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Notwithstanding with the debates about definition formulation and identification of determinants influencing the global and national diffusion of e-government, both researchers and practitioners agree about the positive influence of e-government for various aspects of public administration and accept the pattern towards the electronic government development. Adoption of policy of widespread use of ICT in public sector became government manifestation about its efforts to be competitive in the world arena and about improvement of public services quality. However, success and failure of such manifestations are very different in different countries. According to the UN E-Government Survey (2016), despite the positive global trends in development into higher stages of e-government implementation around the world, disparities remain between the countries. Therefore, identification of determinants of e-government espousal in various countries and the barriers challenging its diffusion is the crucial aspect for research and implementation of this area. This chapter will be aimed to address this issue focusing on the cross-national comparative research of e-government adoption factors in the post-soviet region. First, it will provide an overview of the theoretical frameworks used to analyze and explain the factors influencing the adoption of digital technologies in public sector. In particular, outline of the e-government policy change model (Berry and Berry, 2007; Lee et. al. 2011), as well as innovation diffusion framework (Rogers, 2003) will be explained. Further, the chapter will focus on the region selected for this research and their developments in digitalization of public services. Overview of the fifteen new nation states on the post-soviet area and their achievements in e-government policies will be addressed. Also, the methodology, data, and analysis approach used will be discussed in this chapter and followed-up by a discussion about the results of conducted research.
2.2 Theoretical framework of the research
As it was extensively discussed in the previous chapter, change in a country policymaking towards establishment of e-government is the complex process influenced by variety of factors. Diversity of technological, environmental, and organizational aspects combined with socio-economic and political issues are the key dimensions of e-government policy change. This complex and multidimensional structure of adoption and dissemination process influenced development of various theories and models describing the policy change and diffusion of e-government. Various researchers have used different theoretical models to explain the nature of the processes of e-governance acceptance, their communications, and the systematic logic of its diffusion. These theories were either developed as the new knowledge in policy change field or adopted theories previously developed by scholars studying innovations, diffusion, and policy shifts.
One of the earliest models about transformations in policy area is the Lewin’s (1958) change theory. This model is based on the tree-stages concept describing the internal institutional processes of “unfreezing” acceptance of the new direction of policy and its transition to the new system that will become preferable and dominating order of policy arrangements and values. Taking into account the narrowness of the model on the unit level of policy systems, the idea was further developed by Lipitt et. al. (1958) and transformed into the broader system of understanding of policy change process on the level of evolving innovations. Similar concept was developed by Layne and Lee (2001), who have introduced the framework of analysis of the dissemination of e-government policy in the public sector. Thus, this e-government diffusion consists of four stages (catalogue establishment, transaction, vertical and horizontal integration) and describes the evolution of the government digitalization processes and underlines the importance of information, communication, and transaction systems.
The theories of development of e-government in the country, however, were not only focused on policy change, but also on diffusion and spreading systems through various perspectives. In political economy dimension, the provision of e-services is considered by some scholars (Weare et.al., 1999) as the development of public good which is nonexcludable and characterized by absence of rivalry for ownership (Samuelson, 1954). Hence, the diffusion of electronic government can be addressed from the perspective of public goods’ supply . Another approach to theorize the dissemination of the electronic governments is the analysis of the cultural domain. E-government evolution in Nigeria was analyzed by Choudrie et al. (2012) using the set of cultural theoretical foundations (Hofstede 1991, Schwartz 1994, Hasan and Dista, 1999). Choudrie et al. addressed acceptance of information technologies in public sector via categorization of cultural values towards technology and analyzed how actions based on cultural ideology were interacting with emerging technological innovations. Attempts to conceptualization of the e-government acceptance were also made through behavioral studies. Aiming to analyze individuals’ intentions that influence their behavior, theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) and its extension to the theory of planned behavior Ajzen (1985), underlines specific experience, knowledge, and skills for population to be ready for innovation in public life and create the demand side of e-government evolving. Both these theories highly influenced the development of Technology acceptance model (Davis, 1989) and formed another approach to assess e-government development via technological characteristics insights. Based on two main constructs – perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness – the model focused on user adoptions of various e-services and analysis the acceptance of new technologies. The Institutional theory (Berger and Luckmann, 1967) is another approach to evaluate the process of e-government diffusion. The inclusion to the theory social, political, legal, and economical domains creates strong platform for analysis of innovation change in policy and emerging e-government trends. Combining regulatory, mimetic, and normative mechanisms. The institutional theory provides comprehensive framework to observe how regulatory basis, organizational culture and socio-political dimension associated with the electronic government dissemination and delivery of its various services.
All abovementioned theories created various frameworks to analyze the rise of e-government from different perspectives: socio-political, behavioral, institutional, technological, cultural, etc. All of them, however, are overly focused on the unit level analysis (public organization, ministry of policy field) and are limited when it comes to the national and regional level assessments. For the purpose of this research, two theoretical frameworks will be used to approach e-government development area from broader and generalized perception on the regional and cross-national comparative analysis. Namely, the study is focused on examination of dissemination factors and impeding challenges using the diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers, 1962, 2003) and e-government policy change model (Berry and Berry, 2007; Lee et. al. 2011). Combination of both of these models will provide a comprehensive vision of overall determinants of electronic government adoption and explain a flow and dynamics of the diffusion processes.
