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Eight priority underpinnings for digital government transformation


Construction - digital government

The 2020 European Union report ‘Exploring Digital Government Transformation in the EU: understanding public sector innovation in a data-driven society’, provides insightful recommendations on eight key areas governments should prioritise. Included in this research are actionable policy recommendations for horizon 2040 that countries could also consider as part of their digital government journey.


The four conceptual scenarios for Digital Government Transformation 2040 are depicted in the figure below as defined by the dimensions: a) the Digital Transformation landscape from ‘regulated’ to ‘unregulated’; and b) Digital Citizenry from ‘active’ to ‘passive’.

Digital Government Transformation 2040

The eight areas that the report highlights include:


1. Examining the dynamics of government platformisation versus distributed networks


The ‘platformisation’ of government services fosters efficient coordination and seamless integration. Poell & Nieborg (2019) defined platformisation in the broadest sense as 'the penetration of the infrastructures, economic processes, and governmental frameworks of platforms in different economic sectors and spheres of life. This also involves the reorganisation of cultural practices and imaginations around platforms'.


Platformisation is hence in many ways revolutionary in redefining the basis for the organisation of government. Pope (2019) proposes a definition of the linked idea of Government as a Platform (GaaP) as 'reorganizing the work of government around a network of shared APIs and components, open-standards and canonical datasets, so that civil servants, businesses and others can deliver radically better services to the public, more safely, efficiently and accountably'.


Platformisation is a counter to the traditionally fragmented and inefficiency of siloed government agencies. Government is transformed through wholesale integration using available digital technology and new ways of working (including governance, processes, service delivery).


A contrary view holds that distributed networks have an enduring role in providing a system of checks and balances to avoid monopolistic or oligopolistic outcomes. It is noted that while platformisation has largely positive implications, care is needed around the wider impacts of digital integration to avoid unintended consequences.


At the service delivery end, there may also be good reasons to maintain a distributed network in some use cases. This may retain desired levels of competitive tension and consequently it is important to examine the contextual dynamics of platformisation versus a distributed model.



2. Embracing e-Government 4.0 and experimenting with new ‘modes of regulation’


Similar to the transformative impact of Industry 4.0, there are opportunities for Government 4.0 to be similarly impactful. This may include the way jobs are performed and coordinated and consequently the underpinning fabric of society. Traditional institutions, structures, means of production, consumption models, and cultural norms may be tested. Corresponding regulatory components necessary to ensure the functioning of the economy and society will need to adapt to ensure individual and collective rights. Digital Government planners hence need to be sensitive to the wider societal impact of transformation and regulate accordingly. In many ways, this is no different to the historic necessity of government to keep up with technological and other changes albeit it will occur with greater rapidity.


3. Developing ethical frameworks to minimise risks and negative implications of new technologies


The report notes that an over-reliance on new technologies and applications such as AI may affect the fairness, neutrality and accountability of the public sector, and lead to a perceived or real loss of control. The European Commission consequently established an expert group on AI Ethics and published the ‘Guidelines for Trustworthy AI’ and ‘Policy and Investment Recommendations for Trustworthy AI’. This is focused on ensuring a human-centric approach that minimises risks, respects rights, and democratic values. The report recommends governments regulate to ensure that AI systems are designed with an ethical underpinning.


4. Opening access to data through a legal framework that protects privacy and promotes interoperability and sharing


Despite the significant progress the EU has made to develop robust legal frameworks and regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), there is still a call to develop further legal frameworks. This relates specifically to the exchange, sharing and purchasing of data that maximises data openness and accessibility.


It is noted that open data initiatives have already been developed but it has been recommended that this is extended to the private domain to allow better public-private data sharing. This is increasingly important with new data-driven technologies requiring enormous volumes of data. The balance needs to be struck for the companies who are required to meet data localisation requirements and costs and the sharing and interoperability use cases of emergent technology.


