Improved efficiency, better communication, more transparency and increased accessibility of government services are some of the many potential advantages of eGovernment systems. During a recent training in Erbil, Iraq, 25 senior government officials from different Ministries discussed how eGovernment can contribute to the country’s social protection and food security.
In the last three decades, Iraq has been on the path of recovery from a series of disruptions to its social fabric through armed conflict. Recently, as in many other countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic added to the country’s challenges towards recovery, interfering with daily life and governance at all levels.
While the last few decades have brought a cyclical disruption to government services, they have also brought a digital revolution. Governments across Iraq have recognised the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to digitalisation. Such a broad digital transformation can lead to better access to public services and increased transparency, helping build trust in the government.
“The positive attitude and enthusiasm towards eGovernance are helping in digitising many of the paper-based, unnecessarily time-consuming processes. To date, the Iraqi Government has implemented multiple systems and established data centres that significantly enhanced some processes, such as issuing passports, changing billing addresses and handling visa applications”. Dara Sherwani, course expert and director of the Iraq-based institute Skills House.
A single registry for social protection
One example is the ambition of the Iraqi government to create a single registry for social protection interventions, such as the public distribution system PDS. PDS is a social safety net providing food entitlements to almost the entire population of 39 million people. When signing up for these government services, citizens must usually provide similar identity and biographic information. The repeated capture, storage and processing of the same citizen data in different departments of government leads to multiple datasets that do not communicate or update each other. Moreover, citizens have to spend a lot of time and effort in registration. The eGovernment training aimed to create a shared understanding of eGovernment, and improved cooperation between the different Ministries involved in social protection services.
Four pillars of good eGovernance
In the training, our partners at the World Food Programme and our expert Dara Sherwani, Director of the Iraq-based institute Skills House, shared four key pillars for good eGovernance, which we have summarised below.
1) Digital Transformation Strategy
The lack of an overarching digital transformation strategy may lead to the inefficient and ad-hoc implementation of technology as well as lost opportunities for effective digital solutions. It is therefore crucial for governments to carefully plan their digital initiatives to ensure they align with their overall goals. This involves identifying the right technologies, establishing clear policies, and ensuring effective governance structures are in place.
Often, eGovernment systems handle sensitive personal data. As more citizen data are collected and processed digitally, there is an increased risk of data breaches and privacy violations. Governments have the responsibility to establish comprehensive policies and regulations to safeguard citizen data while enabling efficient service delivery.
3) Capacity Building and Digital Literacy
Implementing eGovernment initiatives requires an adequately skilled workforce. This makes capacity-strengthening programmes and digital literacy campaigns necessary to equip government officials and citizens with the skills to utilise and benefit from eGovernment services. According to Dara, the main challenge that faces Iraq regarding eGovernance relates to the digital skills of both public sector employees and citizens. “When we discussed the digital skills of public employees during the training, participants believed that fifty to eighty per cent of the employees are not ready to use complex systems”.
4) Interoperability and Standardisation
Often, eGovernment services involve multiple government ministries and departments. Ensuring interoperability and standardisation among different systems and platforms is vital for seamless data exchange between different entities. Without interoperability standards, data sharing becomes challenging and hinders efficient service delivery.
More on the training
As part of the ‘Shiraka’ training programme, The Hague Academy offers a yearly professional development programme for practitioners in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to refine their skills in digitisation and eGovernance. Shiraka aims to strengthen and improve bilateral relations between the Netherlands and the MENA region in the public sector and offers an opportunity to improve public services through shared inspiration. Interested? Find out more here. Applications for the eGovernment course in 2024 will open in November 2023.