Illustration of hands on computer keyboard with government building on screen (State Dept./Doug Thompson)
(State Dept./Doug Thompson)

In Estonia people can elect their parliamentary representatives, pay their taxes and access around 3,000 government services online.

In South Korea the government invites citizens to submit policy suggestions or corruption complaints, moderates discussion of these submissions, and reports back on its decisions, all online.

Technology makes government operations more transparent and delivery of services more efficient and less costly. It’s often called “e-government,” and officials beyond Estonia and South Korea are embracing it to various extents.

Who can afford e-government?

While rich and technologically advanced countries and localities lead at e-government, even modest investments can help, according to Marc Holzer, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“Political will and a willingness to research, adopt and implement best practices are critical,” he said.

Local ingenuity can help overcome insufficient resources and limited access to the internet. In Kenya, citizens lacking home internet access can access e-government services at dozens of Huduma computer centers around the country.

The U.S. government has helped countries in southern Europe, Africa and Central Asia lay the foundations for digital government. Initiatives include a lab in Tanzania that processes data from many sources in order to share better policy options.

Citizens and activists

Citizens embrace e-government when it’s easy and saves time. Citizens of Vilnius and Yerevan agree, along with those in New York, Seoul, Hong Kong, and the other top ten e-government municipalities.

Activists embrace e-government too, said Jane Fountain, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Online data helps them share information and evaluate education, traffic, environmental progress and other issues, she said.