Digitalisation is both a force for fundamental change in our society and an essential factor in keeping that same society up and running. These observations are confirmed by the outbreak of the coronavirus and its consequences. Specifically in the current situation, the added value of investing in the effective digitalisation of government has been further underlined. Those investments in digitalisation have for example contributed to the organisation of healthcare in saving lives and to improving the quality of service provided by government.
The present situation firmly underlines the importance of digital access to government for individual citizens and entrepreneurs, for aid and support measures. Moreover, it reveals how important it is that everyone can continue to participate.
Digitalisation is not just a question of digitising paper-based processes. It also relates to changes in the way that government operates and communicates, the way in which we organise the services we provide and how we approach and tackle the questions facing society. We refer to changes of this kind as the digital transformation. At the start, digitalisation was viewed as a purely technical issue relating to operational processes that above all took place behind the scenes. Today, however, as also concluded by the Temporary Committee on the Digital Future, digitalisation has become a top priority. This vision ties in with a global trend. Digitalisation has been identified by the European Commission as one of its top priorities, and to face up to the challenges of digitalisation as a priority, the Cabinet has published the Dutch Digitalisation Strategy. As announced in the government programme ‘Confidence in the future’, a broad-spectrum Digital Government Agenda was developed, as part of that strategy. This agenda, which was officially named NL DIGIbeter in 2018, is itself the subject of an annual review.
We have gained vital insights over the past three years, both nationally and internationally, among others in Estonia and Singapore. One of the most important insights we have acquired is that designing the public sector of the future calls for extensive cooperation between government, science and industry (the private sector). The basic building blocks are fundamental rights and public values, such as non-discrimination and privacy. Starting from those foundations, we can build towards the digital transformation of government. A government that wishes to make digitalisation a success will have to join in with the trend of ever further growth in platforms and applications. Without doubt this will have consequences for how we work together within government and possibly how the government of the future will (have to) be organised. As government organisations, we must ask ourselves how we can make a contribution to solving the challenges facing society, rather than focusing primarily on our own tasks and responsibilities.
The aim of NL DIGIbeter is to enhance public-private partnership. Through that kind of partnership, we will be in a better position to help people participate in society (the Digital Society Alliance), to employ technology to make thing better (the Blockchain Coalition and the Dutch AI Coalition) and encourage innovations (Innovation Budget, Startup in Residence and Small Business Innovation Research). We aim to continue these initiatives, but at the same time must ask ourselves how innovations can be more broadly deployed for other parties or for other objectives. Our aim is to have as many individual citizens and entrepreneurs benefit from those innovations as possible.
The underlying principle behind digital service provision is that we design services from the perspective of the world of people and businesses. The life events approach ties in seamlessly with this method. Starting with real-life questions and problems of citizens and businesses, we work to release bottlenecks. This calls for cooperation, agreements and standardisation, based on central control and coordination. The management and financing of the basic infrastructure can clearly be improved, as revealed in an evaluation of the governance and the method employed for charging for this basic infrastructure. Any improvement process will have to be drawn up in collaboration with all stakeholders.
Partly in response to the corona crisis, the following three issues are given particular attention in NL DIGIbeter 2020.
- We are taking additional measures to ensure that everyone can continue to participate (digitally). For example the #allemaaldigitaal campaign means that thousands of people have been given access to a refurbished laptop that enables them to join the digital world. This campaign is a joint initiative between public and private parties, coordinated by the Digital Society, NL Digital and SIVON alliance.
A helpline has also been opened (0800-1508) to help people who run up against problems in using their laptop or tablet. We have joined forces with the Kids’ Council to help the elderly achieve greater digital contact, as a means of tackling social isolation.
- We guarantee good quality and reliable digital services so that citizens and entrepreneurs are able to continue to settle their affairs with government, remotely. It is more important than ever that the resources for digital services remain safe, user-friendly and reliable, and meet the needs of today. As far as possible, our processes are organised from the perspective of people’s life events.
- The use of technology to realise societal goals has been combined with answering the (ethical) questions raised by this technology.
In NL DIGIbeter 2020, we start each chapter with a brief introduction. This is followed by the results achieved during the period 2019-2020, a short conclusion for the follow-up steps, and finally the agenda for the period 2020-2021.
Each of these reports and evaluations will mark new steps towards the digital transformation of government. In a changing world, government must also be willing to change. Only then will we retain people’s confidence. Only together can we make the Netherlands DIGIbeter!
The coronavirus has forced people young and old to adopt a different work approach. Digital inclusion has become more important than ever before.