It’s high time for a CitizenVision 2.0

Electronic Government is no longer an appropriate framework for innovation in the public sector. The emphasis must shift to Collaborative Governance, and a CitizenVision 2.0 can support that transition

Fifteen years ago in the Netherlands the first program started of what later became known as Electronic Government (eGovernment). Public Counter 2000 introduced the one-stop shop model and did so under the motto “Thinking and working from the citizen’s perspective”. Ever since, each eGovernment project has called itself “citizen centric”. However, the past years prove that rhetoric is easier than actual implementation. Citizen centricity not only requires a change in attitude, also necessary are practical methods and tools. What progress has been made since and how did citizens benefit from eGovernment?

In order to determine whether a target has been reached, one needs a benchmark. Surprisingly this was missing from the very beginning. Therefore in 2005 the Citizen@Government Forum devised the eCitizenCharter. It intends to match the ambitions of government with the expectations of citizens. The charter consists of 10 quality standards that can be applied both as design requirements beforehand and evaluation criteria afterwards.

As design requirements, the quality standards have been incorporated in the Dutch Government Reference Architecture (NORA). Unfortunately, this has been no guarantee for systematic application. Thus the neglect of transparency has been a major cause for problems like the premature discontinuation of electronic voting, the failure of the eHealth file, the trouble with the public transportation chip card or the commotion about the smart energy meters.

As evaluation criteria, the quality standards were used to measure citizen satisfaction. From 2008 to 2010, the ICTU Citizen Link program annually measured how citizens appreciate the performance of government. That judgment was rather disappointing, not in the least because it did not focus as usual on the delivery of individual products or services, but at the solution of life events. For citizens these are more meaningful than quick services like a passport renewal, so it‘s unfortunate that this approach has been discontinued recently.

Plans for the future which 15 years ago were labelled “2000”, are now called “2.0” but still concern the same problem: how can government reform be truly citizen centric. The eCitizenCharter was ahead of his time because it not only sees the citizen as a passive customer but also as an active participant.

Subsequently, other checklists have become in vogue, such as the Ten Problems of the Ministry of the Interior, the Five promises of the Union of Local Municipalities and the Six Principles for Government-wide Services. The good news is that they do (partially) overlap. The bad news is that they are one-sided propositions by government to improve its own performance. These restrictions are also substantiated in a 2011 critical analysis on the feasibility of the government-wide eServices. This calls for reconsideration whether we are on the right track.

Because the conceptual framework of eGovernment focuses on services and internal procedures, it cannot cope with two recent trends: interaction and transparency.
With the advent of Web 2.0 new forms of interaction became available, resulting in networks and platforms as organizational models. Methodologies and approaches such as crowd sourcing, open data, co-creation, cloud computing, apps, social media should be embedded in business processes for political policy development and public service delivery.
Since the 2011 “iGovernment” report of the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) awareness has grown that eGovernment paradigm is no longer suitable and that unhindered flows of data compel for better privacy protection.

According to the present cabinet, citizens are supposed to defend their own interests. Transparency is the key to this. For citizens to be able to act like this, they should possess tools and skills. Therefore we don’t need (yet another) government vision, but a citizen vision that  can support the transition from Electronic Government to Collaborative Governance.  This “Citizen Vision 2.0” should stipulate the new rules of engagement between citizen and government.

The eCitizen Charter is an excellent starting point. Here are some considerations of how the development of the building blocks of Electronic Government should be adjusted in the direction of Collaborative Goverment.

The website as the default channel for eGovernment is still inadequate as far as accessibility and customer focus is concerned, especially on the local level. Following the example on the national level, on the local level too a standardized website is required. Moreover, this standard should provide for integration in the multichannel platform that citizens themselves use for information sources, contacts and interventions.

DigiD was a clever intermediate step towards a reliable digital identity, but is no longer suited now that increasingly sensitive information is stored digitally. Besides offering higher security levels in the public sector, government should provide its citizens with a digital identifier (as successor of the paper passport) to remedy the chaos of user names, passwords and PIN codes.

The public is bombarded with “myFiles”, also outside government proper. There is an urgent need for a standardized interface for digital transactions. In redesigning service delivery processes, the nature of the products should not be leading. On the contrary, it’s skils, experience and various citizen profiles that must be taken into  account.

If openness is the norm, processes should be transparent from the outset. This is a requirement for monitoring (through access and correction rights) and promoting social accountability (fighting corruption). Public Sector Information (PSI) not only supposes releasing datasets, but also calls for a fundamental reconsideration of the character of public service provision (what the government should do and what they can leave the private sector). Citizen’s self-reliance and self-determination call for wider variety in the nature of the services to be provided.

Citizens who want to represent their own interests or who want to act for the common good should get the chance. The administration’s reflex to install a committee to solve a problem should be redirected towards setting up of a platform for interaction. From the perspective of a citizen there is no difference between public service delivery and political participation. Standardised prototypes for participation services are to be developed in the field of information, monitoring, evaluation and agenda setting. This should preferably be done through open source standards (like or apps (like ImproveYourNeighbourhood).

Last year marked the tenth anniversary ICTU, the foundation in which all of Dutch government work together on eGoverment projects. During this period, this foundation contributed to cohesion and cooperation in the establishment of the building blocks of eGovernment. But the trends described above require a fundamental rethinking.

The UN eGovernment Report 2012 ranks the Netherlands secondly worldwide. That’s a boost for everyone working at ICTU and involved in its strategy (iNUP). But like many other rankings, it mainly concerns the supply side, not use, let alone satisfaction. No reason to sit back and relax.

Although during the past decade great progress has been made in the digitization of government, the final conclusion must be that the potential for citizen centricity is still under-exploited. Since many eGoverment targets have been postponed to 2015-2020, eventual success depends on the development of a CitizenVision 2.0 as an updated benchmark.

Matt Poelmans was director of several eGovernment programs at ICTU and is currently senior advisor at HEC