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Interview Mila Gasco

posted Dec 5, 2012, 9:40 AM by STC eGov   [ updated Dec 5, 2012, 10:27 AM ]

Point of view - Mila Gasco.

01.- You're writing a book about open government, but when a government is open...
An open government is a government that pursues transparency, collaboration and participation.

02.- What effect do you think the economic crisis would have on e-Government national programs in most advanced countries? What about that effect on emerging countries?
Almost everywhere crises are resulting in closing e-government programs and in cutting investment in ICT down. It should be the other way round since it has been proved that e-government gives rise to efficiency gains (that is the case, for example, of interoperability projects). However, politicians have a short term view and so not see that small investments now can lead to future benefits.

03.- In your experience about e-Government and Open Government, which is your view about their relation with privacy?
Privacy issues are very important and have to be taken into account when opening data or when carrying out interoperability projects (information sharing, exchange of data). However, too often privacy issues become a barrier as well and it is tough to keep a balance between the need to keep data privacy and the need to be operative and well functioning.

04.-How does Open Government deals with citizen's privacy?
It is as simple as not opening the data which belong to someone in particular. For example, you do not open personal data. If you consider other types of projects, such as interoperability ones (which, for me, have to do with collaboration), it is not that easy because the Spanish regulation is very strict and that means that in order to make sure personal data is protected and respected the processes slow down. For me, and as I said before, t is difficult to keep a balance.

05.- In your opinion what could be the 2-3 major initiatives to ensure equal access of citizens to e-Government services.
For me, there are two broad initiatives which are necessary: investment in infrastructures and training. Regarding the first one I am not only referring to connectivity issues. Investing in telecentres or digital public spaces, for me, has also to do with infrastructures. Regarding the second one, I mean more that training in how to use word or excel. It is important to build digital competencies which has to do with using ICT with a purpose that improves one's quality of life.

06.-How to enhance the trust of e-Government?
Making things easier!!!!! For example, we have spent so much money in e-IDs and no one is using them because it is not easy!!! The easier the better!! Training also matters. And again, I do not mean ICT training. To make people aware of security issues is key. There is a lack of a security culture on the Internet, both regarding citizens and companies. Enhancing these matters would increase trust in e-government. Finally, trust will naturally increase. Our kids, who are so used to ICT already have more trust in the Internet than we or our elders do.

07.-A key point in Open Government is interoperability. Is it compatible with privacy?
Well, I sort of answered that before. It is compatible although it is difficult to find a balance. We need to be more flexible in the virtual world. There is no point in copying onsite patterns because they do not apply anymore in the online world. One of the most important benefits of investing in ICT is efficiency. Interoperability clearly give rise to efficiency gains. However, if we are not more flexible regarding privacy issues (and that does not mean not to take care of it) the processes slow down and we lose good opportunities. For example, we have to be practical. We want to offer benefits to the citizen but then we ask him/her to authorize the exchange of information among public organizations. And we ask him/her every time, not just once.

08.- Is interoperability really included in the political agenda?
No. Interoperability does not result in more votes!!! It is not a citizen demand. Thus, it is not a political priority. It should, now more than ever. Citizens do not demand interoperability but, because of the economic crisis which has been hitting us, more and more, they require public administrations to be efficient. And interoperability helps public administrations to be efficient.

09.- What is the role of web 2.0 and web 3.0 in the adoption of e-Government?
I am not sure what you mean by the adoption of e-government. But if we talk about the contribution of web 2.0 and web 3.0 to e-government, I would say it has a lot of potential regarding opening data, interoperability (for which semantics is key) and, of course, collaboration and participation. Regarding the latter, the more interactive the web, the better. Unidirectional websites do not promote participation nor collaboration.

10.- How do you see WeGO Awards will help to advance on e-Government improvement and best practices?
WeGo Awards have awarded good practices around the world. Those initiatives were evaluated and ranked. Thus, the ones with more points won. That means they were better than others. In this respect, they are examples to follow. We had 46 projects to be evaluated and 10 won. All of them were very good but those 10 were great projects, from a planning, implementation and results point of view. They are an example for others, they are leading the way for e-government development.

11.-Do you think the e-Government is necessary during the construction of smart city? Why?
For me a smart city can be analyzed according to 8 dimensions: management and organization, technology, governance, policy context, people and communities, economy, built infrastructure, and natural environment. As some colleagues of mine (Pardo in the University of Albany, Scholl in Washington University or Peres in the Universidad Externado de Colombia) state, managerial and organizational concerns in smart city initiatives need to be discussed in the context of e-government and IT projects success. Also, it cannot be forgotten that most smart city initiatives are driven by governments and leveraged by the intensive use of ICTs to better serve citizens. The governance dimension is also clearly linked to e-government. Several cities have started transformational projects and initiatives called smart city initiatives to better serve citizens and to improve their quality of life. These projects involve multiple stakeholders. Thus, several cities have felt an increased need for better governance to manage these projects and initiatives.

12.-What is the role of Smart Cities in the e-Government ecosystem?

I do not know what the e-government ecosystem means for you!!! But I will make a guess and, actually, I think it is the other way round: the role of e-government in the smart city ecosystem or in a broader context for that matter. I referred to this in the previous question: e-government is part of a smarty city. In fact, in a smart city we should not speak about e-government any more but about the smart government (that is, making governmental operations “smarter” - more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable).

13.- How would you explain to the general public the benefits of e-Government in general and of Smart Cities in particular?
Again, I would say it is the other way round: smarty cities in general and e-government in particular. Regarding the former, and just to name a few: more possibilities for innovation (which leads to GDP gains), efficient urban regeneration and management, contribution to the environment (smart cities pursue environmental sustainability by means of, for example, water or energy efficiency). Regarding the latter and just to name a few: effectiveness and efficiency both for public administrations and citizens, transparency, more accountability.

14.-Are there some lost topic, when nowadays people are speaking on Open Government?
I do not know if there is a lost topic but I am not sure we are committed to open government. Everyone talks about it. It is the hot topic now! One is old-fashioned if s/he does not speak about open government. But, do we really want to be more transparent? Do we really want people to participate? I am sure we want to develop an infomediaries industry (it gives money) but how about citizens' participation? It has never been easy. And social media and opening data is not enough. We need to develop an attitude towards that. It is not enough to have a twitter account. We have to do something out of it!!!

15.- You have a PhD in Evaluation. Related with this topic, is evaluation a true part of the e-Government agenda?
No!!!! Unfortunately. Ministers and senior electronic government officials from 29 countries in the region gathered last week in San José of Costa Rica at the invitation of the host government, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to analyze how technology can be incorporated into public policies focused on citizens. I presented a project on e-government evaluation that has consisted in the building of an evaluation framework that guarantees e-government sustainability. Everyone was really interested in it because there is a lack of evaluation tools since there is a lack of an e-government evaluation culture.

30 November 2012