Diffusion of innovation theory
One of the most influential works in the field of diffusion of new policies is the diffusion of innovations theory developed by Everett Rogers (1962, 2003). The theory provides comprehensive framework to analyze causes, processes, stakeholders, and dynamics of the spread of new ideas, models, and policies in the society. The framework is modelled in a way to explain the processing of knowledge about innovations, challenges of uncertainties of adopters and assess the characteristics of new technology. The innovation in this context is described as the wide category that can be associated with any idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new within the specific social system. Apart from the innovation itself, the diffusion system described by Rogers includes adopters as the primary unit of analysis (on individual, organizational, municipal levels); communication channels transferring knowledge and information between units; time as the area of innovation dynamics; and social systems that are defined as the combination of set of external and internal influences. Therefore, the adoption and diffusion of innovation is characterized as the “process by which an innovation is communicated trough certain channels over the time among the members of a social system” (Rogers, 2003). The adoption and diffusion of the innovation occurs in three different dimensions: context and nature of process; differences between innovation pioneers and later adaptors; and structure of the adoption network and its influence on the adoption process.
Process and context
Rogers developed the five-stage process model to describe the decision-making about the adoption of the raising innovation. The first step is the awareness about the nature of innovation. Future adopters lack necessary knowledge about modernizations, but become exposed to it. On the second stage of persuasion the interest in innovation increases and the need for detailed information about it occurs. Next step is characterized by analyses of the available information about innovation, assessment of its costs and benefits and decision about adoption or rejection of innovation. Decision-making stage is followed by the implementation of chosen innovation direction. More information and various resetting might be explored at this point of time. And, finally, decision-maker finalizes conclusions about the innovation and introduces more comprehensive approach to it implementation in the confirmation stage. Schematically, the process is illustrated on the Figure 1.
Figure 1: Five-staged Process model of the innovation
The other side of the first dimension of innovation is the contextual environment and factors of adoption. Rogers (2003) underlines the importance of the readiness of the system and units to accept the innovation. Basically, it is possible to reformulate it as the creation of the demand side for innovation where social system will put the pressure to introduce new technologies. In case of e-Government, this can be interpreted as the readiness of citizens to use the services of digital government. It includes issues like the level of digital divide among the population, presence of necessary ICT infrastructure, access to Internet, etc. From the other side, innovation must be perceived as compatible with the current system norms and values and advantages of new system should be visible and clear. Adopters should see benefits and usefulness of the introduced innovation as the better alternative to existing procedural and organizational settings. These underlines the significant role of knowledge and learning aspects of cross-national diffusion of e-Government.
Rogers is sure that social structure of adaptors plays important role in innovation diffusion and create differences between early and late adoption. In the framework of diffusion of innovation theory, Rogers developed the classification of the adopters that includes innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and later adopters. These different types of adopters are compared to each other based on the on the willingness to take risks, financial liquidity, educational development, social status, and opinion leadership. The adoption process is brightly demonstrated on the S-shaped curve explaining evolution of innovation over a time among the various types of adopters (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Innovation diffusion over a time
Such differences of the unit level adopters of innovation might be brightly transferred to the nation level states, where various countries take different roles in innovation process from pioneers of technological innovations to laggards. With regards to the e-Government diffusion, it is possible to make the conclusion that social systems are highly influencing the evolution of this innovation between different countries over a time. The abilities to take risks, which highly depends on the financial and resource capabilities, are important for pioneers and early adopters in e-government dissemination. Innovation needs the sustainability of government machine and resources for its stable functioning, development, and improvements. From the other hand, the human capital development to include the level of science progress creates necessary technical capability to develop and introduce innovation among the early adopters.
Interconnections and communications in the social systems and various structures that are influencing the dissemination of the electronic government are another dimension of the innovation diffusion process. The networks of such intercommunications are fulfilling the role of the transport of certain system of values that might formulate the preposition to the adoption of innovative technologies. The incentives of laggards and later adopters to introduce modernization are created by increasing pressure of network members who have already achieved this stage. The explicit motivation here for them is the obvious reasons of economic development, competitive reputation, and effective and efficient delivery of services. From the other side, innovation leaders are trying to remain in current status quo and their leadership positions in innovations area. Networks disseminate the information about members’ achievements and put the pressure to leaders to produce more inventions and modernize their systems.
Thus, the formal or informal interactions are creating competitive dimension for both leaders and laggards of the policy and facilitates the diffusion. However, transformation of the network influence model from the institutional framework within the one governmental system to the cross-national system of relations underlines the significant role that regional integration and disintegration processes play in e-government diffusion. Regional completion and mutual learning create strong incentives for decision about electronic government policy adoption and its further distribution in the regions.
