Crises are part of the human experience. We have done an exceptional job creating highly functional societies, capable of great things, and organizing ourselves around shared values, laws, and governance norms. But when crises hit, some hit harder than others.
COVID-19 has put a strain on everything – health-care systems, employment, and education principally. Governments at the national, state, and local levels are attempting (some better than others) to organize the delivery of critical services to their citizenry. Many of these services can be completed online, mainly as they apply to financial benefits such as cash transfers. However, a lesson from Japan shows that what we might have thought were well-constructed e-government platforms, in practice, is proving to be more challenging.
A report by the Japan Research Institute last year revealed a troubling finding – only 7.5% of the 55,700 plus administrative procedures in Japanese government departments could be completed online. Fast-forward to the present and to receive cash benefits in Japan due to COVID-19, the online system is understandably working terribly. As of June 5th, only 28% of households who qualified for a cash subsidy have received it. The backlog is growing by the day, and the government is facing harsh criticism.
The most worrisome in all of this is we're talking about Japan – a highly industrialized country that most look to for examples of how to do things right! While the developing world is suffering from similar technological issues, there are some interesting examples of functional e-government at work.
Over the past 15 years in Argentina, broadband connectivity has improved by 500%. Roughly 90% of this South American country has Internet access (home or through a smartphone) and can access over 2,000 government services online. In parallel, the country devoted tremendous resources to building up their IT infrastructure, and now with COVID-19 has been able to provide emergency income (via online transfers) to approximately 8 million people.
In Estonia, nearly 100% (99% to be exact) of government services are online. The implementation of e-Estonia initially emerged in 2000 when the country declared Internet access as a human right. Stateside, most local governments in the US have functional websites, but that functionality is many times only measured in what the site offers (as opposed to what a citizen base needs).
At Revize, during the build of a municipal web site, we focus on both points (citizen wants and needs) but pay particular attention to the second. If we polled a local community one year ago surrounding what they would need to survive a pandemic, we'd likely have arrived at a robust e-government administrative checklist. But often, "worse case scenarios" are not taken into account when rolling out any tech-related platform.
The bottom line – let's learn from this experience and strive for the most functional e-government platform possible. Our citizen bases depend on it, even more so in times like these.