COVID-19 and Digitalization of Governance

What are the major implications for e-governments (digital governments) brought by COVID-19 crisis?
Igor Lys
CEO, Gambit
Oliver Thomsen
Head of expeditions and knowledge, Gambit
Introduction
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is undeniably the biggest challenge for governments worldwide in the 21st century. Regardless of whether the journalistic headlines depicting 'the new world' or 'the new reality' are based on facts or not, a lot of changes are coming for the way we use our time, our power, and our technology. Some of these changes are the accelerated versions of something that was already ongoing, while others are completely new. COVID-19 is not the first – and certainly not the last – decease that rises to a global health crisis. However, for the first time such crisis impacts a globalized, interconnected world. While the absolute human cost – while still staggering – is relatively low thanks to the first-ever global lockdown and other measures taken by the government, the mid- and long-term effects on economy, societal interactions, labor and psychology will be immense.

It is a role of companies like Gambit, who advice decision-makers on the best ways to use ideas and technology to achieve better goals, to analyze and anticipate the changes we are living through. This report, prepared in cooperation with Taavi Rõivas, former Prime Minister of Estonia, and Walid Tarabih, Gambit's associate for the Middle East, is but a glance at the core of the changes that impact governance. It is a question of the overview of the most important new dynamics. We will not be focusing on other crucial aspects of the global change, like the economy, or the culture.


This online report is a free version of the bigger report prepared for our clients. Our focus here is governance and how the pandemics affect the recourse of authorities to technology. New ways of interacting with citizens, and new political challenges. We will also look into surveillance and biometrics, as well as education. Then, we will talk about possible next steps and how Gambit can help with those.


The COVID-19 crisis has also brought new needs for digital government services and more demand on existing services. Developers in governments were mobilized and engaged in designing new apps and services to help in the fight against COVID-19. Some of these new services include delivering food and other essential items to those most in need by optimizing the entire supply chain via digital government services. Some Member States recorded an increase in the usage of online services such as digital ID and digital signature, due to the spikes in applications for unemployment and other social benefits.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in their analysis of the COVID-19 crisis' impact on governance

We will explore further in this report the different solutions countries across the world design and implement for G2C interaction, surveillance, and political development. Three major trends are to note at this stage:

The more a country or a territory is digitalized in its governance practices, the more it shows possibility to resists to 'black swan' events, preserve lives and economic development.

Digitalization is as important in poorer countries as it is in richer ones. Absence of technical infrastructure is not a big barrier to design and implementation of new practices.

The pandemic is increasing the demand for digital services because of the continuity it brings along.


REACT
INFORM the population about measures taken and their foundation

ENGAGE citizens and organizations in the production of data and solutions necessary to increase the quality of response

PREPARE to better collect, store and use data and better serve citizens who can not connect physically with the government
RESOLVE
First, tracking and collecting data though both existing (cellphones, banking, CCTVs etc.) and new (COVID apps…) solutions have proven themselves as an efficient response to the epidemic control and surveillance. These tools are crucial for the post-lockdown periods to reduce the risk of a second wave.

Second, governments will need to initiate large-scale partnerships with NGOs, private entities, and international partners to be able to syndicate necessary resources for the next step of their "enforced" digital transformation. New governmental tools can help ensure economic support and assistance to businesses and individuals, and reduce possibility of fraud.


REINVENT
The previous policy action allows new technologies like AI, blockchain, robotics to emerge and to capitalise on the digital infrastructure. The new information can be leveraged in ways which allows society to coexist in a safer and more sustainable environment.

Conclusion
Digitalization is a global trend that has not started with COVID-19. However, the ongoing pandemic has accelerated dramatically. The required continuity of education, work, research, and governmental services during the periods of social distancing and lockdowns calls for new, reliable solutions. The novel coronavirus has shown us our vulnerability as a society, and new digital solutions must be able to answer to any type of potential crisis.

This must be included into a broader framework of economic, political, and cultural policies that not only design and implement new technologies, but also educate both citizens and administrations to better use them, and to treat data responsibly.

As stated by the UN DESA, the efforts in developing digital government strategies after the COVID-19 crisis should also focus on improving data protection and digital inclusion policies as well as on strengthening the policy and technical capabilities of public institutions. Even though public-private partnerships are essential for implementing innovative technologies, government leadership, strong institutions and effective public policies are crucial to tailor digital solutions to countries' needs as well as prioritize security, equity and the protection of people's rights. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of technology, but also the pivotal role of an effective, inclusive and accountable government.
MAI, 13 / 2020
Gambit is a French international relations agency focused on providing services to both companies and governments on improving governance and accessing foreign-markets' insights, partnerships and clients.
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