Monday, October 25, 2010

World e.Gov Forum review Part 1: Gov 2.0 flavours

Due to jetlag, work and other activities (such as TEDxCanberra) it has taken me longer than I anticipated to get around to write my impressions and review of the World e.Gov Forum I attended from the 13-15 October in Paris.

I attended the event as one of Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics for 2010, along with Senator Kate Lundy and eight others from around the world. As 'Top 10' we were also nominees for the International eDemocracy Award.

Several Australians, Allison Hornery and John Wells (of CivicTec), flew in from London to support us on the second day of the conference, listening to the nomination speeches for the eDemocracy Awards, attending the prize giving, in which Senator Lundy won the International eDemocracy Award, and subsequent dinner cruise.

I self-funded my attendance (with support from the organisers), taking leave to do so - which is generally how I attend international, and some domestic Gov 2.0 events - and found it was an excellent opportunity to gain insights into how Government 2.0 is progressing in non-English speaking nations.

In Australia we have a tendency to pay most attention to the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand as they are all majority English speaking and have political systems with similar roots - making them more accessible to us.

I've consciously supported this tendency in this blog because it is easier to learn what is occurring in English speaking jurisdictions and easier to communicate it to Australians. However English speakers are not the leaders in many areas of eDemocracy, eGovernment or Gov 2.0.

This was demonstrated during my trip, which also reinforced for me that there are different 'flavours' of Government 2.0 thriving in different parts of the world.

English speaking countries are focusing on Government 2.0 initiatives, increasing the openness and transparency of governments and increasing the level of community and public sector engagement. These efforts are largely led by government itself, supported to varying degrees by information philanthropy through not-for-profits (almost none in Australia and New Zealand, quite a few in the US and UK), individual citizens and the media or independent entities (primarily in the US and UK again).

In Europe eDemocracy appears to be the leading area, aiming to deliver social goods, increase the accountability of politicians and the transparency of governance processes, but without a significant emphasis on public sector engagement. Not-for-profits lead the eDemocracy charge, largely funded through government grants, followed by governments themselves at political levels.

South America has made progress on collaborative eDemocratic approaches, with a number of governments providing direct avenues for the public to influence government spending decisions (collaborative budgeting). Due to greater digital divides in these nations, governments are investing in innovative ways to provide digital access to citizens - mobile kiosks, internet centres and similar public access facilities supported by training and education.

The Middle-East is concentrating on eGovernment, digital enablement of government services. The area hosts a number of specialised eGovernment conferences each year and is using mobile services to address otherwise unconnected constituents, some of whom still follow traditional nomadic lives.

Africa has a huge focus on mobile technologies, as fixed broadband is too expensive to roll out into many remote areas and can be difficult to defend in wartorn zones. Digital enablement through information, such as providing weather, market prices and efficient farming practices to farmers, is very important. Emergency and disaster management are also big topics, with two of the world's best emergency/disaster management internet platforms emerging from the continent. eDemocracy is also a major driver, largely enabled through not-for-profit civil right groups using SMS and, increasingly, mobile internet to allow individuals to report electorate fraud.

Asia is a very mixed bag. India and other relatively under-developed countries are focused on eGovernment, with an emphasis on increasing connectivity and citizen enablement through literacy and computer skills programs. More advanced economies such as Malaysia, Singapore, China/Hong Kong and Japan, are providing more direct routes for citizen engagement but in forms that are culturally relevant to the nation, quite different in detail from Gov 2.0 initiatives in English speaking nations.

Each of these different flavours has its own strengths and challenges - and we can learn from all of them.

Tomorrow I'll publish World e.Gov Forum review Part 2: Gov 2.0 case studies - detailing six case studies from Europe, the Americas, Middle-East and Asia that we explored in a Cisco telepresence session at the conference.

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