5. Building human capacity to ensure a successful Digital Government Transformation


The report stresses the critical role government officials play in diffusing new technologies across government necessary for digital transformation. Obvious areas to focus on include AI and big data. Governments need to create new opportunities (and specific) roles relating to emergent areas, provide career paths, and build technical knowledge and capacity through training schemes. The report notes the advantages of building talent from inside government to exploit officials deep knowledge of the mission and processes of government.


6. Taking advantage of predictive analytics to improve policy making and service delivery


Predictive analytics offer a range of options for data-driven policy making. It involves taking the available data and actively using it to support decision making and oversight. Predictive analytics can promote efficient use of public resources and enable better, smarter, service delivery.


As with all data use within government, care needs to be taken to ensure ethical and empirical issues are managed to allow for quality data and sound (ethical) predictions. The capability needed to curate, analyse, and insert this predictive intelligence into policy processes needs to be cultivated within government.


7. Being selective about impacts and realistic about trajectories - moving from linearity to complexity


The report highlights the need to have a realistic view of what government digital transformation can achieve and that its impacts should be measured empirically. It is noted that benchmarks and scorecards may remain a part of monitoring and evaluation however these can assume linear progress not reflective of the 'messy' reality of digital transformation. Government digital innovation and transformation can be both incremental and radical and hence the descriptions and expectations need to reflect this complexity.


8. Creating a culture of digital transformation and innovation within the public sector


Governments frequently harbour organisational and bureaucratic obstacles that inhibit the use of new technologies in the public sector. This can include interdepartmental differences and competitive bureaucratic silos that slow down the opportunities for transformation. Significant digital transformation requires a conceptual and cultural change throughout the public sector that genuinely supports innovation. The need for an open 'mindset' is as important for Ministry of Finance and other central governance functions as it is for individual government agencies. All should be unequivocally subscribed to the vision of a data-driven, technologically enabled government empowered to achieve its outcomes.



Summary


The EU report ‘Exploring Digital Government Transformation in the EU: understanding public sector innovation in a data-driven society’, provides insightful recommendations on eight key areas governments should prioritise. These can be distilled down to the following:


1. Maintain balance between a unified vs distributed cross government approach

2. Gov 4.0 will enable new modes of regulation. Innovate RegTech sensitively

3. Use ethical frameworks to minimise the risks of new technologies

4. Open access to data to promote interoperability and sharing but protect privacy

5. Build human capability for successful digital government transformation

6. Use predictive analytics to improve policy making and service delivery

7. Be realistic about digital transformation and its impact - its messy and complex

8. Sustain culture of digital transformation within the whole public sector


Three of the four conceptual scenarios for Digital Government Transformation 2040 highlight where governments can end up if proactive digital transformation is not pursued. It cross references a) the Digital Transformation landscape from ‘regulated’ to ‘unregulated’; and b) Digital Citizenry from ‘active’ to ‘passive’.


Ideally governments can be guided to the vision of 'Trust and open innovation' where the characteristics (of this scenario) include 'an active digital citizenry with functioning infrastructures and empowered data subjects joining with innovators to build bottom up governance for trusted, sovereign, decentralised data exploitation. and human centric digital services'. The eight key areas that the report recommends highlight what governments need to prioritise to get there.




References


Exploring Digital Government Transformation in the EU - Understanding public sector innovation in a data-driven society, Misuraca, G., Barcevičius, E. and Codagnone, C. editor(s), EUR 30333 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2020, ISBN 978-92-76-21326-0, doi:10.2760/480377, JRC121548.


Jeroen de Kloet, Thomas Poell, Zeng Guohua & Chow Yiu Fai(2019)The platformization of Chinese Society: infrastructure, governance, and practice,Chinese Journal of Communication,12:3,249-256,DOI: 10.1080/17544750.2019.1644008


Kim, S., Andersen, K. N., & Lee, J. (2022). Platform Government in the Era of Smart Technology. Public Administration Review, 82(2), 362-368. https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.13422


Poell, T. & Nieborg, D. & van Dijck, J. (2019). Platformisation. Internet Policy Review, 8(4). https://doi.org/10.14763/2019.4.1425


Pope, Richard (2019). https://medium.com/digitalhks/a-working-definition-of-government-as-a-platform-1fa6ff2f8e8d

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