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Report presented by Gil Gonçalves
The Digital Agenda for Europe, one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, defines the key-enabling role that Information and Communication Technologies will have to play if Europe wants to succeed in its ambitions for 2020. This agenda sets out a clear target for the adoption of E-government by Member States: “50 % of citizens [are] to use E-government by 2015, with more than half [of them] returning completed forms”.
E-government improves efficiency and the effectiveness of public service delivery, promotes regional development and helps authorities to use available resources to their best advantage, thus contributing to the economic sustainability of regions. Initial efforts undertaken with respect to E-government were mostly focused on the short term, on getting isolated services online and publishing information without providing for regular updates. Trends now point in the direction of an integrated unified model, contributing to more efficient and effective public services, as governments are providing more and more support to open-data initiatives and web 2.0 channels as a means for engaging citizens.
Europe is in the vanguard of information technology. Building on existing strengths, high levels of human capital and infrastructure, Europe has recognised and leveraged the transformative role of ICT to streamline E-government services. The average E-government Development Index in Europe is almost 50% above the world average, demonstrating Europe’s clear leadership in this domain.
Although public administrations in Europe are committed to making user-centred, personalised, multi-platform E-government services a widespread reality by 2015, thus fulfilling the Digital Agenda for Europe target in this area, the level of deployment is still clearly below expected goals, and there is strong evidence that lack of awareness is one of the main barriers to a wider take-up.
Promotion and awareness campaigns should promote the overall benefits and give general information about what is involved technically and where to find and how to use services. Initiatives from ‘frontier’ regions merit being disseminated more widely to regions starting out or that are in the early stages of the E-government adoption process.
The aim of the present thematic capitalisation report on E-government services is to undertake a programme-level analysis of the thematic knowledge gained from six INTERREG IVC projects focusing on E-government Services. A total of 68 regions participated in these projects, each recognising the high potential of E-government as an engine for regional development. During the period of analysis, the six projects reported a total of 36 good practices, 19 of which are directly related to E-government services. These innovative practices have been analysed, classified according to ‘E-government priority’ and discussed in relation to the following questions: Why should it be considered as a Good Practice? What particular features make it unique? How has the project contributed to the improvement / dissemination / replication of this practice? To what extent is the Good Practice replicable?
Practices like ‘Cybercantal telecentre’, an innovative practice that demonstrates how the local economy can be boosted through a telecentre, ‘venice> connected’, an innovative practice focusing on combining sustainability in tourism with quality of life for citizens, ‘Leaping Stiles’, an innovative practice to increase competitiveness in the region by improving and enhancing the quality of tourism products on offer, and ‘eLocal’, an innovative practice that demonstrates that E-government services can be important tools for boosting growth in rural areas. These and other practices are explored in the report.
INTERREG IVC plays a fundamental role in addressing challenges and overcoming barriers to the successful implementation of E-government, thereby making the objectives of the European E-government Action Plan achievable, and contributing decisively to the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy.
INTERREG IVC includes ‘Information Society’ as a topic that allows regions in Europe to work together with a view to developing ICT-based public services, which will:
- increase the effectiveness and competition of businesses and entrepreneurs;
- promote the development and use of ICT-based services and products, for example in public services such as E-government and E-health, thereby bringing E-government to regions and businesses;
- enhance the participation of the public in the Information Society, e.g. through training programmes aimed at improving computer skills and addressing the digital divide.
Projects like DLA, eCitizen II, OSEPA, I-SPEED, PIKE, IMMODI, RTF, CASA, DC, e-Create, EuroPROC, DAA, DANTE are just a few examples of the projects co-financed by INTERREG IVC that are supporting the transition from current E-government to a new generation of open, flexible, and seamless E-government services at local, regional, national and European levels.
Although the six projects at the core of the capitalisation analysis have different objectives and focus, they all share common features and identify similar issues as the major challenges to be addressed in successfully implementing E-government services:
- infrastructure (internet access and public infrastructure),
- digital divide (access, interest and use of ICT),
- competencies and skills (basic and advanced ICT skills).
Projects DLA, eCitizen II, IMMODI, I-SPEED, OSEPA and PIKE include innovative practices for successfully implementing isolated E-government services. Pre-requisites for successful implementation of E-government services, which are in line with tackling the main barriers of E-government as presented in several studies – namely legal and regulatory, budgetary, infrastructure, different ‘digital’ realities (digital divide), and competencies and skills – were also identified by these projects. Moreover, in several practices, cultural and historical barriers have also been identified.
Policy recommendations can be drawn from the analysis of the successful implementation of these services and organised into three major types:
- Political recommendations: aimed at increasing cooperation with all stakeholders and defining long-term adoption roadmaps.
- Technological recommendations: aimed at investing in broadband, ICT, support training of staff and improving internal organisation.
- Socio-economic recommendations: aimed at providing user-centred public services built on public-private partnerships and involving all stakeholders in the public service delivery chain.
This E-government Services thematic study proposes a set of high-level recommendations, both for the projects and for the INTERREG IVC programme, aimed to increase and accelerate the thematic impact of the projects. The set of high-level recommendations include the need to:
- Promote success stories: the current level of deployment of E-government services is below expectations, and there is strong evidence that the lack of awareness about E-government services is the main barrier to a wider take-up. Promotion and awareness campaigns, including the wider dissemination of successful Good Practices and the sharing of experience between ‘front-runners’ and regions planning or in the early stages of their E-government adoption process, would help to overcome this barrier.
- Build on present success: continue to build on the successful practices that have already been demonstrated; learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the current process and help new adopters to define roadmaps designed to help implement proven policies, thus bridging the policy-practice gap where necessary; to better support cooperation and information sharing between regions. It is recommended that, in future, tailored instruments for disseminating Good Practices as well as other important knowledge should be used.
- Re-shift focus and increase speed: practices and policies are widely identified for the Government and citizen-centric, it is recommended that new projects should shift focus and be stepped up a gear, by concentrating much more on user empowerment and on the transition towards more user-centric E-government solutions.
- Policy focus for the future: the trend of providing m-Government services directed at mobile devices needs to be addressed, and might be especially relevant in regions where traditional fixed infrastructures are less effective owing to low penetration.
Current plans from the European Commission are creating great opportunities for regions interested in implementing an E-government services strategic plan. The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) includes more than €9 billion to support investment in high-speed broadband networks (€7 billion) and pan-European digital services (EUR 2 billion).