Chile: Leading but lacking in e-governance

Saving 2 million hours and 19 million dollars
Saving 2 million hours and 19 million dollars

Today’s post, in cooperation with the Bertelsmann Foundation is by Daniel Kapellmann, a Mexican international relations graduate of ITAM and current Information Technologies Consultant for The Competitive Intelligence Unit. Contact him on Twitter at @Kapellmann. Jamie Stark is an American journalist based in Latin America and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Journalism School. Contact him on Twitter at @JamieStark.

Chile has its fair share of the national challenges common throughout Latin America, including economic inequality, security concerns or moderate labour market growth. But Chileans have collectively dealt with these issues in a different way to many neighbouring nations – they have gone online.

Chileans access government services online more than nearly any other nationality in the Western Hemisphere. In 2014, Chile tied with Uruguay as having the best e-governance indicators in all of Latin America according to the United Nations E-Government Development Index. It also occupied the 8th position worldwide in the E-Participation Index.

Chile has achieved its e-government success due to three main factors: a continuous long-term strategy, efficient policy-making and its modern socioeconomic qualities.

Unlike other countries in the region, Chile began designing its long-term e-government policy plans by the early 2000s, when its first webpage for official procedures, “Easy Errand,” was created. By 2004, Chile had designed its first Digital Agenda to start with a continuous process that would lead up to today’s 2013-2020 version.

Chile opted for a carefully planned strategy to modernize the tech part of governance, according to Nicolás Millán, general manager of Lynk, a data startup in Chile that helps people update their information in government and private sector databases. “Chile started with that concern in 2010 when we got into the OECD group,” said Millán, referring to when he considers e-governance took off in Chile.

But designing digital agendas and setting goals for e-government development weren’t the only keys for Chile’s success; what really mattered was the efficiency with which the government planned and executed the plan. As Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) confirm, Chile must be recognized for its high policy-making standards in the fields of strategic capacity and coordination among ministries. Compared with all OECD and European Union countries Chile occupies the 2nd and 8th position respectively.

Many of Chile’s programs, such as Startup Chile, which has become a regional leader in promoting tech and other businesses, are well-designed and strategically planned based on shared knowledge with scholars or think-tanks. Chile’s policy-making processes show an adequate performance in evidence-based instruments and societal consultation, where it occupies respectively the 14th and 12th position among OCDE countries according to the SGI.

Even though there is a significant potential for improvement, these grades imply that there are mechanisms used by the government to consult society on its policies, and that there are instruments to measure and evaluate the impact of the policies. A digital observatory coordinated by the executive branch measures the impact of e-government policies in Chile.

Lastly, socioeconomic factors such as the country’s fast and continuous economic growth and the relatively small population have also helped to secure Chile’s leadership in e-government and e-participation. Chile’s reality allows greater priority on digital issues currently treated as low-priority in many other countries.

Even though the answers to Latin America’s common ills are not solvable purely through information technologies, they can be used as an effective tool for promoting development and democracy. The implementation of technology-based solutions in public services and e-government practices can decrease the necessary time for bureaucratic processes, foster innovation and perhaps most importantly empower society to intensify its influence in decision-making processes.

In the case of Chile, as recently as May 2014, citizens saved more than 2 million hours and more than $19 million thanks to Chile Atiende, a digital government program. According to Millán, the e-data startup founder, the public sector has “digitalized a lot of things that used to have a lot of bureaucracy… the standards and strategic plans are moving forward to develop a more modern government.” The Chilean government now puts, for instance, contracts and procurement online, meaning that “people all over Chile can work with it to sell the things that they do,” says Millán.

Yet, political participation isn’t just about quantity but quality as well. When it comes to citizens’ policy knowledge, Chileans are doing rather badly in comparison with other OECD countries. Indeed only “few citizens are well-informed of government policies and most have only a rudimental knowledge of them,” argue the SGI experts.

Good e-government systems in Chile have engaged people to a good level of e-participation, but this certainly does not mean that there is a better overall democratic process. Other factors – such as citizen’s knowledge and understanding of policies that concern them – must be taken into consideration to find integral solutions. It is necessary to inform citizens and provide proper education in use of the new tools to see major benefits offered by these new opportunities.

Technology will not lead to this educational element; it is a necessary condition to make the best out of its technology programs. If Chile can marry the two, improving participation through technology and improved access through education, they will continue to be a regional leader.

Useful links

Do you “Like” your government as much as Chileans Like theirs? Insights article by Arthur Mickoleit, formerly of the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development, with inputs from Kareen Schramm and Sofia Varas of Chile’s Ministry General‑Secretariat of the Presidency 

OECD work on public sector innovation and e-government

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