E-Governance Platforms: Promising but Problematic

As I embark on my assignment on e-governance, my initial research suggests the widespread use of online platforms like social media, cyber resources, and websites by governments to connect with citizens. However, the deeper I explore, the more I question whether these online government initiatives are genuinely pushing for greater transparency and accountability in governance, bridging the gap between bureaucracy and engagement, or simply perpetuating the status quo and serving public relations purposes.

Why are governments increasingly investing in e-governance platforms?

In today’s digital era, governments in Nigeria keep touting e-governance platforms as a way to improve transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement. But why should we believe this? Undeniably, a range of benefits are promised including:

Increased access to information: Citizens and interested parties can easily access government information and services online, 24/7. This fosters transparency.

Improved communication: they provide governments with unique avenues to communicate with citizens, more effectively and efficiently. They therefore offer the potential to greatly enhance engagement and trust.

Greater citizen participation in governance: the platforms can give citizens a voice, opportunities to share their opinions and participate in decision-making processes.

Access to government services: The platforms can offer convenient access to government services, such as applying for passports or paying taxes. This significantly improves efficiency and reduces bureaucracy.

Problematic Reality

However, the truth is that the e-governance platforms also come with certain challenges. My research and observations indicate that a large proportion of these online e-governance initiatives are used primarily for one-way communication, such as simply making announcements without responding to feedback or questions from citizens.

Furthermore, platforms are being used more for self-promotion, focusing on the government’s achievements rather than facilitating open dialogue, providing citizens with the information they need, and addressing their concerns.

Are e-governance platforms being limited to government announcement boards? While mechanisms for citizen input are supposedly in place, there is often no response to those inputs. Or what is the sense in putting phone numbers on your website that don’t work or will never be answered if citizens call?

Even though some of those delivering government services are effective in delivering those services, engagement still isnt really optimal.

E-governance Platforms for PR? Fundamentals

It is therefore concerning that e-governance platforms may actually be being used to perpetuate the status quo rather than promote genuine transparency and accountability. Is it just a box-ticking exercise? This unhealthy state of affairs consequently undermines participation, trust, and credibility. The promise is immense, the challenges are significant.

While two-way communication and citizen engagement tools are crucial elements for realizing the promise of e-governance platforms, they should not be the sole focus.

A truly citizen-centric approach also requires addressing broader foundational issues. Bridging the digital divide and addressing cybersecurity threats are core issues in making e-governance platforms more functional and relevant.

The digital divide, characterized by unequal access to technology and digital literacy in Nigeria, exacerbates existing inequalities and excludes certain segments of the population, such as low-income individuals, rural communities, and the elderly, from using e-governance platforms. The present harsh economic climate and the fuel subsidy removal have not helped in closing these gaps.

Cybersecurity and data privacy play a crucial role in building trust and confidence in the platforms. E-governance platforms collect and store a significant amount of personal data. Citizens must be assured their personal information is safe and their privacy is protected before actively engaging.

Therefore, both bridging the digital divide and addressing cybersecurity threats are also fundamental to making e-governance platforms truly citizen-centric. Interestingly, these foundational issues for citizen-centric e-governance platforms are indeed foundational for building a strong and inclusive digital economy for all.

The Need for Citizen-Centric Governance Solutions

It is understandable and even desirable for governments to use online platforms to share their achievements, successes, and projects. This informs citizens about the government’s activities, which is crucial for building trust and legitimacy. However, focusing solely on government achievements and self-promotion turns these platforms into propaganda tools, undermining their potential as citizen-centric governance solutions. This renders them unhelpful to citizens seeking genuine interaction and solutions to their problems. Citizens deserve responses to their questions, addressing of their concerns, and opportunities for meaningful conversations. Otherwise, the platforms relegate citizen participation in governance and improving the quality of life to the background.

E-governance platforms can certainly be amazing tools for making governments more transparent, accountable, and capable of improving lives. In this digital era, your e-governance platforms become mere distractions if they are not avenues for citizens to actively participate, not just passively spectate. The way forward is citizen-centric, not PR campaigns or propaganda machines.

Making E-Governance Platforms More Effective

Careful design and implementation are essential to ensure that e-governance platforms are citizen-centric and used to promote transparency and accountability and avoid simply reinforcing existing power structures.

Firstly, shift the prevailing one-way communication paradigm. Focus on prioritizing and facilitating dialogue between citizens and the government. Put useful communication channels in place for effective, active, timely responsiveness to feedback, interaction and participation on issues that directly impact the lives of citizens. Value citizen input by listening actively and acting on their suggestions.

Put systems in place to track progress on issues raised, communicate outcomes, and demonstrate responsiveness, thereby building trust.

Governments should highlight their work and achievements by actively demonstrating how they impact people’s lives and meet citizen needs.

The platforms should be user-friendly for all citizens, regardless of their technical skills or disabilities.

Foundational Issues and Political Will are Key

Governments need to work creatively to bridge the digital divide. This will ensure that everyone can benefit from e-governance platforms. And this means providing affordable internet access, digital literacy training programs, and accessible technology for all.

Governments should also implement robust security measures and raise awareness about cyber threats. Implementation of data protection regulations and laws, cybersecurity awareness and education, and responsible data management practices are key to combating cyber threats. These are crucial to building trust and encouraging citizen engagement.

It is crucial to regularly assess the effectiveness of e-governance platforms. They must be assessed in terms of transparency, accountability, inclusion, security, and citizen engagement. Effectiveness demands continuous improvement and ensures that platforms are fulfilling their intended purpose.

Ultimately, it is a question of will, yes, political will. These suggestions can lead to success, but only if embraced by leaders who understand e-governance and who actively invest resources and build capacity. Those who choose the online environment for citizen engagement and improvement rather than propaganda and PR. Does leadership have the political will?

The Way Forward

E-governance platforms have the potential to be powerful tools for transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement. They have the potential to truly become a bridge between citizens and their government.

By prioritizing citizen-centric approaches, promoting inclusivity, providing robust security, and continuously evaluating effectiveness, we can unlock the full potential of these platforms.

E-Governance platforms shouldn’t be nice to have or to show off, but must-haves for impactful governance. It should touch the lives of citizens, empower them and contribute to improving the quality of life for all citizens.

I hope this post gives you some food for thought on the topic of e-governance platforms.

Here’s to building trust, fostering participation, and shaping a more responsive, participatory and accountable future!

Author: Jide Awe

Science, Technology and Innovation policy advisor.

Find him on Twitter @jidaw

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