How to Engage People in The New Citizen-Centric eGovernance Paradigm?

We can have standards, technology, law, regulations and policy but we cannot run eGovernance without people. People; we define them as users and stakeholders. This blog describes the new eGovernance Paradigm approach, the necessity for it, the importance and the methods of engaging people throughout the process for the successful development and implementation of the new eGovernance paradigm by Leyla Arsan, CEO of TAGES, June 27th, 2021.



Europe’s Challenge on Social Inclusivity

Today, around 34 million EU inhabitants were born outside the EU (around 8% of the EU population), and 10% of young people (15–34 years) born in the EU have at least one foreign-born parent. On average 13% of key workers are born outside of their EU country of residence. Migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background play a key role in European society and in different sectors of our economy, including as essential workers. However, they continue to face challenges in terms of access to education, employment, healthcare and social inclusion [1]. The European Commission presented the action plan on Integration and Inclusion for the period 2021-2027 where “harnessing new technologies and digital tools” is one of the main targets in the action plan besides the social, political and economic ones.


‘eGovernment Action Plan’ as a Driver for Social Integration Digitally

On the other side, the rapid growth of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and its ubiquitous presence in our everyday life has significantly affected the way government services are delivered today. This poses constant challenges to safeguard the data confidentiality and integrity of e-government services, while increasing its adoption and usage by citizens and businesses. Governments have advanced in making public services digital, but focussed less on the quality of the delivery from the” user’s perspective”, especially in terms of “ease and speed of use”. While the online availability of services level at the EU and associate countries reached 81% and online usability 83%, the ease of using and speed of using these services online advanced poorly, increasing by only 1 percentage point since the first complete assessment in 2013. In addition, the implementation of good transparent service procedures is still lagging behind in large parts of Europe and eGovernment services are still lacking the adequate level of support to citizens and business who wish to move or operate across borders. Accordingly, the ‘eGovernment Action Plan’ enables people across the EU to fully enjoy the benefits of digital public services. The plan sets goals to:

o Set up a Digital Single Gateway enabling users to obtain all information, assistance and problem solving services needed to operate efficiently across borders;

o Interconnect all business registries and insolvency registers and connect them to the eJustice portal, which will become a one-stop shop;

o Pilot the "once-only" principle for businesses across borders so they only need to provide information to a public administration in one EU country and if permitted it is then re-used between different countries;

o Help EU Member States develop cross-border eHealth services such as e-prescriptions;

o Accelerate the transition to e-procurement and implementation of the once-only principle in public procurement.

In order to achieve its objectives, the ‘eGovernment Action Plan’ identified 20 actions addressing at least one of the following policy priorities: modernising public administrations using key digital enablers; enabling mobility of citizens and businesses by cross-border interoperability; facilitating digital interaction between administrations and citizens or businesses for high-quality public services [2].


Challenges with People in eGovernment

There are several social challenges on implementing eGovernment services like; citizens’ difficulties to adopt the use of eGovernment services due to resistance, uncertainty, transition costs, reluctance to change habits, technological and educational background, lack of citizens’ trust in eGovernment services, lack of control among the citizens, private sector and public sector due to overreliance on technologies, difficulty of adoption of eGovernment services due to citizens’ conservative habits and cultural barriers and the concerns about the ethical use of data and transparency. Moreover, at implementers side (public and business organisatons) there are limitations in workforce skills, vertical and horizontal fragmentation of the public sector at management level, resistance of data sharing between different administrations and stakeholders, missing of alignment between central and local governments restrictions in data usage and sharing across countries, enforcement of the EU GDPR requiring changes in the mentality and design of any platform manages personal data, lack of human resources available on the private market to help the government to adopt the new technology and the scarce resource to train the personnel to use new tools.


A new eGovernance Paradigm: Citizen-Centric Approach

This situations bring us into a new eGovernance paradigm through the establishment of multi-actor governance services which is also a key element towards a European Single Market. Digital Transformation of public services can remove existing digital and physical barriers, reduce administrative burdens, enhance productivity of governments, minimizing at the same time all the extra cost of traditional means to increase capacity, and eventually improve the overall quality of interactions with (and within) public administrations. It is obvious that the EU Single Market model cannot function effectively without cross-border digital public services where paperless cross-border bureaucratic processes still stand as a major issue.


