Blog post

Toothless Statement on Local e-Government Needs More Than Life Support

By Andrea Di Maio | December 23, 2010 | 1 Comment


A few days ago I criticized the EU Action Plan on eGovernment, by stressing its limitations but also recognizing the difficulties of developing plans in areas where the EU has close to no regulatory power and can mostly leverage its political influence.

A comment to my post highlighted that in looking at what happened in Brussels on 14 to 16 December, I had missed entirely the issuance of a Pan-European Statement on Local eGovernment, also called Citadel Statement.

Guilty as charged, I looked at the statement, which carried a very promising subtitle (Citadel Statement Aims to Make Malmo ‘Real’ by Identifying What Local eGovernment Really Needs). In spite of this, I found it really underwhelming.

The statement lists five core areas where national and local decision makers should focus. Below the areas and my gut reaction to the statement.

1. Common Architecture, Shared Services and Standards.

Incorporate EU best practices into a common service delivery architecture
(information, process and application-layer) that provides one common language and
helps local governments share services and learn from other ‘best practices’ such as
how to work with authentic registrations, how to create personalized access to services, etc. Bolster this architecture by creating standards for government
communication that helps citizens find their way in all governmental websites.

First of all, I wonder what is meant by “one common language”. Is that a European language? A programming language? Or an interaction style?

Second, who should local governments share services with exactly? Neighboring jurisdictions? National government? And where would the find these mythical best practices?

Third, what is the starting point for this common architecture?

2. Open Data, Transparency and Personal Rights

Show a commitment to making public data open and accessible by establishing a well
maintained repository of definitions and taxonomies that makes data consistent
throughout Europe. Develop clear guidelines and data models for the use of personal
details about citizens. Mandate five key areas where data can reasonably be
expected to be shared nationally and across Europe by 2013. Areas could include:
public service lists, standard information on citizens, standard information on
businesses, transport timetables, environmental information and geodata (GIS-data).

The semantic web strikes back! Creating common definitions and taxonomies in one jurisdiction is already challenging, but think about doing so across 27 countries and thousands of local authorities.

Second, mixing the reference to personal data in an area that deals with open data and transparency is really confusing.

Finally, who should mandate the areas for open data sets? The declaration is even ambiguous by saying that areas “could” (rather than “shall”) include.

I honestly hope that the quality of this statement is not representative of the maturity and understanding that European local governments have about open government

3. Citizen Participation and Involvement

Demonstrate political leadership and courage by actively championing the advantages
now offered by ICT to improve the democratic process and facilitate citizen
participation in decision-making across Europe. Promote the value of co-designing
services in conjunction with citizens as a first step in making government more
people-focused. Provide guidelines, training and methodologies on involving citizens
in decision making and service design.

I am not sure I understand what courage is required to just imitate or pursue citizen engagement initiatives that have been already tried out in several European countries as well as outside Europe.

This being said, it is important to mention service co-design and recognize the training and methodology challenge.

What a pity, though, that the statement ignores here and elsewhere the key role that government employees should play for real and sustainable engagement to succeed.

4. Privacy and Identification of Individuals

Create a robust political and policy framework to address common privacy issues
across Europe associated with personal data. Provide protocols that enable the easy
identification of individuals over the Internet and facilitate mobility by developing
shared standards for the identification of people that makes it easier to travel and do
business all over Europe.

Pheew, privacy is dealt with more appropriately here.

However, the more I look into this paragraph, the less I understand why this should be a local government concern, rather than a national government one. I’d rather suggest that local governments leverage national schemes (although – as you can see in my previous post – I have a few doubts that those will succeed too).

5. Rural inclusion

Promote the concept of Broadband as a public utility that – like electricity and water –
should be available to all communities no matter how small or geographically
dispersed. Enhance and improve the Broadband capacity of both rural and urban
areas alike by supporting EU regulation to set a minimum standard for broadband
access in all of Europe to be achieved by 2015. Equality of access is an important
precondition for the growth of superfast broadband – an economic necessity in today’s
growing marketplace.

Is there anything new here? For how long has Europe been saying this? What a pity that European policy makers who contributed to this did not read the excellent Citywide Digital Divide Strategy that Washington DC published and I commented on in a previous post. I would really encourage them to do so, because the very same obstacles to bridging the divide that are found in urban areas apply to rural areas too (access is one, but what about usability and value?).

The statement concludes by saying

Supporters hope that this Call-to-Action becomes a ‘living document’ that continues to
evolve in the run-up to 2015 in a manner that spurs local government to achieve better
eServices for citizens.

Well, given all the above, I doubt the statement will get out of intensive care anytime soon.

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1 Comment

  • Ok Andrea, points taken, but at least it’s barking up a right tree and not just ‘barking’ – my apologies for the rather English colloquialisms 🙂

    If you are consider the latest attempt at the UK parliament, one must agree we are generally being driven by dogma rather than strategy –

    Season’s greetings.