UN warns against ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy for government digital services

By on 04/10/2022 | Updated on 04/10/2022
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The UN's latest E-Government Development Index reveals Denmark, Finland and the Republic of Korea to the top three performing member states for e-government

Governments around the world are making progress on the provision of online services for citizens, according to a United Nations (UN) report on digital government, but a one-size-fits-all transformation policy risks excluding disadvantaged groups.

The UN’s E-Government Development Index (EGDI) ranks 193 UN member states based on the scope and quality of online services. Denmark, Finland and the Republic of Korea lead the pack, scoring highly on telecommunications infrastructure and digital skills in their populations, as well as the digital services offered by government.

Where countries perform less well, the survey highlighted issues such as affordability and digital literacy as major barriers preventing citizens’ access to online government services.

Read more: Estonia calls for tech innovators to collaborate on new government services

The biennial survey found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed an unprecedented, accelerated digital transformation that, while beneficial in many respects, has prompted the emergence or exacerbation of various forms of digital inequality.

It warned that the adoption by government of what it called a “one-size-fits-all approach” to digital transformation, such as an overarching digital-by-default policy could mean “vulnerable populations may be overlooked”, adding: “Socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and groups are most susceptible to digital exclusion. In some cases, such exclusion may be deliberate in the sense that it results from discrimination, injustice, the denial of services, the absence of legal status (including the lack of a digital identity), or exclusionary policies.”

Countries where citizens were excluded from digital transformation are at increased risk of “being permanently left behind,” the survey report said.

Citizens on lower incomes were shown to be more likely to live in areas with poor internet access. However, the survey found that even when low-earning citizens could access the internet, their national governments did not always provide them with the services they need. For example, just 48 countries (24.9%) allow citizens to apply for unemployment benefits online, while only 58 countries (30.1%) provide access to maternity care, child subsidies, pensions, housing or food allowances via an online portal.

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

High and low scorers

The EGDI index is calculated based on three factors: the scope and quality of
online services; the development of telecommunication infrastructure; and what the UN calls its Human Capital Index of citizens’ digital skills.

Although the report does not include a full country-by-country league table, nations that scored highly but ranked below the top three countries included New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland, Australia, Estonia, the Netherlands, the US, the UK, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Malta.

Overall, the global average EGDI value has increased since previous Indexes. In total, over two thirds (68.9%) of UN member states have a “high or very high” e-government score, according to the survey report.

Countries with the lowest EGDI rankings all share what the report calls “special and developing situations” – these include developing nations and those with underdeveloped economies. Africa is home to 39 of the 91 countries described as being in “special situations”. Countries in this category “are progressing at a pace that is too slow to bridge these [digital] divides,” the survey report said.

Read more: ‘Many countries’ digital visions are a little samey’: former UK GDS chief lists biggest digital challenges

The survey also concluded that not all countries had given sufficient attention to “institutionalising digital transformation and establishing the infrastructure needed for seamless government”, adding: “Governments worldwide need to have a long-term national digital transformation plan… to ensure that [they] meet the needs of all members of society – and leave no one behind.”

Li Junhua, the UN’s under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, said the survey results highlighted that governments had “remained focused on developing digital services and infrastructures, despite the global challenges of recent years”.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. digiworldmag says:

    Such a great information. This is really very helpful for bloggers.

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