Digital Government as Implementation Means for Sustainable Development Goals

Digital Government as Implementation Means for Sustainable Development Goals

Ignacio Marcovecchio (United Nations University, Macau, China), Mamello Thinyane (United Nations University, Macau, China), Elsa Estevez (Departamento de Ciencias e Ingeniería de la Computación, Universidad Nacional del Sur (UNS), Argentina; Instituto de Ciencias e Ingeniería de la Computación (UNS-CONICET), Argentina) and Tomasz Janowski (Gdańsk University of Technology, Gdańsk, Poland; Danube University Krems, Krems, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/IJPADA.2019070101
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One of the challenges for implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the measurement of indicators that represent progress towards such goals. Measuring such progress enables data-driven decision-making and management of SDG-relevant projects and strategies. The premise of this research is that measuring such indicators depends on measuring so-called means of implementation, i.e. activities that directly contribute to the achievement of SDGs. Building on this premise, this article studies how the measurement of digital government (DG) can contribute to the measurement of SDGs. In particular, how the indicators originating in three DG measurement instruments can inform the SDG indicators. The main finding is an alignment matrix, showing how the DG indicators contribute with varying level of specificity to the measurement of 10 SDG indicators.
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The world development agenda is summarized in 17 goals that aim at protecting the planet, ensuring peace and prosperity, and fulfilling related targets by the year 2030. These goals – known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – prioritize areas such as climate change, economic inequality, sustainable consumption, innovation, peace, and justice (United Nations Development Program, 2016), while simultaneously balancing three dimensions of sustainable development: social inclusion, economic development, and environmental sustainability.

The SDGs build on the process of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight time-bound and quantified goals that led the worldwide efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest between the years 2000 and 2015. Although the MDGs have been considered the most successful anti-poverty movement in history (United Nations, 2015a), they have been criticized on a number of accounts (UN System Task Team on the post-2015 UN Development Agenda, 2012).

One of them is that the efforts were mostly focused on the goals but not enough on the means for achieving them (Bhattacharya & Ali, 2014). Acknowledging this shortcoming, the SDGs point out that the Means of Implementation (MoI) are key to the realization of the SDGs and that they are equally important as the rest of the goals and targets. The agenda also dedicates one full goal (SDG#17) to the articulation of such means. The MoI are a mix of financial resources, technology development and transfer, capacity-building, inclusive and equitable globalization and trade, regional integration, as well as the SDG-enabling environment on the national level, particularly in developing countries (Technical Support Team of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, 2014).

The MoI that are relevant to this research are the ones related to technology and, more specifically, to digital technologies, as well as data and statistics for monitoring and accountability. Innovation and technological advancements are needed to meet the aspirations of the SDGs. The challenge is to develop concrete and sustainable innovation and technology collaboration opportunities to enable countries at all levels of development to take advantage of available technologies. Strengthening the supply of data and statistical information is also necessary to monitor progress, conduct integrated policy analysis, and effectively implement the 2030 Agenda. Official statistics that adhere to the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (United Nations, 2014) and support the efficient production of high-quality SDG data are crucial for achieving such an ambitious agenda (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2017).

The concept of the MoI, however, is broader than just gathering resources; it also encompasses the institutional frameworks and governance issues required for achieving the SDGs. Governance is crucial for implementing the 2030 Agenda because it underlies all of the SDGs. Good public governance – the formal and informal arrangements that determine how public decisions are made and how public actions are carried out (OECD, 2011) is essential to achieving the SDGs (OECD, 2016).

Governments face a range of pressures including economic, political, environmental, and cultural demands. The utilization of technology, and in particular digital technologies, allows them to respond to such pressures more efficiently and in more transparent and accountable ways. Digital government (DG) refers to the use of digital technologies as an integral part of governments’ modernization strategies to ultimately create public value (OECD, 2014). The role digital technologies play in government affairs has evolved as technological advancements and social demands have evolved, pushing governments to shift from a citizen-centric to a citizen-driven model, where the focus is on engaging institutional and non-institutional stakeholders in public value creation rather than focusing on the internal government coordination and collaboration (Ubaldi, 2013).

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