Monday, 26 July 2010

Openness at the core of eGovernance

A couple of weeks ago a Yale scholar, Dr Laura DeNardis, visited Europe and presented on e-Governance policies for interoperability and open standards. Dr DeNardis was, for instance, keynote speaker at a breakfast briefing hosted by OpenForum Europe. Unfortunately, I could not attend this event due to some schedule conflict, but only got the report – which made me regret even more that I couldn't attend.

But here's good news: Laura DeNardis' paper on the topic is available for download – I just came across this download link on the Social Sciences Research Network today.

I find this paper a very valuable piece of research. In a comparative approach Dr DeNardis has examined eGovernment policies around globe. She puts some spotlight on the government interoperability frameworks established in South Africa, Europe (the European Interoperability Framework – EIF), Brazil and Japan and, in the final section, derives some clear recommendations out of her research.

Dr DeNardis' analysis shows the changed role of governments with respect to ICT standards:

“Governments increasingly do not simply assume that 'all will be well' with standards. ICT standards have become an invisible but powerful form of technological rulemaking with consequences for national innovation policy, public safety, knowledge policy, and government efficiency and openness. Even in the 21st century, interoperability through standards is not a given but something that must be promoted. Lack of interoperability or problems with standards can create social or economic harm or contribute to a loss of faith in government. The use of proprietary specifications can impede government functions and services or make e-Government services and critical public information dependent upon a single company. These same proprietary specifications can limit the pace of information and communication technology innovation and be used as technical barriers to trade in global technology markets.” (p. 22)

In other words, Governments should consistently require open standards. As Dr DeNardis states, “When a standard is openly published and available to implement in new products, it can result in multiple, competing products and rapid technological innovation.” (pp. 2-3). The paper shows how leading global ICT standards organisations have adopted open standards policies governing the development, the access to and the availability of the respective organisation's standards. And the paper works out the relation between an eGovernment policy and the various functions governments have to fullfil, be it global trade, facilitating innovation, promoting competitiveness, ensuring fair and equal access to government information and to interaction with public authorities, etc.

Concluding, Dr DeNardis first provides, as she calls it, a “working definition of open standards” built around the key aspects of (i) open in development; (ii) open in implementation; (iii) open in use. And building on this working definition the paper derives a set of eight guiding principles for government interoperability frameworks.

Dr DeNardis' paper is definitely worth reading for everyone who is interested in standards and their use and implementation. It provides deep insights in the interests governments have and need to have in standardisation and open standards as critical elements in support of key government activities and tasks. And it gives a clear perspective on items to consider when defining eGovernance policies. I believe the paper can be of high relevance both for governments as they work on their policies or on refining them; for technology providers as they define their strategies and their portolios; for standardisers as they look at the future standards needed and at the terms and conditions for these standards; and, last but not least, for everyone of us – the citizens – as we have an interest in how public services are designed so that an open and democratic system is provided from which everyone can benefit in the interaction with their governments and authorities.

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