Strengthening public institutions in the digital era: In support of the 2023 ECOSOC cycle of work and in preparation for its 22nd session (2023), the CEPA working group will provide policy advice on stimulating public sector innovation through digital technology and measuring the impact of digital government.
Digitalization can strengthen trust, integrity and inclusion in government and support governments on the path to build forward better from the COVID-19 pandemic and achieve the SDGs. The great acceleration of government digitalization that the pandemic has engendered is irreversible, with profound effects on the sharing of data and information and public service delivery, as well as opportunities for collaboration within government and with citizens and other actors. Central to the global debate on government in the digital era is the broader challenge of ensuring a just, inclusive, people-centred and rights-based digital transformation, with the goal of leaving no one behind while mitigating the risks of widening digital divides.
Over the years, the Committee has discussed the challenges and opportunities for public institutions in the digital era. Among others, it touched upon ways to improve the engagement and communication between Governments and stakeholders, including through access to information, open government and electronic and mobile solutions. At its 21st session (2022), the Committee underscored that the digitalization of government and society continued to offer immense opportunities to leapfrog development, improve public service delivery, combat corruption, reduce inequalities and improve state-citizen relations provided it was managed in a fair, ethical and people-centred manner. Efforts to address digital divides were urgently needed if the digital transformation was to achieve its full potential, alongside improved data governance and greater attention to the mitigation of risks arising from ICTs, such as artificial intelligence and social media, through new policy and regulatory regimes and standards.
Recent CEPA observations and insights
Ensuring that digital transformation strengthens trust in governments in their capacity to deliver equitable public services, manage people’s data and, in the case of social media, address the risks of disinformation and polarization, is critical. Implicit data bias in artificial intelligence is one concern for which adequate oversight mechanisms might be needed. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
The uneven playing field in science and technology and the market dominance of some technology companies contribute to limiting options for governments in the application of artificial intelligence, neural networks, access to big data and other technologies. Those factors also introduce security vulnerabilities, which some governments are tackling by restricting access rather than cooperating. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
The digital divide affecting many States and population groups, based on lack of access and connectivity infrastructure, including Internet quality, unaffordability due to the high cost of Internet use and digital devices, insufficient capacity-building and digital illiteracy, must urgently be addressed. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
Digital innovations, such as data analytics and artificial intelligence, have a critical role to play in preventing and deterring corruption in the digital age. However, to exploit in full the integrity benefits of digital transformation, there needed to be greater synergy between digital government reforms and anti-corruption strategies. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
To guide the digital transformation and effectively invest in and deploy government technology solutions, governments need to strengthen their digital capabilities and expertise. The availability of skilled technology workers is a particular challenge for governments, especially in developing countries. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
What action does ECOSOC recommend?
ECOSOC underlines that the COVID-19 pandemic has both accelerated the digital transition and revealed technological weaknesses of public administrations, reiterates that the impact of the pandemic exacerbates inequalities caused by digital divides, and encourages Governments to manage digitalization of public services in an inclusive, fair, ethical and people-centred manner, while accelerating efforts to bridge digital divides, inter alia through hybrid models of public service delivery (ECOSOC resolution 2022/09, para. 14)
ECOSOC encourages oversight agencies to strengthen the use of open data and artificial intelligence to detect and deter corruption and bribery in all their forms (ECOSOC resolution 2022/9, para. 15).
Expert papers on this topic (2016-present)