Mr. Liu Zhenmin Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Welcome Remarks and Substantive Key Messages
Launch of the 2020 United Nations E-Government Survey

Colleagues and friends from around the world,

I am very pleased to join you in this global launch of the 2020 United Nations E-Government Survey.  This launch is taking place during an unprecedented global crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting enormous and far-reaching challenges – to humankind, to countries, governments, and to businesses.

The international community, under the leadership of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, is working hard to address the challenges. This includes through digital solutions and innovative ways to preserve and ensure business continuity. Indeed, adversity and opportunity are two sides of the same coin.

It is in this setting that the 2020 E-Government Survey unveils development trends of digital government around the world. It shows how countries are pivoting and innovating to meet new challenges and support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The E-Government Survey is widely recognised by digital ministers, national chief information officers, as well as other policymakers and researchers in public administration and information and communication technology.

Now in its eleventh edition, the Survey is an invaluable dataset built over the past 20 years, providing insights of development trends. It has become an important ranking, mapping and measuring tool for countries in pursuing digital government. Like many UN publications, the 2020 E-Government Survey is the result of collective team effort.

I extend my appreciation to many partners and experts and volunteers who have contributed to the Survey in one way or other.

The Survey also benefited from close collaboration with various UN agencies and offices, including UN Regional Commissions, United Nations University, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN Habitat. I also acknowledge the valuable contribution of data sources from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

I also extend a special thanks to the following partners, who have committed to translate the Survey into other UN official language:

  • the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of United Arab Emirates for the Arabic edition;
  • China National Academy of Governance for the Chinese edition;
  • the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations, and Aerospace Industry of Kazakhstan for the Russian edition; and
  • University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the Spanish edition.


I will now share some insights and key findings of the 2020 UN E-Government Survey.

At the outset, I would like to note that much of the work on the Survey – particularly the data collection, review, and analysis – was done before COVID-19 had emerged.

It is for this reason that the Survey follows its usual pattern – data presentation and thematic chapters – but with an Addendum that specifically addresses the pandemic.

And while we view everything now – naturally – through the lens of the pandemic, I invite you to join me for the next few minutes and do what the Survey does. Step back and consider its assessments first, followed by the overlay of how COVID-19 has interacted with digital government.

I will start with development trends at the global, regional and local levels, and then share some findings in three thematic areas, on 1) e‑participation, 2) data governance, and 3) digital capacity.

Globally, the 2020 Survey highlights a persistent positive trend towards higher levels of digital government development.

This is seen in how the Survey tracks the progress of digital government of all 193 UN Member States, through the established E-Government Development Index, or EGDI.

More than 65 per cent of Member States, – 126 countries – have fared very well — with High and Very-High E-Government Development Index levels.

Over 20 per cent – 42 countries – recorded upward movements from lower to higher levels of e-government development.

This positive progress is visible even in countries in special situations and those with limited resources. While e-government rankings tend to correlate with the income level of a country, financial resources are not the only critical factor in advancing digital government.

As we observe in the Survey, very often, a country’s political will, strategic leadership and commitment to advance digital services, can improve its comparative ranking.

Close to 80 per cent of countries offer digital services for youth, women, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants and poor people, reflecting the vision of 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind.

Regional development follows the global trending – with all five regions making improvements in e-government.

It is reassuring to note that despite the challenges faced in the Africa region, there has been a significant uptake in e-government development. Only seven out of 54 countries in Africa remain in the lowest e-government group.

As a development tool, the Survey pays special attention to countries in special situations.  According to the Survey, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Cambodia have become the leaders in digital government development among the least developed countries. In Africa, we see Mauritius, Seychelles, and South Africa take the lead.

At the same time, the 2020 Survey revealed that digital government divides exist within and between the regions, despite the overall advancement globally. While Asia and the Americas regions are closely comparable in their digital development overall, the gaps among countries in Asia are wider.  Gaps are also seen among countries in Africa and in Latin American and the Caribbean.

There has also been an increase in regional initiatives and partnerships with a strategic focus in digital government. Especially those led by the United Nations Regional Commissions and other intergovernmental bodies, such as the African Union and the European Union.  These initiatives range from:

  • digital economy,
  • digital trade,
  • open government and open data,
  • user-centric evaluation of digital initiatives,
  • disaster risk mitigation efforts, and
  • large-scale digitization of public sector functions.

