Our ‘Dual Focus PhD’ series tracks the working lives of our part-time PhD fellows. Many work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other parts of the UN System. They come to Maastricht for our unique PhD Dual Career Training Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC²). This time Dr. Mindel van de Laar speaks to Atsuko Okuda, who is pursuing a PhD alongside working as Chief, ICT and Development Section at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Midsummer, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) published the “E-Governance – A powerful tool toward resilient, inclusive and sustainable disaster risk management”. You contributed as an author on e-resilience and e-government. Can you please elaborate what the survey and publication are about?
The UN E-Government Survey is one of DESA’s flagship publications. The report is published every other year under a specific theme of emerging e-government issues. The report is the only e-government report which covers 193 countries along the three components of telecommunication infrastructure, online service and human capital. It provides policymakers, academics and practitioners with valuable data, insights and analysis on different dimensions of e-government across the globe.
The E-Government Survey 2018: Gearing E-Government to Support Transformation towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies addresses risks and vulnerabilities in society. In Asia and the Pacific where I work, natural disasters, ranging from earthquakes, cyclones, floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions to glacier lake outbursts, destroy hard-won development gains. How to maximize the use of ICT to better prepare and manage disaster risks is a development imperative.
We at the UN ESCAP promote the concept and operationalization of e-resilience, as part and parcel of e-government. E-resilience encompasses a spectrum of ICT applications and infrastructure, defined as “the use of ICTs during all phases of disaster risk management —prevention, reduction, preparedness, response and recovery — towards reducing risk and impact and maintaining the gains made towards sustainable development, including through e-government.” The operationalization has been taking place as part of the implementation of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS), a regional broadband connectivity initiative which was developed and launched by ESCAP’s 62 member countries.
The significant momentum for e-resilience has been built based on good practices and lessons learned emanating from region’s major disasters. The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake cut fibre optic cables which affected the emergency and rescue operations. Learning from the lessons, the government and telecom operators introduced various measures and systems which helped provide resilient emergency communication which was later found effective in the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes in the western part of Japan.
Against this background, we gladly accepted the invitation from DESA to contribute a chapter on e-resilience. Our contributions have also reflected emerging technology trends, covering artificial intelligence, social media integration, space applications and geo-referenced systems to build resilient societies.
How do you think e-governance can contribute to faster, more efficient and more effective responses by governments in case of emergencies? And how can we make governments more resilient, and better able to manage the e-developments?
The Chapter illustrates how e-government solutions have been helping governments enhance the effectiveness of emergency responses and reduce disaster risks across the world. In Bhutan, for example, the Department of Hydro Med Services developed a meteorological, hydrological and glacier lake outburst warning system. Equipped with sensors and real time data, the system generates actionable information to alert people to evacuate in time.
Resilient governments can save people’s lives and critical assets and at the same time facilitate e-developments. For instance, a resilient government should be able to maintain and protect vital information, such as civil registration records of the population. School enrolment, employment, financial transaction, land registrations and other transactions depend on the existence and integrity of such information. Although we take it for granted, a resilient government provides the basis for e-developments by ensuring the authenticity of such information and providing critical services to citizens even at a time of crisis and emergency. In order to materialize the vision of resilient government, all the components should be in place, including 24/7 telecommunications services, backups of data and applications, emergency power supply and human and institutional capacity, just to name a few.
Can you tell us what you do on a daily basis, and how governments benefit from the ESCAP’s involvement?
As mentioned earlier, we are promoting the regional broadband connectivity initiative, called Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS). E-resilience and inclusive broadband are two main pillars of the initiative. We believe that in order to advance e-resilience, we need to address the digital divide as a matter of urgency. According to our analysis, the broadband access gap between developing and developed countries is widening, leaving the majority of people behind in the digital transformation. All the above e-resilience initiatives and new capabilities depend on the availability, resilience and affordability of broadband connectivity not only in urban but also rural areas.
Our team is undertaking research and analyses to identify root causes of the digital divide and assess the uptake and impact of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain. The findings form the basis for policy recommendations, regional policy dialogues and regional cooperation to address the challenges and find solutions collectively. For that purpose, we invite all the member countries, partners, research institutes and civil society organizations to our intergovernmental meetings.
In 2017, you started your PhD in the GPAC2 programme. Your topic of study is e-governance compliance, with a particular case study of a country to be implemented. Can you share your PhD topic, and why that is particularly relevant for e-governance implementation?
My daily work inspired me to study deeper into e-governance, in particular how people interact with technologies such as e-governance in the developing country context.
E-governance initiatives are designed to offer an unprecedented amount and visibility of data and information which can be aggregated, disaggregated and analysed to identify patterns and help improve policies, procedures, and processes. Despite the fact that similar e-governance functions and initiatives have been implemented across the world, the evidenced outcomes seem to vary markedly. My research explores the relationships between e-governance institutional instruments and compliance among government users as a conduit to explain the variation. It answers the question: How and in what situations do e-governance institutional instruments lead to a change in the type of e-governance compliance among government users?
I hope that this research will provide empirical evidence of factors and processes critical to e-governance compliance among government employee users in the process of e-governance implementation, which has not been researched adequately in the past. Additionally, the practical implication and application for policy making are expected to be significant. The findings, I hope, will help improve the design of e-governance initiatives, considering the roles of identified key factors, for more effective development interventions and accelerated achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / Herman Pijpers