by United Nations
Readiness Report 2005
From E-government to E-inclusion
An imperative of development today is to employ information and communication technologies (ICTs) to level the playing field for all. The cross-cutting nature of technology provides opportunities and enables delivery of much needed economic and social information to remote areas of the world with the promise of leapfrogging traditional development cycles. Access to information and communications is considered crucial for poverty reduction, since it contributes to new sources of income and employment for the poor, improved delivery of health and education services and competitiveness of the economy.
However, harnessing the full potential of the benefits of the global information society is possible only if all nations and the peoples of the world share this opportunity equally. Further, the existing spread of information technologies to a select group of people in the world is worsening disparities between the e-haves and the e-have-nots. There is a danger that far from fomenting cohesion through opportunity, unequal diffusion of technology will reinforce traditional inequalities leading to a further weakening of social bonds and cultural cohesion.
Exploring the interlinkages between e-government and human development, the UN Global E-Government Readiness Report 2005 presents an assessment of existing disparities in access to, and use of, ICTs around the world. It comprises two parts: Part I presents the UN Global E-Government Readiness Survey 2005, while Part II of the Report delves deeper into the access parameters of disparity.
The UN Global E-Government Readiness Survey 2005
The E-Government Readiness Survey 2005 assesses more than 50,000 features of the e-government websites of the 191 UN Member States to ascertain how ready the Governments around the world are in employing the opportunities offered by ICT to improve the access to, and the use of, ICTs in providing basic social services. Employing a statistical model for the measurement of digitized services, the UN EGovernment Survey 2005 assesses the public sector e-government initiatives of Member States according to a weighted average composite index of e-readiness based on website assessment; telecommunication infrastructure and human resource endowment.
The UN Global E-government Survey 2005 finds that a large number of countries solidified their online presence further, venturing into higher and more mature areas of e-service delivery. Many introduced further e-participation features. The total number of countries online increased to 179, or around 94 per cent of the United Nations Member States. Twelve countries were not online, compared to thirteen last year.
Most developing country Governments around the world are promoting citizen awareness about policies and programmes, approaches and strategies on their websites. They are making an effort to engage multi-stakeholders in participatory decision-making, in some cases through the use of innovative initiatives aimed at greater access and inclusion.
According to the E-government Readiness rankings in 2005, the United States (0.9062) is the world leader, followed by Denmark (0.9058), Sweden (0.8983) and the United Kingdom (0.8777). As in 2004, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Estonia, Malta and Chile are also among the top 25 e-ready countries.
Steady progress in ICT diffusion, human capital development and Member States’ egovernment websites in the last three years led to an improvement in the egovernment readiness world average to 0.4267 in 2005 compared to 0.4130 in 2004. As a region, Europe followed North America, while South-Central Asia and Africa brought up the rear.
In e-participation, though many countries expanded their participatory services, a few remained limited in their provision of relevant and qualitative tools for user feedback. According to the E-participation Index 2005, the United Kingdom, as in previous years, was the leader, followed by Singapore (0.9841) and then the United States (0.9048). From among the developing countries, Mexico, Chile and Colombia were among the world leaders in participation services.
Fifty-five countries, out of 179, which maintained a government website, encouraged citizens to participate in discussing key issues of importance, but only 32 Member States explained what e-consultation was, why it was important and where citizens should provide inputs to the government, while only 28 countries gave the assurance that the government would take citizens’ inputs into the decision-making process.
Approaches to e-government programme offerings varied from country to country. The ‘how’ of what countries chose to display on the websites was a function of the ‘what’ they wanted to focus on and ‘why’ they wanted to focus on the issue.
The pattern that emerges is that for effective e-government development, political commitment to harnessing the benefits of ICTs, a well thought-out vision, and doable objectives are important markers for successful e-government development.
E-government appears to have a strong relation with income per capita. Resource availability appears to be a critical factor inhibiting e-government initiatives in many countries. Part of the reason for the high e-readiness in most of the developed economies is past investment in, and development of, infrastructure.
Notwithstanding the progress, there remains wide disparity in access to ICTs, and consequently to e-government offerings between, and among, regions and countries of the world. Governments in the developed countries are far advanced in the provision of services and their outreach and access to citizens.
