in-depth and critical review of the foundations of current service delivery systems and governing structures.  National, regional and local governments need to have the confidence to define future goals and draw up step-by-step plans on how to get to their desired future.  If this phase is skipped, or if planning is too short term the risk is that systems and service development is driven by technology vendors which may result in new solutions that are ill-fitting, proprietary and ill-integrated with other systems.  Governments and government units need to take ownership of the process from initiation to implementation as they are the most knowledgeable about their own needs and those of their citizens.

ICT systems that are open source, flexible and scalable should lie at the heart of open eGovernment service delivery.  In the procurement of new systems and applications, care should be taken to choose open systems (open API), that can be amended easily to fit different contexts of use and are easy to integrate. These will also allow smaller governmental units to adapt solutions, already tried and tested by larger units, to fit their smaller operational capacity.  This will lower cost and allow for knowledge transfer and peer learning across the open eGovernment ecosystem within each member state.

Building critical mass in the form of building collectives of service providers (whether they be General Practices, social care units or municipalities) will help lower cost of equipment, training and open eGovernment solutions. These can also act as support networks and peer learning environments that can share maintenance contract costs. NHS England is working on this as part of the General Practice Forward View initiative, and this is also being carried out in Sweden as part of the drive for municipalities to become part of INERA AB, which brings together municipalities and regional authorities across Sweden with the aim of providing eGovernment services as well as eHealth services for citizens. This will assist smaller municipalities that may struggle to implement change due to a lack of resources.

Building strong government data practices and skills.  Data is of key importance for opening eGovernment service delivery and providing citizen-centric and personalised services.  Governments and government departments hold considerable amounts of data that can be used to create value inside and outside governments.  Data is vital to the design, development and implementation of open eGovernment services and the foundation to cutting down on administrative burdens associated with accessing and using public services. Governments should develop detailed and comprehensive data policies that cover openness, transparency, data collection, storage, analysis, formats and security. These should also include detailed planning on how to move towards data openness and use of data for purposes of service delivery. As is strongly indicated in the literature, staff data skills will also need considerable updating, to make the transition to data driven services and open data successful.

Financial incentives and support to increase implementation of eGovernment services within governmental units, e.g., provision of initial funds, financial sponsorships, reimbursements for adoption, pay-for-performance initiatives etc.  Bearing in mind that costs and tight budgets are identified as considerable barrier to driving implementation of open eGovernment services this solution could be scalable and include different funding options.

ICT skills training needs to be a policy priority to mitigate the identified effects of low skills are having on both the service provision and service use sides. This is a complex issue that will need a multi-pronged approach and communication and collaboration with the education system in each member state.  Local and regional governments should also put this on their policy agenda and ICT skills development should be a standing item within open eGovernment planning and policy.  It is important that a variety of education and training options are available to citizens as one size does not fit all. Being more knowledgeable, skilled and confident in ICT use will be a strong driver for government staff, as well as citizens to take-up open eGovernment services.

To increase citizen trust in open eGovernment services is necessary to increase up-take.  The literature indicates that there is an overall distrust in governments, which will influence how citizens perceive open eGovernment services.  There is however an opportunity to increase citizen trust by highlighting the transparency and accountability that comes with conducting government affairs in a more open manner.  Citizens are also increasingly invited to take part in practices that have until recently been entirely within government control such as policy making, budgeting and eDemocracy voting.  Regarding distrust when it comes to the handling of personal data, privacy and data security, it is imperative that governments are transparent about their data practices and communicate clearly how data is used, stored and who has access to it.  Anonymization methods, encryption and details of security measures, should also be made available to citizens. Last, but not least, it is important that governments use clear feedback mechanisms on their service pages so that citizens can easily get in touch with government staff with complaints, general feedback and queries.  These should also be responded to promptly to display to citizens that these are received and considered.

The full deliverable report is available here.

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