E-government – using technology to reach those furthest behind

While artificial intelligence, robotics and other new technologies are sparking what some call the Fourth Industrial Revolution, large parts of the world are yet to enjoy the benefits of the first three. Such basic necessities as clean water and electricity are still elusive for billions of people. But a new survey by UN DESA analyses how the latest technologies can benefit even the furthest left behind – through e-government.

Released on 18 July, the 2018 E-Government Survey concluded that countries in all regions of the world have improved their e-government services delivery to vulnerable populations thanks to the greater ease of gathering, processing and disseminating data and information, and to the decreasing cost of mobile subscriptions and fast-evolving technologies.

The Survey found a steady increase, since 2012, in the number of country websites with information and online services about specific programmes benefiting women and children, persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous people, and people living in poverty.

In the 2018 e-government development ranking, Denmark, Australia, and the Republic of Korea came out on top, scoring very high on the E-Government Development Index (EGDI), which measures countries’ use of information and communications technologies to deliver public services. The Index captures the scope and quality of online services, status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity.

This year, 40 countries made the top tier of the index, compared to 29 states in 2016. These countries also lead in their respective regional rankings in Europe, Oceania and Asia. Mauritius is leading in Africa and the United States in the Americas.

Globally, almost two thirds of 193 United Nations Members States now demonstrate a high-level of e-government development with EGDI values in the range of 0.5 and 1. The share of countries with low e-government levels, in the range of 0 to 0.25, has dropped by a significant 50 percent,  has dropped by a significant 50 percent, from 32 countries in 2016 to 16 countries in 2018.

For the first time, the role of cities has been underlined.  Local governments are indeed the policymakers and catalysts of change. They are also best-placed to bind the SDGs with local communities.

In addition to the rapid e-government growth at the global level, a persistent positive trend towards higher levels of e-government development is also seen at the regional and local levels.

Yet, despite some gains and major investments in e-government development made by many countries, the digital divide persists. Fourteen countries out of sixteen with low scores are African and belong to the least developed countries group.  The regional average index scores for countries in Africa and Oceania are significantly lower than the world average EGDI of 0.55, comprising 0.34 for Africa and 0.46 for Oceania.

This indicates that the digital divide could deepen between people who have access to Internet and online services and those who do not, jeopardizing the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals for leaving no one behind.

“The majority of the world’s population remains offline, which increases the risk that vulnerable groups without Internet access will fall further behind in the rapidly progressing digital society,” warns the report. However, it also notes the many opportunities to enhance social and digital inclusion through e-government.

The convergence of innovative technologies such as Big Data, Internet of Things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, is promoting a dramatic shift towards more data and machine-driven societies. Furthermore e-government and ICTs are recognized as an enabler in supporting all phases of natural disaster risk management from prevention, reduction, preparedness to response and recovery.

Today, fast-evolving technologies represent a new challenge for e-government. The solution will come from an unprecedented cooperation between the public sectors, populations and private stakeholders.

Cybersecurity is a key factor in the transformation to resilient e-government. The digital transformation must be thoughtfully strategized and continuously updated to ensure security and relevance along the path to sustainable development.

For more information:

2018 E-Government Survey