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15/04/10 Digital Government

e-Government Policies in Search of Coordination

e-Government Policies in Search of Coordination
Coordination between national and local policies is one of the key requirements of back office interoperability, joined-up services, Gov 2.0 initiatives. The post analyzes the delicate interaction between national and regional e-government policies in Italy from the 1990s to the present day.

Effective coordination and collaboration, both across different sectors (health care, transportation, education, etc.) and tiers of government (national or federal, regional, local), is widely recognized as one of the key requirements of advanced e-government implementation. At a back office level, coordination enables, for example, inter-agency data interoperability and sharing – including better-informed decision-making – and smarter public procurement through the aggregation of public ICT demand. At a front office level, information sharing allows the realization of so-called joined-up or seamless services, often delivered by local authorities, but linked to processes or data from higher levels of government. New flows of interoperable public data can also fuel government 2.0 initiatives, extending the sharing of information not only to other government organizations, but also to the public as active participants and services co-designer.

It is quite evident that policy design has a major role in supporting this process. E-government and ICT strategies should consider the coordination between central and local initiatives as the key factor preventing duplication of efforts and waste of public money, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. A common policy framework is needed to ensure the compliance of local initiatives with national strategic objectives, to strengthen the structures dedicated to policy governance, to develop common standards, to exchange good practices and to support the weakest local administrations in managing technical and organizational change. Indeed, ensuring that no local agency is left behind is a worthwhile public goal both from an efficiency and equity point of view.
Clearly, coordination is particularly needed in presence of a highly fragmented government structure, which means complex governance. In this regard, Italy represents a good case. Italian agencies directly involved in the delivery of e-government services are more than 10 thousand: they include the ministries and other central public organizations and their local divisions, 21 regional governments, 109 provinces, more than 8,000 municipalities, plus hundreds of other local institutions such as local health care authorities, park authorities, etc.

In such a scenario, the regional level has usually been considered as the ideal scale for policy intervention on these topics (actually, the debate is always open and the matter quite complex). Furthermore, after the reform of the Italian Constitution in 2001, regional governments have experienced greater autonomy on various matters (e.g. health care), which were devolved from central government to regional administrations, and are now playing a central role in defining innovation policy priorities. Today the great majority of the ICT investments in Italy are funded by regional budgets. Nevertheless, the role of the national government remains pivotal because it can promote political commitment, common strategies, technical standards and a shared policy framework.

The following sections briefly examine the delicate interaction between national and regional e-government policies in Italy from the 1990s to the present day.

First phase, 1993-2000: ‘pioneering’

At the national level, from 1993 to 2000 the actors charged with decision-making on ICT and the public sector were the Authority for IT in the Public Administration (AIPA) and the Minister of Public Administration. The AIPA – transformed in CNIPA (National Centre for IT in the Public Administration) in 2003 and than in DigitPA in 2009 – is a technical body with autonomy and scrutiny independence that, together with the Ministry of Public Administration shared some early competences over strategies and technical support in the development of information systems within the central administration. In the late nineties the Ministry launched a series of reforms towards efficiency and transparency of the public administration, which started to consider the ICTs as a carrier of modernization.
At the local level, no formal regional plan were conceived until 1999. In the second half of the nineties the first ‘civic networks’ were created in medium-sized municipalities – traditionally the most innovative and efficient – by the pioneers of e-government, who often were just individual enthusiastic civil servants with a technological background.

Second phase, 2001-2005: ‘a shared vision’

With the change of government in charge, a Ministry of Innovation and Technology was created.  While the most advanced regions were drafting their e-government and information society plans, the Minister, together with the CNIPA, had the role of coordinating the implementation of the National e-government Action Plan (2001).  The first phase of the plan culminated in a major bid for developing local public on line services (worth €472 million of national funding), through which about a hundred pilot projects were co-funded by the central government with more than 5.000 local agencies involved. The CNIPA was responsible for project selection and in-itinere evaluation, experimenting a result-driven funding. Overall, the implementation of the action plan has been characterized by a reasonably good level of collaboration between national and local levels and the importance of the inter-agency cooperation was explicitly documented in the national policies for the first time. In 2003, a document entitled A shared vision, a cooperative implementation (L’e-government per un federalismo efficiente: una visione condivisa, una realizzazione cooperativa) was approved by the Conferenza Unificata, a cooperation body representing the State, the Regions and the other local governments.

