The Role of E-Governance in Bridging the Digital Divide

Article excerpt

Ever since I attended the May 2011 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, I keep thinking about one of the trends in e-government that was debated there: namely, that the development of e-services is directly linked to the active involvement of citizens and the private sector in the delivery of public services. (Consequently, there is a need to increase the level and depth of all stakeholders' participation in decision making and in the process of implementing e-governance. This, together with international, national, and individual cooperation, could help address the issue of achieving an all-inclusive Information Society. On the other hand, the heterogeneity of e-government models and the great gap between knowledge-based and rudimentary societies are the biggest impediments to overcome. In this con-text, we need to discern what influence and role e-governance plays in bridging the digital divide.

THE DIMENSIONS OF THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

The concept of the digital divide has been evolving over the years, being generally defined as a social issue linked to the different amount of information between those individuals who have access to the information society and information and communication technology and those who do not. It also refers to countries, regions, cities, and businesses that are at a differentiated socio-economic and cultural level with regard to ICT accessibility. This gap includes imbalances in terms of access to Internet infrastructure, information and knowledge, and equality of opportunity depending on income, race, ethnicity, gender or other similar criteria.

The nature of the digital divide is complex and debatable; therefore, an accurate diagnosis of its causes is imperative in order to discern and implement the proper solutions. The digital divide is wide. There is a strong correlation between the digital divide and poverty. Almost 40 per cent of the world population lives in low-income countries. About one billion people have no access to ICT. In addition, the digital divide comes in many forms. Studies demonstrate that regardless of how many info-kiosks or telecentres are installed in a low-income or developing country, the probability of Internet use is ten times higher for a person in a developed or high-income country than for a person in a developing country. This demonstrates that education and changing mentalities are key factors in bridging the digital divide. Governments should act by developing and using e-government tools in order to enhance e-readiness, encourage and educate in the usage of ICT and support the development of ICT skills in a non-discriminative manner.

CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS TO THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

Researchers report a wide variety of factors which favour the increasing gap, such as, among others, low income and other financial limitations, lower-quality or high-priced connections, low level of education, lack of digital literacy, poor technical assistance, and limited access to quality ICT content.

The cost and affordability of ICT is a big issue in many countries, but a bigger one is the lack of knowledge and understanding of the technology. Studies show that over 40 per cent of the world population does not have the opportunity to learn how to use a computer. This is the hardest issue to address, as it implies changes in both education and mentality, as well as investments in e-services. E-governance should play the leading role in creating usable e-government tools, regardless of the level of education. Some governmental websites are very complicated and unfriendly both in access and content. Adopting an integrated and citizen-oriented approach may lead Governments to increase equal opportunities in the use of ICT's.

Cooperation between relevant stakeholders in the e-government field, such as central governments, local public authorities, the private sector, academia, civil society, and international organizations is a key factor. …