Adoption of strategic digital policies and implementation plans at the national and regional levels are among recent policy initiatives. Such initiatives demonstrate the importance of regional cooperation and the relevance of digital transformation efforts. They are geared towards specific regional development challenges, but also towards the common goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Having looked at broad global and regional trends, let us go local.

The role of local government is undeniable – as people interact daily and directly, and often identify more with their local authorities. The assessment of local municipal e-governments, first piloted in 2018, has extended its scope from 40 to 100 municipalities across the world in 2020.

The findings show that a city’s digital government development does not necessarily mirror that of its national development. With the exception of the top-ranked cities, local governments generally underperform as compared to their national portals. Most city portals are still offering very basic features – information provision, not service provision.

The Survey calls for a shared vision of local digital government involving all relevant stakeholders. Incentives could encourage local businesses, including micro-, small-and medium enterprises, to participate as partners in developing innovative smart city projects.

Dear Colleagues,

We now look deeper into some thematic areas of digital government.

First is on participation – a key dimension of governance and one of the pillars of sustainable development.  The Survey shows that e-participation platforms have continued to spread in more countries.

But the trend is towards multi-function participation platforms, such as consultations or e-petitions on new policies, opinion surveys, complaint systems, reports of corruption and sharing of ideas. It is not always clear that these online platforms have translated into broader participation. In many cases, the take-up of e-participation remains low.

It is important to be clear on the objectives of e-participation activities, to pay attention to the institutional processes of e-participation. Such as, how e-participation is affected by public trust in institutions, the Internet and social media, and establishing clear linkages between e-participation activities and formal decision-making processes.

The second thematic area is data. There has been a dramatic change of government data in recent years — in its collection, use, security and exchange — supported by new technologies and new forms and functions of data.

The promise to move away from “gut instinct” policymaking has prompted many governments to develop data governance frameworks and data-centric strategies. The aim is to generate public value and drive sustainable development.

The Survey concludes that optimizing the use of government data will make public institutions more productive, accountable and inclusive, in line with the principles reflected in SDG 16. Data-centric government will also help build public trust and strengthen trustworthiness.

But many benefits around government data have yet to be realized, especially in countries in special situations. They face barriers like a lack of understanding of data and data science, the absence of data leadership, resource constraints, and concerns about data quality, security and privacy.

Harvesting public value from data, therefore, requires a long-term approach. It must involve mastering the economics and politics of data governance and management, and effectively manage data security and privacy issues.

Finally, the 2020 Survey also looks at capacities for digital transformation – as a fundamental pillar to governance transformation in support of the SDGs. Unfortunately, many countries still lack the capacities to effectively leverage digital technologies to provide reliable, secure and inclusive services and empower people through open and participatory mechanisms.

The Survey concludes that digital government transformation is itself value-driven. It requires institutional support across all government levels and society.

Dear Colleagues,

As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, a special Addendum on the COVID-19 pandemic is included in the 2020 Survey – to study the societal impacts of the pandemic, the role of digital government, and the equity dimensions. Interestingly, the pandemic has renewed and anchored the role of digital government – both in its conventional delivery of digital services as well as new innovative efforts in managing the crisis.

Other than sharing information online, digital government tools have also enabled governments to make rapid policy decisions based on real-time data and analytics, enhance the capacities of local authorities for better coordination, and deploy evidence-based services.

During the pandemic, governments:

  1. quickly implemented dedicated COVID-19 portals,
  2. organized hackathons with non-government institutions targeting the virus,
  3. implemented e-services for supply of medical goods, for virtual doctors, self-diagnosis apps, and e-permits for curfews, and
  4. quickly deployed tracking and tracing apps, and apps for working and learning from home.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude, digital transformation is now a critical part of the national sustainable development of many countries. And the accelerated pace of digital transformation during COVID-19 is a silver lining.

The world community will need to remain steadfast, constantly innovating even during difficult times. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, the post-COVID-19 world will be different and much more digital than before.

My Department, UN DESA will remain fully committed to supporting digital government and sustainable development. Let us move forward, together, to a new ‘digital normal’ in the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.

Thank you.

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