E-government progress hampered by digital divide, UN report finds

By on 06/08/2018
UN reports ‘persistent, positive global trend’ towards higher levels of e-government development, but progress slower in developing countries such as Nigeria.

Denmark, Australia and South Korea have come top in a biennial United Nations survey of countries’ progress in implementing e-government.

The survey, by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, notes an overall “persistent positive global trend” towards higher levels of e-government development – but the world’s poorest countries are lagging behind, the report says. The findings include a ranking of the 193 UN member states according to their scores on an e-government development index (EGDI).

The EGDI measures countries’ use of information and communications technologies (ICT) to deliver public services, and takes into account the scope and quality of online services, status of infrastructure and human capacity.

The high performers

Denmark’s score was boosted by the implementation of its digital strategy 2016-2020, which covers actions to digitise the public sector, as well as its interactions with business and industry. Australia scored top in analysis of how countries were performing on improving their populations’ ICT capacity, while South Korea performed well in online service and technology infrastructure, and has trained nearly 5,000 officials from developing countries in e-government.

South Korea is followed by the UK, Sweden, Finland, Singapore, New Zealand, France and Japan in the top ten.

The number of countries ranked in the highest tier of the index, with scores between 0.75 and 1.00, rose to 40 this year, compared with 29 in 2016. Globally, almost two thirds of countries demonstrate a high-level of e-government development, with EGDI values above in the range of 0.5 and 1. The share of countries with low e-government levels, in the range of 0 to 0.25, has dropped by 50%, from 32 countries in 2016 to 16 countries in 2018.

Links with economic development

There is a general correlation between a country’s income level and its e-government ranking, but the report notes that this trend is not universal. Twenty-two upper middle-income and 39 lower-middle income countries have EGDI scores below the global average, while some countries in the lower middle-income group have above-average scores.

However, lower income countries continue to lag behind due to a relatively low level of development across all categories making up the index, and the survey points to a remaining digital divide.

Fourteen out of the 16 lowest scoring countries are African and belong to the least developed countries group. Average scores for countries in Africa and Oceania are significantly lower than the world average score of 0.55.

Security concerns

The report notes that cybersecurity is a key factor in the transformation to resilient e-government. Security measures need to be strategically incorporated in e-government systems during the design phase, it states, adding that misuse of ICT has raised questions about state security and protection of individuals and businesses.

“It is important for governments to improve the management of ICT-driven approaches to guarantee continuity of online services as well as to safeguard people’s data and privacy,” the report says.

It recommends heightened cybersecurity consciousness among civil servants, noting that ransomware attacks are increasingly affecting businesses and consumers. The report points to the example of the May 2017 WannaCry ransomware cyberattack, which caused major disruptions to critical information infrastructures of companies and hospitals in more than 150 countries. Greater global cooperation is needed on the issue, it says.

The report also recommends that governments should pay greater attention to digital literacy, in particular among civil servants.

About Catherine Early

Catherine Early is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has worked for the Environmentalist, the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue.

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