A youth uses a computer on World Internet Day in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, May 17, 2013. | Photo: EFE
Technological innovations are an efficient tool to refocus governance on the citizens who make up the state, and are more necessary than ever to help governments define their administrations and build an open platform to communicate with their citizens. Providing for citizens basic needs and services is the essence of good governance; a public administration that is considered and strives to be called an open government.
This vision is based on the premise that citizens are the focal point of government policies. An open government aims to satisfy its citizens’ wants and needs, which when fulfilled in a timely, reasonable manner, strengthens public legitimacy and a high approval rating.
With the help of tools like e-government, public agencies are at citizens’ fingertips. Just as people use the internet and social media to complain about poor government services, these same tools can be significant assets for governments to better serve their citizens. In a matter of minutes, your questions can be answered and problems solved in real time without waiting in line or being placed on hold over the phone. Some of the most frequently utilized e-government services are an online help desk and applications which satisfy citizens’ most immediate needs and helps them become more productive without having to take time off from their day jobs to enroll, modify, or troubleshoot important public services such as health care, social security, education, and transportation.
Nowadays, it is impossible to think of expanding the reach and quality of public services if we don’t commit to developing more technical capacities of the general public, in addition to within public offices, so that technology can be a bridge between government and its citizens. This bridge puts citizens at the heart of every government action and public policy. To help overcome the digital divide and reach a large segment of the population with limited access to the Internet and scant resources, governments have taken specific measures targeting these groups. One well-known best practice is the One Laptop Per Child initiative that developing countries can take advantage of to supply disadvantaged youth with a low-cost, low-maintenance PC to help achieve higher literacy rates and a strong foundation of digital skills.
Innovative technologies help streamline the delivery of government services and have a positive impact on ensuring equal access to information for all citizens that guarantees their fundamental right to know.
Few challenges stand between governments and the uptake of these new technologies, such as the political will to foster e-government connectivity and fulfill the needs of citizens in a world with increasing rates of internet penetration. Financing options are available through generous international grants and partnerships with the private sectors. In Latin America, countries such as Dominican Republic and Uruguay are leading the way as examples of consistency and government commitment to strengthening the use of information communication technologies. Let’s take a closer look.
Dominican Republic: E-Government Benchmarking, 911 Emergency Service and Economic Development
One of the best practices that countries are currently implementing is the self-evaluation of e-government services. This method allows countries to develop their own benchmark before being evaluated by international organizations. Dominican Republic is a good example of this benchmarking system; the President’s Information & Communications Technology Office performs a periodic review and ranking of government web portals to gauge the effectiveness of their e-government services. Additionally, the Dominican Ministry of Public Administration launched a Public Services Task Force to monitor the quality of services and assistance that citizens receive.
Another important monitoring and evaluation tool from the Dominican Ministry of Public Administration is its requirement for public institutions to review their processes and services aimed at putting the citizen at the center of government. There is an annual competition where all the public agencies vie for a national prize awarded to the organization with the highest quality of citizen services. Public agencies generally want to compete so that their leadership is appreciated by their countrymen and the President. In the end, the citizens are the real winners when the country’s public offices unite to reach a high degree of excellence.
Dominican Republic has also made great strides in its recent pilot project to implement a emergency assistance and security 911 hotline in Santo Domingo, which owes its success to the use of advanced information communication technology networks. This 911 service is carried out based on norms, protocols, and state-of-the art quality standards to locate critical underserved areas of the city, while also improving the quality of Dominican street maps. As a result, this 911 hotline has serviced more than 300,000 emergencies in its first 10 months of operations.
Dominican Republic’s emergency 911 service is no longer a pilot project in the country’s capital Santo Domingo; today it has expanded to Santiago, the second largest city, with roll-out plans in other regions as well. The successful implementation of the 911 emergency and safety system has been one of the public policy results that has been developed from the center of Dominican government. The Inter-American Development Bank defines the Center of Government as an institution or a group of institutions that directly support the head of the executive branch in the management of his administration. This direct support is essential to provide direction and coherence to government and ensure priority services are rendered to its citizens.
The Dominican Center of Government is coordinated by the Ministry of the Presidency, which designs, implements, and evaluates programs and projects such as the 911 emergency service and the surprise visits that have emerged from the goals set out by President Danilo Medina’s Administration. The success of this approach is due in large part to the concrete, measurable goals aimed at priority areas of the country, which establish objectives that define the central priorities of the executive branch. Critical to the implementation process, the monitoring and follow-up of these policies helps hold the government accountable and ensure inclusivity. Moreover, the Ministry of the Presidency has been strengthened by the creation of an office of liaisons, with one for each cabinet ministry to coordinate between the distinct ministries and the president, one of the key advancements of the Dominican Republic’s public administration reforms in 2012 (No. 247-12).
The correlation between these government reforms and economic growth is compelling. The international media frequently cites Dominican Republic as the fastest growing country in Latin America and the Caribbean, together with Panama. For example, in 2015, Dominican Republic grew by 7 percent of its GDP according to statistics confirmed by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.
A New Paradigm of Governance
The major changes that the world is undergoing are accompanied by challenges that accelerate technological innovations that allow governments to provide for their citizens’ needs. These new times in which we live demand that a government is closer to its people, able to respond at the same pace of technology, and communicates in a less formal and more human way that can streamline lengthy bureaucratic processes and simplifies paperwork for public services.
One can conclude that governance is a broader concept than government and requires a synergy between the state, the private sector and civil society, working in concert with the institutional linkages that are generated from these alliances. Technology can help governments achieve this goal, but is never a substitute for good governance or a panacea. A more integrated government is required to promote more civic engagement as the means of legitimizing its actions and vice versa. Many governments seem to be late for the party, but under this new paradigm of governance and open government, social actors and civil society must be present at the decision-making tables.
This integrated government I refer to is one that achieves the interoperability of institutions as a guarantee of citizens’ needs that can guarantee the synchronization of new social policies across the government. Likewise, it is the government that makes a sustained commitment to the country’s development, but above all, to improving people’s lives and putting citizens at the center of government to achieve more successful societies with a higher quality of life.
Geovanny Vicente Romero is the founder of the Dominican Republic Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development (CPDL-RD). He is a political analyst, international consultant and lecturer based in Washington, D.C. Reach him on Twitter @geovannyvicentr