m-Gov and it’s Impact! – Part 2

My previous post pointed out some initiatives that are currently being run by several governments and public entities across the world. I know I have missed many, but those examples were illustrations of how some governments of today are engaging with their citizens using mobile technology. The scope is quite large, given the potential social impact.

However, there are many risks with m-Gov (G2C, G2G, C2G), some of which I highlight below –

a.       Fast pace of technology – Technology is fast moving but often, governments are slow moving. There are new devices, applications, infrastructure etc, that is changing rapidly. G2C initiatives need to keep that in perspective. The side track issue is also funding. Keeping pace with fast moving technology requires adequate investment and in many countries governments are notorious for yanking away programs due to lack of funding.

b.      Training – m-Gov based G2C roll outs need to include training. Even though many of these applications are very intuitive, without adequate training (and re-training) programs the effective uptake of such applications will be limited. This is true especially for high touch programs such as healthcare. Here, not only do healthcare workers need training, but so do the citizens.

c.       Language – In many countries, citizens speak multiple languages. Language support with accurate translation needs to be also built in.

d.      Support – Will these programs have adequate support infrastructure? If things don’t work as expected (connections are broken, forms are lost, wrong keys pressed etc) then what are the remediation paths?

e.      Security – This is a top concern in the commercial world with corporate/personal data. Mobile G2C initiatives are no less. Privacy concerns that stem from weak security standards, impersonation, secure authentication, information leakage etc could easily over-ride the efficacy of mG2C programs. What if this information falls in to the wrong hands? Is the network secure? What if there is breach? Is the government making adequate investments to protect valuable data? Can they continue to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to security? Does the app have adequate client security features? In the developing world, the mobile phone is often a shared asset. Information could then fall in to the wrong hands at the source.

These are just some of the risks. As can be evidenced, any roll out should be treated as a comprehensive project and more importantly governments and public entities who want to play on this field need to have a cogent m-Gov strategy.

The one thing I do want to touch upon is accountability and transparency. I can tell you from personal experience that dealing with the government has not been easy. It is getting better though. In the early 90s, in India the government launched programs to computerize nationalized banks. Boy, did that meet some stiff resistance from the unions and bank employees. While it did improve efficiencies, it also increased accountability within these banks. Something that did not go down well within many banks. Eventually, of course, it was done. While my example is very superficial, in the case of m-Gov there are more ramifications due to what I call the edge-effect. In the current model, people go to the government for services. Which is where they experience the ‘special’ treatment that the government gives the people.

But when services go to the people, it’s a whole different model. Government inaction (or even delayed action) to m-Gov programs such as crime reporting could cause backlash and social unrest. Some countries have mG2C crowd-sourcing initiatives that facilitate citizens to send in photographs of say potholes, or broken public fixtures such as lamp-posts, fire-hydrants, decrepit  bridges, bus-shelters etc. While this is a good thing, if governments fail to react/respond to the complaints, they could perceived as inefficient and be voted out.

While there are risks, in my opinion, there are a 2 key advantages of m-G2C initiatives. I know that there are more, but these are my top 2.

  1. Citizen participation – Often, citizens complain as opposed to act. While complaining is part of the human DNA, inaction is worse. m-Gov takes citizen participation to newer levels.
  1. Transparency in governance – An open dialogue between the government and the governed will result in more understanding and trust. More importantly, it will result in transparency and accountability.

With pretty much the entire globe blanketed in some shape or form with mobile technology, I think m-Gov initiatives across the globe are an equitable form of interaction between the government and citizens. The dialogue is now open to all and not a select few. And with productive dialogue there will be more useful action both from the government and its citizens. I think that will be the biggest achievement of m-Gov.

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