A serious access-divide exists across the world between the developed and the developing countries. Of particular concern are the countries belonging to the regions of South and Central Asia and Africa which, together, house one-third of humanity. Africa, as a whole, had a mean e-government readiness at two-thirds of the world average and 30% of North America. Many of the 32 least e-ready countries, which belonged to Africa, showed little relative progress in 2005, compared to other countries many of which were far more advanced than Africa in their outreach and access to citizens.
From E-government to E-inclusion
Part II of the UN Global E-government Readiness Report 2005 builds upon the message of the previous UN Global Readiness Reports in advancing the conceptual underpinnings of the nexus between technological advancements, the role of the government, and human development. It points to the need to align development thinking with the paradigm of the Socially Inclusive Governance for the Information Society which is a multi-pronged approach to promoting ICT-led real access, with a special focus on the benefits of technology to women and the disadvantaged in society.
The Socially Inclusive Governance for Information Society Framework is a ‘vision’ for restructured thinking about developing an inclusive information society based on the appreciation of the capabilities of each and every person; the dignity that economic and social choice brings; and the freedom to partake it all.
It is a call to developing countries for shedding the emphasis on connectivity and access and substituting it with a focus on inclusion for all groups in the population. It is a call to focus on programmes and policies aimed at the diversification of the ICT base, such that those with low income, women, disadvantaged groups and those living in rural areas are systematically included in the impending benefits from newer technologies. The Framework propounds the notion that to build an inclusive society, e-government should expand to e-inclusion.
The cornerstone of the Socially Inclusive Governance Framework is a focus on the reduction in inequality of opportunity. As such, the imperative for progress towards a socially inclusive government is access-to-all. Participation is possible only if political, economic, technological and social barriers are removed and access to these opportunities is equitably distributed.
opportunity of feedback, as they promote access to government and are the perfect conduit for citizen-government partnership to promote public value, and therefore, inclusion. Inclusion and participation through ICTs, or e-inclusion, then becomes the key tool at the disposal of a socially inclusive government.
E-inclusion goes beyond e-government. It means employing modern ICT technologies to address the issues of access-divide and promote opportunities for economic and social empowerment of all citizens.
To further the analysis of disparities in access to ICTs, Part II of the Report provides an assessment of the existing access-divide in the world. Access-divide comprises, among others: income divide; telecommunication access-divide; education access-divide; language and content access-divide; lack of access to the people with disability; gender access-divide; and rural-urban divide. It illustrates that the majority of the developing country population faces a grave challenge from the new technological revolution. Whereas some of the developing countries which have in place the right mix of reforms, institutions and programmes will no doubt benefit from ICTs, most are likely to be mired in a cycle of low income, poverty and a growing disparity in access to modern technology.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the current gap in the access to, and use of, ICTs between and within countries, it should not be cause for inaction. ICTs provide a unique opportunity for achieving higher standards of living and greater economic and social empowerment of the millions around the world. This, however, requires a new set of complementary and comprehensive approaches to reach the vision of information society.
The first imperative is to recognize the importance of providing equal opportunity for participation in the information society. Governments need to fully understand the vast potential of ICTs as a tool and the benefits and opportunities that can accrue in the current age if ICTs are effectively applied to human development.
Second, commitment and leadership for an ICT-led development agenda for equality is a prerequisite. This requires a political commitment to ensure that each step taken towards meeting the goals and objectives of the country is inclusive of the values of the majority of the society, including those at the fringes.
Third, there is need for a vision to develop a socially inclusive development strategy, which aims at the empowerment of each according to his/her capabilities. A vision which is grounded in the reality of the national level of development, availability of physical and human infrastructure and financial resources should allow for the setting of objectives for the economy and society in a way that reorients and maximizes the public value.
Fourth, a country needs to have a resolve, to harness the potential of the information society. The policies and programmes of the government need to be restructured with the role of ICTs blended, and integrated, into governance systems and development plans.
Fifth, the formulation of a development strategy based on effective and indigenously appropriate utilization of the ICTs in each sector is required so that the market, the government and the citizen have a mutually beneficial and equitable role to play. This needs rethinking the interaction between the state and the citizen towards a partnership, which actively promotes participatory decision-making. It includes redefining institutions, processes and mechanisms whereby information is supplied and information is demanded. Governments need to formulate a national strategy based on a realistic diagnosis of the economic, financial, and human resource availability, and of the infrastructure, human capital, financial and social needs required to attain the objectives – but a strategy based on the holistic concept of e-inclusion and actively aimed at promoting access for all.
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