Inclusive whole of society digital government transformation:
How Lao PDR is striving for this change.
Digitalization has transformed all facets of society. This includes everything from the way people interact, learn, transact, and to the way the government delivers services (Government-to-Citizen (G2C), Government to Business (G2B) or Government to Government (G2G) transactions) and how businesses sell goods/services and collect payments. The world is increasingly becoming more connected and interdependent with digital advancements. It is convenient having access to information at our fingertips, being able to make bank payments quickly and reliably, being able to register a newborn child or business, educating children, and telehealth.
Governments (typically being the stewards of digital efforts at the national level) across the world are at varying stages of digital transformation. The promise of digital government is to create value, which can take the shape of new work processes, products and services. Adoption of digital can help governments increase efficiency in internal operations, find better ways of collaboration among various Government agencies and improve service delivery capabilities.
One of the guiding principles of the UNDP’s Digital Strategy 2022–2025 emphasizes the importance of the whole-of-society approach in developing local digital ecosystems — especially when there are still 2.7 billion people offline (an estimated 96 % of those are living in developing countries) and Only 63 per cent of women using the Internet in 2022 compared to 69 per cent of men. To build a more open, transparent and sustainable society; digital transformation must be intentionally inclusive, thoughtfully designed and implemented with people and human rights at the centre of all aspects.
What do we mean by applying the Whole-of-Society approach?
A Whole-of-Society approach is best practice and widely used to accelerate the pace of digital transformation. It is about breaking the vertical silo approach of public service delivery and means that digital is seen as integral to all ministries and government agencies. The approach also takes across-sectoral and cross-organizational views on Information Communication Technology (ICT) needs of each government agency. Further, to get it right, government agencies need to put themselves in the shoes of their users, empathise with their needs and their level of digital literacy, and try to make accessing a service as seamless as possible.
Successful digital government should provide it users with engagement, broad-based benefits that cut across differences in geography, social groups, gender, and be user-centric & responsive. The drive for successful and inclusive digital government is founded on the fact that it can:
(i) improve the quality and effectiveness of public service delivery for citizens and businesses;
(ii) enable greater data-driven decision-making for better governance outcomes (ranging from procurement, managing infrastructure or traffic, to anti-corruption); and
(iii) enhance competitiveness and improve the investment climate as a result of more transparent and efficient administration
How is Lao PDR striving for this ambition?
“Lao PDR needs to adapt to the fast-growing digital world which means we need to transform. Otherwise, it will be like we are going to miss the last train.” Lao Deputy Minister of Technology and Communications, Dr Santisouk Simmalavong.
Even before COVID-19, the Lao Government had expressed a growing commitment to a digital transformation agenda. The most significant milestone would be the adoption of the National Digital Economy Vision (2021–2040), the National Digital Economy Strategy (2021–2030), and the National Digital Economy Development Plan (2021–2025) December 2021.
The development and key implementation of key digital initiatives, services and projects contribute to the improved E-Government Development Index 2022 from 167 in 2020 to 159 in 2022. However, Lao PDR still lags compared to the rest of Southeast Asia due to reasons including the high cost of the internet, the urban-rural digital divide, and the lack of ICT/digital skills.
The Deputy Minister of the Lao PDR Ministry of Technology and Communications, Dr Santisouk Simmalavong highlighted on digital skills and capabilities in his remarks at a digital government consultation meeting that “Lao PDR is similar to New Zealand and Singapore in terms of size but what we do not have is digitally skilled population and workforce.”
A Digital Maturity Assessment (DMA) or in general digital diagnostics is typically the first step to know where the countries stand in their overall digital ecosystem. After conducting the Digital Maturity Assessment for the Lao public sector, there were comments, requests for support and questions on how to go forward. A few representatives from the central ministries raised “there are many gaps in all five pillars (as defined in DMA framework). How do we prioritize? Where should we start first and how much would it cost?”
It is with this context; Lao PDR government is in the process of developing digital government strategy and masterplan to serve as the blueprint for government-wide inclusive whole-of-society digital transformation. Also, it will help to guide a common, coordinated response to break the digital divide, and ensure Lao PDR ownership of modern tools to transform the government digitally. The ultimate goal is to improve the public service delivery to the people and businesses. In order to achieve that, the needs of the users have to be shared and understood by the service providers through an effective feedback mechanism.
However, such public sector digital transformation blueprint in many countries is developed based on some of the foundational steps like preparation of a Government Enterprise Architecture (GEA) and an e-Government Interoperability Framework (eGIF) etc. These have been adopted in case of Lao PDR with the suport of the UNDP. These support government ecosystems to build a common set of standards and services across government, for seamless integration of digital initiatives across government agencies to frame government as a platform for integrated service delivery to achieve digital inclusion for all citizens/businesses and to build trust.
GEA provides a road map for restructuring government processes, organizing government information and deploying IT efficiently in the public sector. The Government of Lao PDR explored many models and studied some of the best practices to develop its own GEA as part of the implementation of the Digital Government Master Plan.
With the central premise that GEA driven transformation is a change initiative rather than a mere automation or technology modernization program, it is extremely important that Digital Transformation Blueprint / Masterplan is co-designed in consultation with all the key stakeholders of Lao PDR e.g. the Government, development partners, private sectors and other stakeholders. Multiple round of consultations among these stakeholders were conducted throughout the process. All inputs from the national as well as sub-national government agencies and other stakeholders especially citizens and young people need to be integrated in order to translate the strategy into actions.
It is still a long way to go on this inclusive whole-of-society digital transformation journey in Lao PDR. Once the digital transformation blueprint is finalized, Government need to get into implementation of digital initiatives based on the prioritization and roadmap as agreed among the stakeholders. Through this effort, it will be interesting to see how the forces and resources of various government agencies, development partners and private sectors work cohesively to achieve the long-term goal of digital government transformation. Beyond adopting technologies and building capabilities, the Government of Lao PDR may take the next step in innovation and experimentation, to seize new opportunities that digitalization can offer. Government digitalization not only increases administrative efficiency but also offers unprecedented opportunities to bolster balanced economic growth and facilitates active communication and engagement with the citizen.
This blog was written by Debashis Nag, Regional Digital Transformation Lead, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub and Ketmany Vilayvong, Head of Solutions Mapping, Accelerator Lab, UNDP Lao PDR. Thank you to Ricarda Rieger, UNDP Lao PDR Resident Representative and Head of the Regional Innovation Centre, Kate Sutton for reviewing.