Other organizational bodies dedicated to inter-institutional coordination (all created in 2002) included a Permanent Commission for e-government (Commissione permanente) composed by the Ministry and the Presidents of the Regions, two Permanent Committees (Comitati permanenti) with the representatives of the Municipalities and the Provinces, a Joint Table for e-government (Tavolo Congiunto Permanente) composed by the Minister of Innovation, the Regions, the Provinces, the Comunità Montane (associations of municipalities located in mountain areas) and the central administrations involved in the Action Plan.

In 2002 a network of technical bodies was created for each region: the Regional Competence Centers for e-government (CRC), working teams designed to support the developing of e-government projects in local administrations. Collaboration between the Ministry and the Regions was facilitated by the presence of one or more representatives of both institutions in each regional team, while a central staff in Rome was assisting regional bodies in pursuing common goals and ensuring the comparability of the data collection activities that every CRC carried out to support decision-making.

Third phase, 2006-2008: ‘regional leadership’

Once the first phase of the Action Plan was completed, a change of national government occurred.  The Minister of Public Administration inherited the powers of the Minister of Innovation and Technology, in order to better integrate the actions towards the diffusion offront office e-government services with those towards the back office re-engineering. In 2006 a new commission of the Conferenza unificata was set up: the Permanent Commission on technological innovation in the regions and local administrations.

In those years, the Minister of Regional Affairs also launched a second parallel national program for local e-government called ‘Elisa’, worth about €40 million of national co-funding, while the main action carried out by the CNIPA within the second phase of the Action Plan was the creation of the Alliances for Innovation (Alleanze per l’Innovazione), technical shared centers providing e-government services for small municipalities and co-financed by the central government.

A lower investment from the national level compared with the resources programmed in the previous years, together with a series of delays in implementing and coordinating the second phase of the national Action Plan, increased the role of regional policies in the whole implementation of e-government in Italy. This caused, especially in the Centre-North, afragmentation of local initiatives and, in the South, a much stronger weight of the Regional Cohesion Policy in defining strategies and policy priorities. Indeed, European Structural Funds and the National Under-utilized Area Funds (FAS) have been the main (often the only) source of funding for promoting the information society in the South of Italy, with more than €1.2 billion of total funding dedicated to e-government development in the 2000-2006 programming period. An additional €1 billion is programmed for the 2007-2013 period (Structural Funds only).

Fourth phase, from 2009 onwards: ‘one-to-one coordination’

In January 2009 the new Minister of Public Administration launched the national plan ‘e-gov 2012’.  The plan covers 27 strategic objectives and 80 different initiatives and has suffered from a shortage of financial resources due to the particular condition of Italian public finance after the crisis, though €1.4 billion has been planned to be utilized over five years.  E-gov 2012 is mainly focused on the digitalization of central government; however, some initiatives must be implemented in cooperation with the local government, e.g. the integration of the municipal registers with the real estate cadastral system and the regional topographic database.

Even if the previous bodies dedicated to central-local cooperation remain active, the cooperation between national and local governments has been realized mostly through the signing of several protocols of understanding between the Department of Innovations in the Public Administration, representing the Minister, and each single local government.  According to the e-gov 2012 official web site, to date 23 protocols have been signed with local administrations (4 regions, 5 provinces and 16 municipalities).

The regions’ need to converge upon a common framework gave rise to the proposal of a plan named e-gov 2010, approved by the Inter-regional Center for IT, Statistical and Geographical Systems (CISIS) in March 2009. The plan, originally conceived as an anti-crisis measure, put at the centre of regional policy inter-regional cooperation in order to prevent the duplication of the technological platforms, solutions and services developed at the local level.

In April 2009 a protocol of understanding between the Minister and the Conferenza delle Regioni e Province Autonome, another body representing the Italian Regions, is aimed at fostering a constant dialogue through the creation of permanent links between the two levels of government.  A similar document has been signed with ANCI, the National Association of Italian Municipalities, introducing more concrete actions such as the promotion of the certified e-mail and the national projects Linea Amica (a unified call-center of the whole Public Administration) and Reti Amiche (aimed at improving the delivery of public services by multiplying the access points, e.g. the involvement of banks and tobacconists).

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02/03/10 Civic Technology , Open Policy

Open data and Structural Funds

European Cohesion Policy has always paid special attention to transparency. Today all European Regions publish lists of beneficiaries of Structural Funds as required by the Council regulations.  But only a part of this data is in a machine-readable and reusable format.  Italian region of Calabria represents a good exception.

