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Citizen-centric online transformation - My eGovernment

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Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Government Administration and Reform

Statement by Minister of Government Administration and Reform Heidi Grande Røys at the 4th Ministerial eGovernment Conference in Lisbon

eGovernment is about user friendly solutions, inclusion and democratization, said minister of Government Administration and Reform Heidi Grande Røys at the 4th Ministerial eGovernment Conference in Lisbon.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here in Lisbon. It is a special honour to be invited by the Portuguese Presidency and The European Commission to share some perspectives on e-Government.

We are living in a time of great change. Today, we are witnessing a new wave of citizen participation on the Internet. You-Tube has 100 million downloads. MySpace has 350 000 new members every day. Wikipedia counts more than 3 million articles produced by citizens all over the world, in more than 100 languages. A new blog is established somewhere on the Internet every second. We have FACEBOOK and Second Life. We have SKYPE and Netlog – a big European community website with 23 million users. I don’t know what’s coming next. But it keeps coming. And it is quite obvious that governments have a lesson or two to learn from these phenomena.

So, how can we make use of these phenomena when reforming the government?

In December 2006, I presented a white paper titled “An information society for all” to the Norwegian Parliament where we also respond to the kind of thinking behind those new visions. The White Paper covers a wide range of issues, such as

  • Digital inclusion – including access, universal design and skills for all,
  • Research and development in the ICT sector,
  • Privacy, and
  • Round the clock public administration – or eGovernment, which is my topic today.

Let me start with an example. In April of this year, 75 per cent of our citizens used The Norwegian Tax Administration’s service for electronic delivery of prefilled individual tax declarations. That is an impressive number of satisfied users. In fact, it is a revolution on two fronts: it saves a lot of time for the taxpayers, and it saves several hundred man-years in the Tax Administration.

eGovernment is about user friendly solutions, it is about inclusion, democratization and efficiency, about gains and sustainable profit, and about being technologically updated!

Our citizens expect more and better services from the government, and they want it at the lowest possible cost. That isn’t new. What’s new is the landscape and the means we have at our disposal. Technology is changing the interaction between people. And ICT is a powerful toolbox that can contribute to serve citizens and businesses much better than we do today.

The public sector has other challenges than the private sector. The public sector doesn’t have customers, it has users, and it has to serve them all. The question is: How can the public sector reach citizens in the same clear and understandable way as banking services, booking of tickets and other electronic commerce do?

Citizens and businesses shouldn’t need to have a detailed knowledge of public sector to be able to use government services. But today, they face a lot of different doors when getting involved with the government, doors that often lead to closed silos, as a result of a fragmented government structure.

In Norway, we have 430 municipalities, we have 19 counties and we have 341 central government departments with independent decision-making responsibility in the ICT area. What citizens don’t need, and don’t want, is hundreds of entry points when one, or a few, is enough. ICT is a powerful tool to bridge all those silos!

Norway has therefore established one-stop solutions and gateways for both businesses and citizens.

Altinn is the gateway to public services for all businesses. Its purpose is to give businesses:

  • Access to all electronic services which require written communication with the public sector,
  • An option to have all replies to applications, decisions etc. sent to an electronic mailbox in Altinn,
  • A direct link to all relevant forms, and
  • The possibility to report information once, and not to repeat the procedure over and over again to different agencies.

Altinn became fully operative in the spring of 2004, and has been a success. Figures for 2006 show that 74 per cent of business enterprises and self-employed persons delivered their tax return form electronically via Altinn. An impressive 91 per cent of the companies returned the shareholders register form electronically. The electronic share of Value Added Tax reports from businesses  has increased from 5 per cent in 2001 to almost 80 per cent this year, and is steadily increasing. More than 22 million individual forms have been submitted via the portal by the end of 2006.

The next task is to develop the Altinn solution even further, which involves services across agency boundaries. This is a challenge because it involves electronic information exchange and communication between two or more parties. But we will solve it! We have, for example, recently started a project for restructuring and improving the coordination of employers’ reporting obligations associated with payment and personal data. Preliminary estimates show potential for considerable savings by both the private and public sector.

We developed My-Page as the central entry point for citizens. It is an open source based, user-defined and secured “one-stop-shop” solution with a single-sign-on. Citizens can carry out personalized public e-services, and they can check information held on them by various public agencies. My-Page allows for a simple and effective dialogue with the public sector.

