Haiyan Qian, Director of the Division for Public Administration and Development Management at the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), said that the criteria for judging e-government performance were under review, to factor in advances in technology and governance.
“We’re now working on ways to update the survey,” she said. “ICT changes fast, and so do government operations and delivery. We publish a ranking once every two years, and we need to ensure that our policy indicators are relevant to current and emerging trends that are changing the course of public sector modernisation.”
South Korea topped the 2010 UN E-Government Survey, marking the first time an Asian country has topped the rankings. The only other Asian country in the top 10 was Australia (8th). Making the top 20 were Singapore (11th), Bahrain (13th), New Zealand (14th) and Japan (17th).
Qian noted the criteria policymakers needed to consider to perform well in the 2012 UN E-Government Survey. “Open data is an exciting new trend, and we’ll be looking closely at how governments exploit open data to empower citizens to be both the recipients and the providers of new services,” she said. “However, some criteria will remain the same. The digital divide has been a key yardstick for the UN survey from day one. We still need to remind countries not to forget long-standing issues that can get overlooked in the hurry to roll out new services.”
Countries that are weak economically, but that are using ICT to leapfrog their service capabilities by using mobile and other new devices, will be duly rewarded in the rankings, she said. “Service provision is a big challenge in many developing countries, and mobile is a useful tool to bridge the divide where the internet is still inaccessible.”
How citizen engagement is merited is also being updated.
“We want to see governments engaging citizens actively, not passively. Gathering citizen feedback is not enough. Citizens need to be drawn into decision-making and monitoring to help governments boost transparency and accountability, and reduce corruption.”
The use of ICT to help vulnerable and disadvantaged groups is another focus area. “We want to look at how women can benefit from ICT and government e-services,” she said. “According to recent research, women do not always benefit from ICT. The reverse can be true. For instance, the internet has facilitated a rise in female trafficking.”
Governments need to think more carefully about providing services for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including the disabled, the illiterate, the aged and the young, Qian added. “Government services that include access for the vision impaired are still the exception and not the norm. We will be looking at how services are being made accessible to all.”