As the current debate on ‘government 2.0’ focuses on accessing public information as a way to foster open government and transparency, the availability of public data is becoming crucial for an effective delivery of new user-generated services. According to the last Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment, approved in November 2009, new demand-led information products and services enabled by the reuse of public sector information will support the transition of Europe to a knowledge-based economy.
In this regard, great importance is attributed to the formats in which this data is published. It is universally recognized that a web page (i.e. HTML code) or a PDF file is not enough. To allow mash-up or geo-referencing, data should be machine-readable, preferably in open, standard and reusable formats such as XML, RDF, CSV (see for example WC3 guidelines).

The European Cohesion Policy has always paid attention to the transparency issues related to the vast amount of public resources that have been assigned to the European Regions.
According to Article 69 of the Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 of 11 July 2006 laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1260/1999, the Member States and the Managing Authority for the operational programme shall provide information on and publicise operations and co-financed programmes. The information shall be addressed to European Union citizens and beneficiaries with the aim of highlighting the role of the Community and ensuring that assistance from the Funds is transparent.

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To fulfill Article 69 of the Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006, Managing Authorities of the programmes co-financed by Structural Funds have to draw up a Communication Plan aiming at:

  • improving communication through the implementation of community actions more visible and close to citizens in order to increase the general consent on the future EU policies
  • guaranteeing more transparency through more efficient, transparent and accessible European institutions open to public control
  • closing the gap between EU institutions and citizens through the improvement of the dialogue and listening.

Consequently all direct beneficiaries (the public or private bodies or firms responsible for commissioning operations or, in cases of aid schemes, the bodies that grant the aid) must be published by the Managing Authorities under the rules governing the implementation of the 2007-2013 funds (EC No 1828/2006). The information must contain the name of the beneficiary, the names of the operations and the amount of public funding allocated to the operations.
From this page of Inforegio web site (DG Regio of European Commission) it is possible to access to the lists of projects and beneficiaries published in the web sites of the Regional Operative Programmes and of the Regional Managing Authorities.
As reported in the table below, currently most of these lists are provided in HTML tables or can be downloaded as PDF files, making them difficult to export to Excel or other applications and connect them to different databases for a more detailed analysis.

 

The Calabria project database

A good example of how this data should be published is the project database of Italian Region of Calabria, accessible online through the web site Calabria Europa.

To date, the database includes more than 32,000 projects; for each project the following information is reported:

  1. the name of the project

  2. the name of the final beneficiary

  3. the owner of the process

  4. the territory where the beneficiary is located

  5. the type of funds (ERDF, ESF, etc) and the Operational Programme

  6. the amounts allocated

  7. the amounts paid out

Through an interactive interface and an advanced search, users can look for specific projects, territories where the project impacts, Operational Programmes, measures, or expenditure categories and then to export the results in CSV format.  It is also possible to visualize the data in terms of statistics, graphs and figures, and then export to a PDF.  This tool is also used to report on the state of play and implementation levels of the policies funded, not only by the Structural Funds, but also by national funds such as the FAS (Under-utilized Area Funds). The tool includes data about the programming periods 2000-2006 and 2007-2013.

The most interesting feature is the search for a single municipal territory, which gives the opportunity, once exported to a CSV file, of geo-referencing the data with the greatest possible detail.  As an example, the map below shows the total amounts allocated in the 2007-13 programming period, displaying the funds only for projects impacting on a single municipality.

CALABRIA_FFSS_cropsreenshot calabriaeuropa

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12/12/09 Civic Technology , Digital Government

Don’t Forget ‘Traditional’ E-Government

While at the European level experts, practitioners and policy-makers are debating the role of the web 2.0 in public services and while most of the advanced OECD countries are delivering policy drafts and reports on the so-called Government 2.0, many Italian local Public Administrations are having difficulty in delivering not only Government 1.0, but in some cases even a beta version.

The Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment, approved in Malmö, Sweden, on 18th November 2009, defines policy priorities to be achieved by 2015:

1. to empower businesses and citizens through eGovernment services and better access to information
2. to facilitate mobility in the single market by seamless eGovernment services
3. to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the Public Administration.

The first objective in particular seems to meet some of the requests of web 2.0 enthusiasts, who are asking for a more active role in terms of co-designing public services and accessing public information; having in mind, for example, a European version of the American data.gov portal, they perceive open collaboration with government as a way to create new user-generated services and foster transparency (see for example the open declaration on the role of web 2.0 in public services).  In this regard, a key passage of the document emphasizes the importance of the availability of public sector information for reuse: “New demand-led information products and services enabled by the reuse of public sector information will support the transition of Europe to a knowledge-based economy”.

bolle2However, from a strict Government 2.0 point of view, the Declaration as a whole is still mainly dedicated to ‘traditional’ eGovernment and, rather than a revolution, it appears to be (frankly, as expected) the result of a compromise between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ way of thinking about innovation in public services, or, perhaps in fairer terms, some sort of ‘step-by-step’ innovation strategy. As Andrea DiMaio pointed out in a recent post, this impression is somehow confirmed by the fact that “the publication of the most recent e-government benchmark, which is the first outcome of the renewed contract between EU and Capgemini, shows a disappointing continuity with the old e-government approach”.

