Open Government – what is the value and what are the barriers and drivers?

The European Commission have published two new studies about open government. The studies, Towards faster implementation and uptake of open government and Analysis of the value of the new generation of eGovernment services give us important knowledge on open government services and the value of these. Moreover, the studies contribute to the better understanding for public administrations as policymakers and implementers on how to pursue open government practices.

What is open government and open eGovernment services?

Open government is understood as open, collaborative and digital based services characterised by a deliberate, declared and purposeful effort to increase openness and collaboration through technology in order to deliver increased public value. Open government is based on the principles of transparency, collaboration, and participation; functioning within an open governance framework.

Digital government services are key enablers of open government. Therefore, the study on the value of new generation of eGovernment services analyses a number of eGovernment services.

The study identifies three overall types of open eGovernment services; Human services, which refer to services to citizens that provide concrete support, such as health, education, and culture; administrative services which includes services that are compulsory and necessary to the functioning of government; and participatory/policymaking services which refer to the open, participatory decision-making services.

What is the value of open eGovernment services?
This taxonomy is an important basis for understanding the value of open eGovernment services. Based on cases looked at, the study finds that the monetary and non-monetary values are different depending on the type of service provided.

The administrative services and human services provide very positive and fairly positive monetized value. These types of services have reached a state, where the investments made can be fully justified by the monetized value they deliver.

In contrast, participatory services does not account for monetized value, as the input received by citizens is seldom original and highly innovative. Instead, these provide for non-monetized benefits such as trust in government decisions, accountability etc. An important point from the study is, that input from citizens appear far more useful and of high quality when it refers to concrete needs and issues relating to human services.

The scalability of administrative services is very high, as these services do not require extensive citizens’ input and are, in most cases, fully automated and can, therefore, more easily be scaled.

What are the enablers, drivers, and barriers for open government?

The study on the uptake and implementation of open government mentioned above is based on 395 cases of open government practices. Notably, the digital enablers, drivers, and barriers to open government identified in the study present a diversified picture. For instance, the open government practices are not only driven by the government. Government can also be seen as an enabler that allows collaboration with and between third parties like businesses, NGOs, and citizens.

The study identifies three key enablers for open government: Authentic sources and open data, reusable or shared solution building blocks, and standards and technical specifications. The Commission supports the uptake of open government and thus provides digital enablers that correspond to the key enablers found in the study. For instance the CEF building blocks such as eID, eSignature and eDelivery are free of charge and based on open source, giving any Government or local administration the opportunity to use, share and develop the solutions needed.

Further, the study identifies the drivers for open government to be democratic value and better quality of service that enhances transparency of government, participation in policy making, and the collaboration on public services. Other drivers such as social benefits, cost efficiency, economic growth and jobs, international mobility, and demand from civil society were also valid in certain cases.

On the barrier side, the study finds a long list of well-known barriers such as lack of leadership and financial resources. Furthermore, barriers such as resistance to change lack of skills, legal constraints, sustainability, and business model issues were also identified.

Success of Open Government
The eventual success of an open government initiative often depends on the environment and the context. The centralisation and the trust that society has in its governments are for example important factors to take into account. But some common policy objectives such as designing openness as a learning process, adjusting the institutional framework, designing clear incentives, disseminate proactively, and to improve the evidence base for OGS are recommended across the different contexts of Open Government Policies.

Open Government should not be merely about window dressing, but bring about a real change in society. In this sense, open government empowers, but also gives responsibility to all actors in society – not only politicians and public servants, but also civil society organisations, journalists, businesses, and individual citizens. In this matter, it is important to keep in mind the type of value, governments or local administrations want to achieve from the open government practice – and that this value is connected to the type of open government service implemented.

If you want to learn more about the studies and the wealth of open government practices, have a look at them here.