User aspects on the ecosystem design and developing an eGovernance Model as a Paradigm Shift are the core part of the eGovernance model where we can have standards, technology, law, regulations and policy but we cannot run eGovernance without people. People; we define them as users (including citizens) and stakeholders. In this respect we should have a valid and operable methodology on how to deal with people throughout the process with common issues and risks which should be prioritized for a successful development and implementation of the new eGovernance paradigm, thus generation of a ‘Sustainable eGovernance Ecosystem Development’ is a must.


Usually in research and innovation projects people are engaged in research and innovation activities in a way within the user requirement analysis, demonstration, pilot implementation, validation, user evaluations and stakeholder analysis phases. Especially eGovernance projects have methods for analysing the needs, benefit and the requirements of the public sector, as well of the other collaborating actors such as citizens, businesses, NGOs, etc. However, the engagement processes have always been risky because it is not easy to attract and get interest from users and stakeholders. At this stage, ‘Living Labs’ are taking the role of engaging users in a democratic way by the participation of users and citizens. A Living Lab, or living laboratory, is a research concept, which may be defined as a user-centered, iterative, open-innovation ecosystem, often operating in a territorial context (e.g. city, agglomeration, region or campus), integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership usually in real-time and in urban contexts with a diversity of stakeholders. Different methodologies and guidelines have been developed to overcome challenges in communicating and involving users and stakeholders in the research and innovation processes such as Smarterlabs Project [3] bringing together citizens, policymakers, businesses and researchers to test smart, ICT based solutions to urban problems in real-life contexts by anticipating up-scaling and social inclusion constraints in urban Living Lab experiments. In the context of engaging stakeholders in innovation processes the importance of grassroots initiatives comes out. Grassroots initiatives can push the processes when commons are at stake and when regime actors respond to public needs too slowly. According to the findings [4] suggest to policymakers wishing to support local sustainability transitions, that they should not implement top-down solutions focused on just one central actor. Rather, they should use an integrated approach that builds (also) on the engagement of citizens and grassroots initiatives. Citizens, policy makers and businesses are the key stakeholders in eGovernance new paradigm while designing citizen centric solutions.




GLASS: Citizen Controlling Own Story

For example; GLASS [5] as a paradigm shift project for eGovernance puts the individual at the heart of controlling their own relationship with government and business which caters for a 'European Common Services Web', bringing closer together citizens, businesses and European governments. The project introduces a “Citizen-Centric and Cross Border eGovernance Model that enables beneficiaries to participate in a network for big data exchange and service delivery, which is by design digital, efficient, cost-effective, interoperable, cross-border, secure and promotes the once-only priority. GLASS aims to renovate the way the public sector operates, by introducing novel ICTs which are proven to be beneficial for various industrial domains and can truly redesign the way the public sector is delivering its services, with a strong focus on trust, security, reproducibility and value generation for all stakeholders. The GLASS solution comprises a distributed file storage system, capable of addressing the complexity of the processes and their high demand on resources; a distributed ledger, which records every transaction among users to increase the overall transparency and trustworthiness; a distributed application (dapp) ecosystem for delivering mobile services tailored to the needs of its users; a single sign-on Wallet as a Service (WaaS) platform responsible for managing multiple services provided by each dapp; and a Middleware Gateway Framework, responsible for the establishment of secure communication pathways among operational stakeholders and the integration of already existing eGovernance systems with newly developed ones. GLASS brings together twelve (12) interdisciplinary partners from eight (8) countries to deliver a novel e-governance model and address the challenges that governance structures in the EU are currently facing - from divergent and legal groundwork to physical and technological limitations - towards the democratization and openness of the public administration services.


Stakeholder Engagement

The GLASS Concept and the ‘GLASS eGovernance Model’ is based on the exploration of the following major sub-activities which are closely related and can be witnessed as a quadruple helix: Identification of needs and stakeholders of all the Gov-2-Any services; legal framework and eGovernance strategic actions compliance; innovation transfer by the application of novel ICTs in the domain; and tangible impact generation in a ‘Sustainable eGovernance Ecosystem Development’ by fulfilling the needs of diverse stakeholders and that is in the position to be extended as needed to accommodate the requirements of other actors willing to join GLASS. Furthermore, it will renovate existing standards and procedures, towards making the organization more cost-efficient, robust and interoperable with its environment, transforming it into a key player in the GLASS ecosystem, based always on the services it can offer. The GLASS eGovernance model constantly considers and eventually integrates new types of stakeholders, services and standards, therefore a feedback loop to the requirements analysis is designed, to re-trigger these operations that will result in upgraded versions of the model and its ingredients.


