I was supposed to travel to Bishkek to attend an ICTD/e-governance meeting on 5 June which included the participation of the Primer Minister but was unable to travel thanks to my foot injury (the latest agenda of the meeting is here: Agenda e-leadership). Instead, the CO asked to prepare a draft speech to be delivered on our behalf by the office. Here is the draft I sent which contains inputs from e-gov team members (and builds on the 10 e-gov steps posted earlier).
[Protocol salutations here]
It is a pleasure to be participating in this conference – and to be able to highlight the critical links between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and sustainable, equitable and inclusive development.
It is a critical time for human development. World leaders came together in 2000 to agree on eight broad Millennium Development Goals – recognizing a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. The MDGs reflect key elements for human development and progress and include access to ICTs for all as one of its targets.
As we approach 2015, the global community is looking to set new global development goals – and for the first time in history, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are helping to shape this agenda, thanks to the rapid diffusion on new ICTs across the world. Over half a million people from 194 states and territories have participated in the global “My World” survey for instance – many of which are for the first time having their voices heard in governance processes of this caliber.
The diffusion of ICTs is happening at an accelerated pace – setting historical records. There are now well over six billion mobile subscribers globally according to the ITU, with almost 80% of these in developing countries – and a third of the world’s population now has access to Internet.
Not only are new information and communication technologies (ICTs) helping to make this broad, global participation possible – at the local and national level, they have the potential of fundamentally transforming the way governments and citizens interact.
Indeed ICTs are enabling major improvements in human development globally — linking remote health clinics with specialist diagnostic centers to improve maternal and child health – and linking students in rural areas with teachers and information in urban centers to transform the education sector.
As a means to an end, ICTs are critical catalysts for development, offering governments new ways of engaging with citizens, new avenues for service delivery and new mechanisms for broad participation. The growing demand for ICT solutions and applications, coupled with rapid innovation in the Global South is creating new jobs and enhancing public-private partnerships.
UNDP has been harnessing the development potential of ICTs since the early 1990s when we first launched our first programmes to support the outcomes of the 1992 UN Earth Summit that took place in Rio de Janeiro
Nowadays, E-governance and access to information are key pillars of UNDP’s democratic governance work – making public institutions more effective and transparent, assisting citizens and governments to make public information easily available, improving the quality and coverage of public services and allowing citizens the chance to participate in governance and policy-making processes that affect their lives.
At the end of 2012 UNDP was supporting over 220 e-governance projects in close to 100 developing countries with annual expenditures close to 300 million dollars. Many of these programmes are focused on e-service delivery and access to information via ICTs. In the region alone, we are now harnessing the potential of mobile technologies to bring innovations into e-governance programming by strategically using social media and crowdsourcing tools with the ultimate goal of strengthening both public institutions and the public sphere.
In doing this work on ICT for development and e-governance for over 20 years now we have learned, sometimes through failures, some key lessons which I will like to share with you.
First of all, ICTs are enablers for development, and not end goals. It is not about the technology itself but how ICTs can be leveraged to improve the quality of life of people throughout the globe. This includes not only the usual economic and social development issues but also participation and empowerment. Indeed it is citizens and governments working together that helps make democracy function better – something which can be facilitated by the use of new ICTs.
Also bear in mind that ICTs are not just tools. This view, which can be called the instrumentalist perspective on ICTs, is indeed very common all around. What is missing here is the transformative potential of ICTs. It is not just about making processes more efficient and effective. It is mainly about changing the way de do things in the public sector to be more responsive and inclusive vis-a-vis the needs and demands of stakeholders. Introducing ICTs into an already bad business process will only yield a bad e-business process and not much more. Change and innovation are the new mantra of ICT for development and e-governance in the 21st century.
For e-governance to function optimally, initiatives should be linked to existing national development priorities to foster synergies within government and maximize bang for the buck on e-governance investments. Taking this step also open doors for other partners to join the initiatives, partners that many times are skeptical about the use of ICTs in the public sector.
E-governance policies and programmes should include all critical public sector institutions. That is, the public sector, including local governments, should should be part and parcel of e-governance developments, and have a direct stake in the overall process. Spreading ownership of the initiatives is crucial for long term success. For this to happen, appropriate governance mechanisms need to be designed and put in place.
E-governance programming has to be 100% citizen-centered and be responsive to the priorities of the country to ensure the advancement of human development. To make this happen, e-governance should have concrete implementation priorities which can be identified working in tandem with stakeholders from all sectors. And e-governance priorities should also be implemented in partnership with civil society, the private, etc. This ensure long term success and sustainability of e-governance investments.
E-governance policy design and programme implementation should include not only an understanding of the current status of ICTs in the country,, but also the current level of capacities in each sector, as well as a menu of key business processes in public institutions that need to be tackled from the go. Local capacities in particular are essential for the success of e-governance, capacities that go beyond using technology.
Successful deployment of e-governance demands the creation of institutional mechanisms to facilitate policy development and programme implementation. Bringing in key ministries together to work in coordinated fashion is one the key challenges we have seen in many countries. And ICTs alone will not solve this -which by the way is a political process where political will plays a key role. One way to kick-start this is to focus on interoperability policies and technologies which can show to all involved the immediate impact of e-governance.
E-governance projects need to build bridges between government and the people, providing tools and networks through which to make their voices and needs heard, and enabling citizens to play more active roles in decision-making processes, especially at the local levl. Two-way communication between citizens and government officials, facilitated through innovative ICT approaches, is critical for democratic processes and to ensure people in underserved areas have equal voice.
Finally, e-governance programming should have benchmarks and indicators to be able to track progress and measure success. Here, it is important to keep in mind that indicators should go beyond the usual access to ICTs and instead focus on transparency, e-service delivery and e-participation.
Allow me to finish my intervention by providing a couple of examples that showcase some of the above points.
In Moldova, an e-governance project is supporting the use of ICTs to improve service delivery and public administration processes. The project is developing integrated, on-line public services and training public servants to use ICTs effectively, while also developing the appropriate policy frameworks and laws to undergird access to information and effective, open governance.
In Albania, ICTs are enhancing citizens’ ability to interact with local government, by improving service delivery and increasing their involvement in decision-making processes. The project has integrated ICTs into municipal administration through an e-Participation Portal and an Electronic Document Management System that enables citizens to participate in local consultation processes such as budgeting and urban planning while also helping municipal staff to deliver services more efficiently.
In Uzbekistan, a “One-Stop Shop” for public services has helped improve service delivery in one district there, offering more than 40 services for citizens at one location. The one-stop shop has simplified public service procedures by allowing citizens to take care of government administrative matters at one location, and has reduced corruption by giving citizens free and open access to services.
For sure, improvements in technology alone will not automatically reduce disparities or improve conditions for all – but with targeted interventions, strong partnerships between governments, civil society and the private sector, we can use ICT to advance new, scalable, and sustainable development solutions for all.