A new study on eGovernment services in the EU reveals that online public services are becoming increasingly accessible across Europe, 81% being now available online. However, deeper analysis of user-centricity, transparency, cross-border mobility and in general quality of use shows that growth is uneven and a substantial number of EU countries are still lagging behind. This sends a clear signal for acceleration, in order to keep up with private sector pressing needs, and citizens' expectations. To address these challenges, in April 2016, the Commission has launched a new eGovernment Action Plan for 2016-2020. It is based on the following underlying principles: digital-by-default, cross-border by default, once-only principle, inclusive by default; privacy & data protection; Openness & transparency by default.
Country progress over time: appearance of a ‘Digital Diagonal’ in Europe?
How do individual countries fare? There is huge variation in eGovernment performance across Europe. A 'Digital Diagonal’ string of countries from the South-West to the North-East of Europe perform above the European average and are also in most cases showing stronger progress than the European average, while the other European countries are behind the European average on both progress and performance. Progress is measured as the difference in performance between the data available in the last (2014-2015) and the first (2012-2013) complete biennial assessment of eGovernment surveys . Performance is measured as an average of scores for 4 top level benchmarks: user centricity, transparency, cross-border mobility, key enablers.
Top-level benchmarks for e-government
User Centricity: Governments have advanced in making public services digital, but focussed less on the quality of the delivery from the user’s perspective, especially in terms of ease and speed of use. While the online availability of services at EU28 + Switzerland, Island, The EU28+ (such aggregate includes the EU28 MSs plus CH, IS, ME, NO, RS and TR) level reached 81% (+9 percentage points since 2012-2013) and online usability 83% (+4 points since 2012-2013), the ease of using and speed of using these services online – as perceived by the mystery shoppers, testing online services - advanced poorly, increasing by only 1 percentage point since the first complete assessment in 2013.
Transparency: The Transparency indicator examines the extent to which governments are transparent about their own responsibilities and performance, the service delivery process, and the personal data involved. This benchmark has increased by 8 percentage points since 2012-2013 at EU28+ level, reaching 56% in 2014-2015. However, the implementation of good transparent service procedures is still lagging behind in large parts of Europe (Score of 47% at EU28+). Transparency of personal data halts at 55%. Across Europe governments have room for improvement to make their organisations more transparent. This is the highest scoring sub-indicator, showing an average score of 64%.
Cross Border Mobility: eGovernment services are still lacking the adequate level of support to citizens and business who wish to move or operate across borders. This is undesirable since this can help accelerate the realization of an inclusive Digital Single Market. Business-related services are more advanced in terms of cross-border mobility than citizen-related services: even if the latter increased more since the first measurement (+13 points against +11 for the business), business mobility gets a higher score (64% against 52% for the citizens).
Key Enablers: This indicator measures the availability of five technical elements which are essential for public services: Electronic Identification (eID), Electronic documents (eDocuments), Authentic Sources, Electronic Safe (eSafe), Single Sign On (SSO). The technology of key enablers, that could drive user empowerment and efficiency, is not used to its full potential and currently the benchmark scores 54%.
Mystery shoppers simulate citizens' "life events"
This eGovernment Benchmarking report uses a methodology established by the new eGovernment Benchmark Framework 2012-2015. It provides for the use of mystery shoppers, i.e. prospective users that assess government websites and services by simulating citizen's actions. This year's report analyses all the related services offered online for the following four life events, namely: regular business operations, moving locations, car ownership, and small claims procedure. Other three life events (job search, studies and setting up a business) were analysed in detail in last year's report.
Zooming in on individual life events shows that people conducting regular businesses can use the online version of public services for the vast majority (90%) of their routine interactions with public administrations (e.g. declaring VAT, paying social contributions) while moving is the highest scoring category for citizens (85%). Departing from a rather low score of 68%, availability of e-gov services for car owners have improved greatly over past two years (+8 p.p.), but foreigners can only count on availability of information, not the actual service. Then, starting a small claims procedure online is still a difficult journey for most Europeans, lacking transparency, quality and cross-border solutions, despite some progress achieved (+8 p.p. in user centricity in the last two years).
Achieving the priorities as set by the new EU eGovernment Action Plan
The Action Plan seeks to make progress in the following three policy priorities, as identified in the Digital Single Market Strategy: 1) To modernise Public Administrations by using key digital enablers, 2) achieve cross-border mobility through interoperability and 3) facilitate digital interaction between administrations and citizens/businesses for high-quality public services.
The report provides insights for each of its guiding principles:
- On ‘digital by default’: Mandatory online services are common practice amongst countries for delivering businesses eServices (half of European countries has made one or more service mandatory online”), increasingly for services addressing students (11 of 34 countries), but hardly for other citizen services (4 of 34 countries).
- On ‘once-only principle’: A missed opportunity for increasing efficient service delivery as the use of authentic sources for pre-filling online services has increased only slightly with 2 percentage points and is now used in approximately half of the public services (49%). The number of automated services has remained stable since the first measurement at 3% of all services.
- On ‘Mobile friendliness - accessibility’: Almost all European citizens have the possibility to access Internet. The use of mobile devices to access internet is taking a huge flight over the past five years, but still only 1 in 3 public websites is ‘mobile-friendly’. This is clearly a barrier for progress of eGov services.
- On ‘cross-border by default’: The Business Mobility benchmark indicates that cross-border services are lagging behind services offered to country nationals. 25% of services required of foreign entrepreneurs to start their business in another country is available only offline, including not only interactive services but even the most basic information. In comparison. entrepreneurs starting a business in their own country face such issues in only 2% of the cases.
The 13th eGovernment Benchmark report is the fourth edition of the measurement made according to the new eGovernment Benchmark Framework 2012-2015. A complete measurement of all seven life event takes two years: the former three are measured in even years while the latter four are measured in odd years. This year represents the third complete measurement, running across 2014-2015, allowing us to compare progress made with respect to 2012-2013 and 2013-2014
Discuss the report as well as your needs and ideas for a better Digital Public Service on the online platform eGovernment4EU