World governments have an insatiable need to make incremental improvements in the services they deliver while at the same time tackling the longer-term public sector challenges that limit their socioeconomic potential. As leading nations have discovered, the right use of digital technology is the pathway to achieving both objectives. Successful nations have technology strategies that are both aggressively practical and profoundly aspirational.
A breakthrough global public-private partnership recently collaborated to identify the top 10 government technology (govtech) initiatives worldwide that will contribute the most to sustainable improvements in 192 countries’ economies and societies. MIT Technology Review Insights and the United Arab Emirates-based World Government Summit (WGS), a non-government organization promoting future-oriented public-private dialogue, worked together to select the most interesting govtech implementations from among the world’s more innovative initiatives. The WGS reviewed the short list of 10 best-in-practice technology projects in order to select three recipients of its annual GovTech Prize—a recognition of their achievement in creating smart solutions which can inspire all digitally-minded governments.
The Government of Things
The growth in consumer use of digital devices creates a great opportunity for governments and societies. Using data generated from the Internet of Things (IoT), utility companies and transportation departments are improving the way they deliver services, for example:
1. SJ Railways—Sweden’s state-owned national railway— is moving well beyond e-tickets by conducting the world’s first NFC payment trial using microchips literally embedded in its customers, by offering the option to place a biometric chip under the skin in passengers’ hands.
2. The Government of India’s Aadhaar Program is the world’s largest biometric identity card network, serving more than 1.2 billion citizens and disbursing nearly $40 billion in social welfare services annually.
Blockchain Party: Using Digital Trust to Bolster Civic Institutions
Blockchain applications—bitcoin is one— create systems of trust using digital ledgers, limiting regulatory oversight and licensing. In 2017, many governments got serious about using blockchain to enhance the authority and efficacy of their own public institutions, particularly those in emerging markets with traditionally weak governance, for instance:
3. Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is working with technology developer Bitland to create a complete and permanent national land registry based on blockchain tokens.
4. The UAE’s Smart Dubai Office is creating a blockchain-based paper-free digital transaction platform for its entire city government, to remove 100 million official documents from its processes. More than 20 blockchain use cases are now being pilot tested, in areas ranging from health and education to transportation and energy, aimed at making Dubai “the world’s happiest and smartest city.”
Govtech: Reaching for the Moon While Staying Grounded
National governments often avoid digital transformation initiatives deemed too cutting edge, as compliance issues, budget constraints, and the pressing demands of constituencies make far-ranging, blue-sky technology experiments impractical, if not politically risky. However, some forward-looking governments are using experimental new applications to address current service delivery challenges, or issues impacting economic sustainability.
5. The U.K.’s National Health Service is enlisting artificial intelligence (AI)- and analytic-enabled digital mental health providers such as Cambridgeshire-based Ieso Digital Health to increase access to cognitive therapy services to 1.5 million citizens by 2021. Ieso offers cognitive behavioral therapy via text-based messaging that takes place in a secure virtual room. The company collects data from sessions and uses machine learning to continue training its therapists in best practices.
6. Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives distributes DNA sequencing devices to cassava farmers and researchers to aid in their efforts to eradicate whitefly-borne diseases. The farmers and scientists are using these portable, real-time devices to identify the strain of virus destroying their crops, allowing them to proactively fight the diseases.
7. The Development Bank of Japan, a government-owned bank, is the lead investor in ispace Inc., a commercial space launch company with ambitious plans to develop lunar infrastructure, financed in part by showing advertisements on the moon, as a first step to transforming Japan’s economic development. The goal is to focus on the harmony between the earth and the moon, and on how the earth and the moon can become “one ecosystem.”
Big Cities, Bigger Data
Collecting and parsing huge amounts of data is the lifeblood of the AI ecosystem. Two notable govtech initiatives, in Australia and China, are leveraging the wealth of data created by urban governments and municipal service providers, to not only make their cities more livable, but to make them R&D labs for their respective country’s emerging AI industries.
8. Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has launched K-City, one of the world’s largest autonomous-driving technology R&D facilities.
9. The Hangzhou Municipal Government has collaborated with tech giant Alibaba to create City Brain, a cloud-based AI platform to analyze traffic patterns, reducing congestion levels 10 percent this year by rerouting traffic around backups.
10. Australia’s Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation launched the National Cities Performance Framework, an open data-based policy and planning tool to accelerate the country’s Smart Cities rollout.
These leading govtech initiatives have helped deliver higher quality service to citizens and residents, but more importantly, they fundamentally change societal outcomes, allowing people to live safer, more productive, and more fulfilling lives.
About the World Government Summit
The World Government Summit (WGS) is a UAE-based thought leadership organization which maintains a future-oriented dialogue between the private and public sectors of 140 countries on the best ways that governments can improve the lives of their citizens. This collaboration culminates each year in a global summit that serves as an incubator and an impetus shaping future global trends, with more than 150 distinguished thinkers, officials, and business leaders participating.
The top 10 initiatives that were selected comprise the short list for the WGS’ Best Government Emerging Technologies Award, which acknowledges governments that experiment with emerging technologies to create greater societal value and revolutionize our existence. For more information, see www.worldgovernmentsummit.org; #WorldGovSummit