From November 17th to 20th city of Malmö hosted the gathering of the eGovernment and eDemocracy tribe. Three events related to the use of the internet and information technologies in administration and politics happened in just one week: The ministerial eGovernment conference, the pre-conference dealing with scientific issues in this field and the popular eGovernment unConference. Csaba already discussed the popular unConference in an earlier article. Therefore I would like to share some impressions I had of the ministerial conference and try to pin down what the essence of the event was.
The ministerial declaration
The central outcome of the ministerial meeting was of course the Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment which was presented at the conference by Minster Mats Odell on Thursday. The declaration incorporates three major themes (for an in-depth critical analysis please read this excellent article by Andrea DiMaio):
- Empowerment and transparency through eGovernment services and the use of ICT
- Improved mobility in the Single Market by seamless eGovernment services
- Efficiency and effectiveness is enabled by a constant effort to use eGovernment
From the angle of the Pan European eParticipation Network the first point seems to be the most interesting one. It is good to see that the European Ministers responsible for this area commit to the use of ICT to improve democratic processes and not only administrative efficiency. This view was shared by the audience of the conference as well: In the final session the moderator (Richard Wilson) ask the delegates which of the three goals they think is the most important one and there was an overwhelming majority voting for empowerment and transparency over the other two goals.
This document, even though it leaves a lot of points open to interpretation, will have major implications for eGovernment in Europe in the next years as it is stated to inform the policy priorities till 2015 and provides the European Commission with a number of tasks and powers to work towards the set goals. The commission is now ask to set up an action plan on top of the declaration and to chair the steering group overseeing the implementation of this plan.
Maybe more influential than the declaration itself and the policy implications following it was the strong subtext to all of the contributions and talks. From the statements and remarks of the high ranking attendees and in conversations in between panels it was clear that everybody agreed that social media is here to stay and that that the level of electronic communication possible today changes the way we govern ourselves. In relationship to this the force for change represented by the digital natives and those growing up in a digitalized world was referenced many times.
Keeping in mind that the 1.500 delegates present in Malmö are quite influential in their respective fields on the regional, national and European level the fact that social computing and electronic communication are seen as game changing is important. The ministerial declaration is just the visible part of the change of mind happening not only among the digital natives but also among those influencing policy and implementing technologies and methodologies in political and administrative bodies.
With both the declaration covering the policies by the European Commission and other administrative bodies and an open and progressive mindset developing among those shaping the future of eGovernment the next years seem rather exciting. The next step will be to see how the European Commission interprets the declaration and formulates the action plan over the course of the next months. After that the action plan will have to be put in really by all the different actors in Europe – PEP-NET and its members being among them.
The next ministerial eGovernment conference will be held in Poland in 2011. I think this two year time span can be used a test of whether the spirit and the policy decisions of Malmö have a real impact on the development of eDemocracy and eGovernment in Europe.