Inspiration from the International eGoverment Forum

Last week I spoke about how user experience, user-centred design and participative design methods can be applied as part of successful eGovernment programme at the International eGovernment Forum which took place in Manama, Bahrain.

My talk focused on activities we regularly conduct for our public sector clients including persona development, prototyping and usability testing, with current examples of these applied on  government sites around the world.

The event gave me the chance to hear about some of the best practices in eGovernment worldwide, the inspiration behind these and how they are being developed alongside rapidly changing technology and rising citizen expectations. There were many examples and ideas worth sharing from the twenty-four speakers, and I describe a few of those below.

United Nations eGovernment Survey 2012One of the goals of the forum, which was organised by the Bahrain eGovernment Authority and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, was to promote and share best practice.

Appropriately, one of the first presentations was from Mr. Deoksoo Park of the eGovernment of South Korea, which came first in the UN eGovernment Survey 2012 for providing the most comprehensive range of eGovernment services and information online.

He demonstrated the methodical evolution of their eGovernment programme based on the perceived needs of the Korean urban and rural society which also has one of the highest adoption rates for technology and internet connectivity.

In addition to the UN ranking of the supply of services between countries, it was encouraging to see so many national governments setting their own benchmarks against which they could track their progress in providing eGovernment.

For example Matt Poelmans Director of CitizenVision  in the Netherlands described how they created an eCitizen charter which outlined 10 measurable goals for their eGovernment programme covering design requirements for services as well as performance evaluation criteria.

This serves as a transparent and measurable benchmark and engagement model to measure citizen use and satisfaction with their initiatives.

Bill McCluggage and Alex Butler provided great insight to the UK’s Government Digital Service’s programme of making services “Digital by Default”, including the government’s Cloudstore holding 1,700 services and the recently updated Design Principles for UK Government digital services.

The transition from Direct.gov to Beta.gov is taking place with careful consideration of the user experience throughout, and all new design features are being trialed with iterative development.

The power of Open Data

A central theme over the two days was open data and the opportunity it offered.

Stefan Gehrke of the Open Data Network Germany and Buero fuer Neues Denken demonstrated the power of open data and the bodies supporting the movement, from Data.gov and the Sunlight Foundation in the USA to and several organisations in Germany.

All of these give the building blocks for applications and websites that empower people, and sometimes offer data which can be critical of the government but are inherently supporting transparancy.

Dr. Gregory G. Curtin of the Civic Resource Group in California provided a clear model of what he calls FAST government (Flat, Agile, Streamlined, Tech-enabled) supported by the World Economic Forum, Global Council on the Future of Government.

Greg presented a vision of flatter eGovernment which used open data to offer efficiency and encourage participation. Greg concluded by showing various examples ranging from national governments to cities throughout the world.

eParticipation

To complement the open data movement, another main theme was eParticipation and Smart Cities, particularly by Julia Glidden of 21C Consultancy.

Julia’s inspiring presentation showed how the Internet of Things  can be applied to co-create a new online world of people, services and things based on the data people are freely gathering and sharing though open data sources such as Pachube.

This, with a dose of wireless technology, will also form the basis of Smart Tourism, Smart Transport and better urban design.  It also has great potential for mobile services with Europe’s Citadel on the Move  being a prime example for local government application of open data.

With so much open data being applied to create citizen-centred digital experiences, Julia advised that the opening of data should be matched by citizens opening their minds to the positive possibilities being made available by their governments, moving beyond what can often be a comfortable, cynical view of what government offers.

eParticipation was also a key theme of Alexander Felsenberg, Director of Babiel Consulting  in Germany. He showed how the availability of two-way communication platforms are continuing to evolve the nature of the relationship beween people and government, and there is a healthy appetite for greater participation.

However there also needs to be clear distinction between listening to the wants and needs of citizens (eg. Social media monitoring) and actively probing into their lives (spying), and the borderlines between these are not always clear.

He gave examples of community-oriented people helping out to improve a city, with citizen participation through the Mobis Iphone app that allows people to photograph a public service failure (e.g. street lighting out, public space conditions) document it and upload it for resolution, complete with helpful geolocation.

Interestingly in Germany a political party, the Pirates Party which strongly advocates open participatory methods and transparency, is now the 3rd largest party after only 3 years existance.

Going Mobile

Of course mobile handsets are increasingly the means by which people interact with government, and there were fascinating glimpses into our mobile future, especially by Kei Shimada of the Future Communications Department of Dentsu  in Japan Kia and by Ralph Simon, CEO of the mobile think tank Mobilium Global.

Both  used data and video to demonstrate what is becoming very clear – mobile is the platform that people always have with them and is continuously opening new opportunities for transactions, information, advertising and more.

They showed examples including voice activation, translation, augmented reality services and many other innovations that are expanding the possibilities of the phone in your pocket.

The future of eGovernment – are we there yet?

It all sounds great then – create a world of eParticipation, open your data, and all our problems are solved, right? Well, no actually. Fady Kassatly of Booz & Co recognised the wonderful achievements outlined by other speakers but also provided a reality check.

Despite the strong correlation between government ICT spend and better services and quality of life, there is a significant part of society that is not digitally enabled and unable to participate, especially in the Middle East.

Housewives with low education, disabled users, blue collar expatriates, residents of remote areas are some of the segments typically less digitally enabled. Fady reminded us that Government cannot do it on its own. We need an ecosystem of stakeholders to work in unison to make digital inclusion successful.

This is just a snapshot of some of the presentations, and apologies to the many I could not include in this article.  A full listing of the speakers as well as their presentations are available on the eGovernment Forum website.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a lot more work to be done but the direction of travel paved by open data and greater participation is becoming clear, and this was an outstanding chance to learn from experience worldwide.

The International eGovernment Forum was an inspiring view of current eGovernment and the innovations for the future. For those wanting to know more about such best practices worldwide, and see how various countries stack up in the league tables, the UN eGovernment Survey 2012  is definitely worth downloading and reading.

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