Pilot Policies and Approaches

Demonstration of the new ‘Citizen-Centric eGovernance Model’ is the key element on its successful implementation where users will be mobilised and engaged. Accordingly, An open-ended questionnaire was given to the demonstration partners in 3 different organisations in 3 countries (Ministry of Digital Government in Greece, Ministry of Justice in Portugal and Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul) to capture and understand their perspectives regarding the e-Wallet services in alignment with their internal governmental policies for e-Services. The demonstrators are set as follows:

o Moving abroad: Moving abroad can be a highly demanding and cumbersome process in terms of bureaucratic processes and associated paperwork,

o Making a short-term visit abroad: When elderliness is accompanied by disability, moving abroad becomes quite difficult. Elderly people need and usually receive privileged treatment tailored to their special conditions from local authorities in their home country,

o Getting a job abroad: to show how any citizen can carry with him/her on his/her digital wallets the required evidences.

Questions were asked about three main topics: request, issue, and proxies. According to the obtained findings, it is revealed that governments from different countries have different practises so that requirements like; to identify and verify the identity of a citizen towards processing an electronic evidence request, identity verification means, one uses tax credentials, while the other one uses either a mobile digital key that is directly associated with an individual or the emails/phone numbers that correspond to a citizen. However common practices exist like; depending on the type of the document both demonstrators accept scanned documents but process may differ. It was also found that the current organizational and technical procedures within the conventional eGovernance systems can be an obstacle to make the processes citizen-centric. The policies also varies like; while one partner does not plan to charge for electronic services, the other one does already charge for electronic services and continue to do so.


Citizens’ Opinions

Citizens are one of the most important stakeholders of the GLASS which introduces a ‘Citizen-Centric e-Governance Model’ for public administration services, which automates and eases the processes and safeguards the integrity of interactions among citizens, businesses and public authorities. They were surveyed to better understand their readiness and acceptance levels for e-Wallet approaches and controlling their own relationship with government and business within the bureaucratic processes. When asked for the overall comments and opinions, it seems that safety, privacy, security and ease of use are keys to use of an e-Wallet. However, there are some concerns that high security hinders simplicity since data sharing has several restrictions (privacy, legal, ethical, etc.) to be considered. In order for the application to be used by citizens, it must be user friendly and the process must be simple. Consent per document and authorization is seen as a must on e-Wallets and cyberattacks, vulnerabilities, auditability and customer services should be given high importance.


Changing The Paradigm, Changing The Future

The new paradigm is mostly concerned with people centricity whereas this can only be provided by decentralised systems; a more open, democratic, secure infrastructures where public private collaboration can be achieved at utmost levels. Achieving European goals on social inclusion and eGovernment action plan will be possible by the approaches like GLASS Project brings. The challenges faced on this approach and the ways to overcome will be a subject to the next blog.

Please keep in track and join us for the 34th EEMA Annual Conference taking place 29 June – 1 July. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear the webinar 6 discussing people involvement challenges within the GLASS Project: Individuals Controlling their own Relationship with Government & Business. For further information and to register visit: https://annualconference.eema.org and for the recording: https://www.glass-h2020.eu/videos


REFERENCES:

[1] European Action Plan on Social Integration and Inclusion 202, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/default/files/pdf/eu_action_plan_on_integration_and_inclusion_2021-2027_factsheet.pdf

[2] European eGovernment Action Plan, https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/news/eu-egovernment-report-2016-shows-online-public-services-improved-unevenly

[3] SmarterLabs Project, https://smarterlabs.uni-graz.at/en/

[4] Non-governmental organisations and universities as transition intermediaries in sustainability transformations building on grassroots initiatives, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1242-6514

[5] GLASS, a Horizon 2020 project funded by the European Union to create a new paradigm for the sharing and transfer of personal information, with the citizen in control, started on January 1st 2021, and will complete its funded phase on December 31st 2023, https://www.glass-h2020.eu/

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