Online government: a surfer’s guide

For whatever reason – cost of paper, public pressure, political tastes – governments around the world are going online. Here is a guide to some of the web sites. 

OECD members have embarked on an "e-government revolution", using new technologies to provide more convenient access to public information, improve the quality of public services and make it easier for citizens to have a say in government.

All OECD countries provide government information online, but the quantity and range varies considerably. Some OECD governments have tried to organise online services to reflect the way citizens use them and not internal bureaucratic structures. The government web portals of the United States and Norway provide a single entry point to access hundreds of public web sites.

• United States: http://www.firstgov.gov

• Norway: (national portal) http://www.norge.no

Whereas the first step to going on line involves digitising government information, the second stage of e-government is delivering interactive services to citizens. Perhaps not surprisingly, tax collection is one of the areas in which countries have made the most progress in terms of web accessibility (see article on Chile in this section). Citizens can pay their taxes online in a number of countries, including France, Australia, Greece and Italy.

• France: http://www.finances.gouv.fr/IR2000/ir2000.htm

• Australia (e-tax): http://www.ato.gov.au

• Greece (TAXISnet): http://www.taxisnet.gr

• Italy (pilot project): http://www.finanze.it/

E-government is changing the way that services are delivered. Sweden, for example, has proposed criteria for providing central e-government services 24 hours a day, seven days a week (24/7 services). Countries are also increasing access to e-government information and services by making the Internet available in public libraries, schools and public spaces. Portugal and Spain have both installed public kiosks for e-government services. And Internet terminals can now be found in some Paris metro stations.

• Sweden (24/7 plan): http://www.statskontoret.se/24-timmarsmyndighet/summary.html

• Spain (Citizen Attention Points): http://www.map.es

• Portugal (INFOCID): http://www.infocid.pt

The third stage of e-government is increasingly interactive, allowing governments to use information technology tools to engage citizens in the development of policies, programmes and services.

E-government makes it easier than ever to collect user feedback in order to improve and tailor services. Countries are also experimenting with different forms of on-line consultation and e-democracy (electronic and online voting), although no country has yet fully installed a system allowing citizens to vote online instead of going to the polling station during national elections. Governments do however post policy documents and draft laws on web sites for comment, and are able to receive solicited and unsolicited feedback. The Netherlands and Canada are developing consultation guidelines for improving citizen participation in public decision-making.

• Netherlands: (consultation guide) http://www.minbzk.nl/pdf/eo/actie/elcivco.pdf; (list of electronic discussions) http://www.overheid.nl/discussies.htm

• Canada: (consultation on WTO) http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/tna-nac/consult-e.asp

None of these initiatives, however, will work unless governments change their internal practices to keep up with the increased pace and quality demands of providing e-government services. This includes improving internal communications and knowledge management, providing incentives for reform, and learning how to manage large-scale IT investments. Many OECD countries have published strategic plans for implementing their e-government initiatives. The UK Modernising Government White Paper, for example, includes multi-year targets for moving services online (see article in this section by Lucian Hudson). Governments also need to ensure privacy and compatibility of systems in order to provide a secure and reliable framework for electronic transactions. Finland recently passed legislation on electronic transactions that provide guidance for the whole administrative process, from filing a request to getting a decision.

• United Kingdom: www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/moderngov/whtpaper/index.htm

• Finland: http://www.om.fi/

OECD’s public management service is working with the Italian government to organise the Third Global Forum on Governance, on 15-17 March 2001 in Naples, Italy. The forum, entitled "Fostering Democracy and Development through E-government", will look at good e-government practices as well as governance implications and ways to bridge the digital divide.

©OECD Observer No 224, January 2001




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