My-Page involves both Norwegian government agencies and municipalities, and thus covers the whole range of public services for citizens. After only 9 months of operation, My-Page provides the citizens with more than 200 services from more than 40 public authorities/agencies.

My-Page offers transactions and register services. Transaction services are interactive services requiring a dialogue with the user, while register services are lookups for individual information held by different governmental services. Changing the tax card, and ordering an estimate of retirement pension are the two most popular services so far. Address information and ownership of property and vehicles are the other popular services, even resulting in people being aware of property they didn’t even know they owned. My-Page has already led to lots of corrections of information held by public administrations.

A challenge in this kind of work is that the agencies will tend to promote their own services, which are understandable, but the citizens don’t see it that way. Citizens use one word: Government. Citizens don’t want to relate to hundreds of different entry points. And I understand that. Companies may have different products or services, but they use one website.

For those of you who would like more information, My-Page together with the project Geo-Norway is displayed in the exhibition area.

However, establishing My-Page and allowing each public agency to develop interactive services is not sufficient to achieve the kind of citizen centric government that we aspire to have. The development of My-Page earlier this year will continue with ever new services to be rolled out.

The next phase will of course bring in experiences from the new phenomena as YouTube and others, and a prime focus will be on stronger cooperation between agencies and cross-sector real-time service-delivery. To do this, we have to bridge the gap between the varieties of IT-solutions used in the public sector. We will do this with a focus on establishing a government wide IT-architecture and promoting further spread and use of open standards. We also recognize the need for some common IT-solutions aiming to provide both the government agencies and the citizens with more one-stop shop functionality, such as one electronic mailbox for communication to and from the citizens. Feedback and citizens satisfaction-research will provide us with important information on how to design new services.

Some of you might have read Mr. Tapscott’s book, Wikinomics. He points out 4 elements for a new direction. These are:

  • Openness
  • Peering
  • Sharing
  • Acting globally

And he gives us an example. Goldcorp, a gold mining company spent 10 million US dollars on new projects to find more gold. It gave them some interesting data and results, but no more gold. Then they did something unexpected, they gave open access to the complete database by putting all the information on the Internet with a reward of half a million dollars to those who could show them where to find more gold. Submissions from around the world came flooding in to Goldcorp headquarters. Geologists answered, of course, but also surprising sources like graduate students, mathematicians and military officers were seeking a piece of the action. And the result was amazing. More than 80 % of the submissions on new target resulted in substantial quantities of new gold.

Right now, young kids and teenagers are authorities on something really important for the first time in human history, they are authorities, not only on Internet services, but on the digital revolution that is changing every institution. They practice openness, peering and sharing, and they do act globally.

One particular challenge for all of us is electronic identification. The simplest solution would, of course, be to have one key that works everywhere – both for public and private sector services. But do we really want to develop “a master key to the life of each citizen”? Most of us will intuitively see the need for well-thought-out safeguards to preserve our privacy, to protect us from intruders. But we also need to get away from the ID and pin-code chaos that we see today. So we have to strike the right balance.

If we can’t reform without threatening privacy, we can’t reform. It’s that easy. Privacy affects the balance of power in fundamental relationships in society, and the protection of privacy affects the degree of pluralism and democracy in a broad sense. To expect trust we have to keep the banner of privacy high. Poor reputation on this is a sure looser for getting citizens to use electronic initiatives, solutions that make lives a lot easier, solutions that create effective and efficient administrations, solutions that keep the individuals at the center.

When I talk about access to government services, I mean access for each and everyone. We have to use ICT in ways that don’t discriminate. We shall include and not exclude. Universal design is a key word in our effort in reforming the government, but not only the government. A new act stating that all new ICT directed to the general public, like internet pages, like ATMs, like ticket machines and queuing systems, has to be universally designed from 1 January 2011, is now on a broad hearing. The work on guidelines to serve the law has started, and will take into account what is being done in other parts of the world.

So, how should governments respond to user needs and citizen requests? I think we have found one part of the solution with initiatives like Altinn and My-Page, but we cannot stop there. The music of change isn’t an easy composition. We have a national level, a regional level, and a local level. And in order to sound good, the different instruments have to play the same piece of music. Best practices, information sharing and coordinated initiatives certainly a good start in this vital work.

Thank you for your attention!