Digital Transformation in Chile: A roadmap to strengthen its governance
Barbara Ubaldi, Senior Project Manager at the OECD leading the work on digital government and open government data (@BarbaraUbaldi) and Rodrigo Mejía Ricart, Junior Policy Analyst at the OECD (@rodrigoamrc)
The digital revolution has drastically changed societies. People work and relate on the move. We are now able to interact, access information and services by touching a screen that fits our hands. For over 15 years now, specialists have looked for the best ways to leverage the power of new technologies to make governments more efficient and effective. The evidence points towards a horizon of endless possibilities: higher productivity, more convenient services, greater transparency and accountability, improved data management for evidence-based policies, inclusive and cost-effective decision-making processes, among many other benefits. The practice, however, shows it is easier said than done.
Governments have made strenuous efforts, yet the expected benefits have not always been met. Besides, are governments really offering digital services and answers that better respond to users’ demands and needs? Duplication of efforts, poor investment decisions, incoherent use of technologies, inadequate flows of information and lack of engagement of service users lead to overall digital fragmentation. These are common challenges among OECD and non-OECD member countries and more often than not they are the result of one single (yet not so simple) thing: inadequate governance.
Governance determines the decision-making process, how priorities are set and executed and how resources are allocated. It is the most basic and fundamental enabler of government activities in all policy areas. It is also the framework that allows governments to drive change, adapt to new realities and solve outstanding challenges. Given the evolving nature of society, good governance is a continuous process. In the field of digital government, the Government of Chile has shown the lucidity, courage and commitment to accept the constant quest for improvement.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry General Secretariat of the Presidency (through its Modernisation and Digital Government Unit) Chile has established itself as a regional leader and has been rapidly closing the gap with other OECD countries in the field of digital government. Instead of giving way to complacency, this drive has led the government to set one only objective: do better. This is particularly challenging in Chile given the short political cycles that produce frequent changes. This lack of continuity can affect the stability of digital government policies, the achievement of goals and the return on investment.
The Government of Chile engaged with the OECD in a Digital Government Review focused on the institutional and governance framework for digital government. The Review benchmarks Chile against ten advanced countries in the field of digital government.
The OECD Review Digital Government in Chile: The Institutional and Governance Framework, shows that good co-ordination across public institutions and appropriate incentives are essential to achieve expected goals.
ICT Governance Structures in OECD Countries
Source: OECD’s calculations based on OECD Survey on Open Government Data (dataset, 2014); OECD Survey on Digital Government Performance (dataset, 2014); and “OECD Questionnaire on Governance of Digital Government” (unpublished dataset, 2016); and desk research.
To drive change and develop a whole-of-government approach, the Review recommends, the body responsible for digital government should be able to structure ICT investments and strategies and ensure they are in line with the overall digital government strategy and broader public sector objectives. This implies endowing the entity with the right authority level supported by a solid legal basis. The Digital Government Review of Chile advances two alternative recommendations: (a) the creation of a Sub-Secretaría de Gobierno Digital, or (b) the creation of a digital government agency. The strengths and weaknesses of both models are assessed based on the Chilean context: (a) is more agile and provides greater political visibility; (b) provides greater stability and technical focus, which would need to be balanced with adequate democratic accountability and political leverage.
Governance choices must come from Chile’s democratically elected authorities. The digital government review was a gratifying exercise. It leaves small room for doubting that, provided with the right tools and institutional framework, Chile’s authorities and civil servants stand ready to drive government to the new digital frontier.