Is this actually bad news for public sector innovators?  Is this ‘new’ and fashionable view of eGovernment the defining solution to the many challenges that European Public Administrations are facing? Yes, in many ways it is; this ‘new’ approach is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and its role in the declaration could definitely have been more significant.  Co-designing of public services and open government, in particular, could force the Government to bring innovation to the next level and even trigger further improvements in efficiency and the effectiveness of Public Administrations.
Obviously, however, this should not be the only solution, at least for Countries of the Eastern and Southern Europe that are still engaged in developing digital infrastructures and delivering most of the basic public services on line.
Italy is certainly part of this club. Far from delivering web 2.0-like services or sharing public databases on the web (with some exceptions, of course), Italian PAs, especially at the local level, still do not have the technological and organizational ability to complete the delivery of a mature e-government transformation even at a “1.0” level, mainly because the italian local administration is fragmented into thousands of independent agencies and there is no efficient national data exchange framework for inter-agency information flows.

The latest data collected at the EU level highlights this gap.  According to the Eurostat chart published on 8th August 2009 in the European Commission Digital Competitiveness Report on i2010 strategy, Italy appears in 22nd position out of 27 Member States for take-up of advanced public services among both citizens and enterprises, i.e. those services that allow the final user to complete a transaction via the web, otherwise called ‘self-services’.  Eurostat statistics show not only an alarmingly low e-readiness rate among Italian young people compared with their counterparts in the rest of Europe, but also specific difficulties when using advanced public services via the web.

While waiting for fun and interactive web 2.0 public services, it is obvious that no take-up is achievable if most Public Administrations fail to deliver their most useful basic services on line. Indeed, the principal determinants of this low take-up rate can be found not only in the demand-side aspects like low broadband penetration among households (steadily lower than the European average) or the high proportion of elderly people normally excluded from digital technologies, but also, even now, in the scarcity of the supply of on-line services.  As stated in the last 2009 CapGemini Report, which has been measuring public services availability since 2005, in 4 years the position of Italy among the other Member States has dropped from 9th position in 2005 to 17th position out of the 27 EU Countries in terms of full on line availability. Those results could be even worse if the sample of the analyzed services were less biased toward those delivered by the central level and therefore easier to design and implement.  The report measurement approach, having to deal with 27 different institutional organizations and therefore to choose only the services that all Member States have in common, includes only a few of those key services that in Italy are only offered at the local level by 8,100 different and independent municipalities, more than a hundred Provinces and 21 Regional Governments.

It is at this level that the situation becomes difficult.  The latest results of the survey on ICT in the public sector by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) show that, in 2007, only 3% of the local public administrations were able to offer at least one transactional service out of dozens that would be expected.
In the above graph supply and demand of some of the key public on line services are compared. The data on availability of local e-government services is based on the results of the survey by CNIPA and DIT described in a previous post; the chart shows the percentage of individuals living in municipalities that are able to deliver the service on line at least as a downloadable form (stage 2 of the Capgemini classification).   Take-up is described using the last available data by single service from the ISTAT survey on ICT usage among individuals, special module on e-government (2006). The reported usage refers to the number of individuals who have used the the service via the web in the last 3 months, expressed as a percentage of all Internet users over the same period.

It is quite clear that those services with higher take-up values tend to show high availability percentages. In particular, it seems that local Public Administrations need to deliver a service to more than 50% of individuals in order to obtain more than 5% of take-up. Moreover, the ISTAT data reveals that those services with the lowest availability rate show the highest values of potential use. More than 60% of the interviewees, for example, would like to be able to notify moving house if the service were actually available.
In conclusion, this simple exercise may be enough to prove that there is still much to be done in order to achieve full availability of local public eServices in Italy as well as in other less-advanced countries in this field. Those who are concerned about the low eGovernment take-up levels should therefore consider that these levels, in some cases, may be determined just by a scarce availability and quality of the basic on line services.

So the ‘old’ approach to ‘traditional’ eGovernment which is prevalent in the European Declaration might sound outdated but it is, at least in some countries, still a must.

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