E-Government policy change model
Analyzing the system of policy changes in the government sector after a continuous incremental policy-making, Berry and Berry (2014) developed the aggregated model that summarizes various approaches to explain policy shifts. Focusing their study on the influence of the non-incremental innovation processes, they attempted to explain the diffusion of policy adoption using the modes of internal and external determinants. Within the models of external factors, scholars outlined the importance of the influence of the certain policy choices made by one government to another. On the other hand, group of internal determinants that includes political, economic, and social characteristics is creating a platform for other diffusion and adoption models. This approach underlines that awareness of the policymakers about certain innovation combined with system of internal characteristics determine adoption of the policy. Thus, Berry and Berry (2007) developed comprehensive summary model to assess and evaluate internal and external determinants of innovative policy adoption and diffusion that was further extended to the e-government area by Lee et. al (2011). Concentrating on the nation state level as on the unit of analysis, this model explains factors of innovation and diffusion using the combination of different models. In general, two models of external determinants – learning and competition – and two models of internal characteristics – normative model and citizens’ pressure – are used to assess the development of e-government processes in the country.
Taking into account the theories of bounded rationality (Simon, 1947) and incremental policy-making (Lindblom, 1959), one can assume that public administrators in one country come to conclusion that it is much easier and simpler to collect and use the knowledge about the policy area, effective tools and instruments from successful examples of other countries. Such approach helps policymakers to effectively save and manage various resources (financial, human and time), as well as to bring important modernizations and changes in their policy areas. This assumption is the basis of the policy learning model, which explains policy diffusion as the communication process of knowledge exchange between different government jurisdictions. Deriving information about the effectiveness and success of certain approach in policy from previously adopting governments, policymakers facilitating the regional and international diffusion processes of innovations. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention on how learning communication channels are established within and between the countries in order to analyze and evaluate the diffusion processes and innovation adoption.
Various advantages and superiority of one country over other countries is another fundamental of the policy diffusion process. Government attempts to surpass competitors as well as to prevent them from creation of new advantages over it. Thus, the interactions and relationships between the country about achievement of higher level developments created the ground for competition models in innovation diffusion. According to that model, countries would either seek for new inventions and better policy solutions in order to have more benefits and economic advantages, or would try to match with current trends and innovations that competing states already adopted. In other words, this model redefines the system of innovation pioneers, early adopters and laggards of Rogers model (2003), using the competition behavior for economic benefits as the diffusion incentive.
Normative pressure model
The normative pressure model defines the adoption of certain policy as the level of country development to the extent where the normative values and standards will create a necessary platform for public agencies to rethink their positions and reform operating modalities. Shared norms not only among the policymakers, but also among the citizens would push for the policy development conforming the accepted values. The model is mainly based on the fact that country leadership and public servants are willing to follow the worldwide accepted trends, norms and values used in state management. In this area, it is possible to outline the importance of external experts working in the country, professionalization of the public servants involved in policy-making, or level of human development among population. From the other side, international and supranational influence through various structures of communication might also facilitate diffusion. The commonly accepted model of “best practices” in various policy areas fosters governments to be more receptive in the innovation acceptance and adoption of certain system of standards used in dominating number of other countries.
The fulfillment of the demand side of the innovation acceptance is mainly created by the citizens’ needs and requests. From the innovation theory view, there is higher probability of invention being adopted in the country if the socioeconomic status of population is higher, i.e. education, wealth, and income generate more needs to innovate and look for better and effective policy solutions. Dissemination of the information about success of other countries in innovation area influences citizens to ask their constituencies to modernize the public sector and improve the quality of public services. This generates strong pressure to accept popular policies and innovate government sector. The important factor here, however, is the awareness of citizens about those development and their technical and infrastructural readiness to adopt them.
Thus, the adoption and diffusion of e-government on the national level were systematically conceptualized in various policy change models that were summed up by Berry and Berry (2007) and transferred to the e-government innovation field. Schematic model of the policy change is illustrated on the Figure 3.
Figure 3: Innovation policy change model
2.3 Overview of the region and e-government developments in post-soviet area
Consisting of fifteen former Soviet Union states, post-soviet region emerged from the collapse of USSR in 1991. This region is considered as the phenomena of the dynamics of developments in socio-economic and political sphere. Group of countries united by the same ideology, economic relations and government machine was divided into fifteen independent states with the extreme directions of the country development. Being in the transition process from strict and centralized hierarchical governmental control of greater administrative system to self-managed independent unit, post-soviet states have chosen different paths to form their identity and foster their independent track in the global arena. In majority of cases, countries inherited complex problems of governance, resource management and human development. Most of countries started a transition from command authoritarian economy regime towards liberalization and open market system. Moreover, many countries faced the certain level of political system problems. From commonly accepted attempts to establish democratic governance in the beginning of 1990s, post-soviet countries turned out to current polarization of established systems from democratically “free countries” like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to the “worst of the worst” Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan regimes as evaluated by Freedom House (2015). In addition to all, number of countries experienced various armed and violent conflicts on separatism issues, internal political struggle, revolutions, and interstate confrontations.
At the same time, the countries of the post-Soviet region share a lot of similarities and common features that may foster the integration process within the area. First of all, this is their geographical proximity and location. Second, the legacy of the Soviet Union created wide field of economic ties and cultural connections between the countries. There are no doubts that Russian language that used to be the official language in the Soviet Union still plays an important role in many of these countries and is serving as the main tool of communication in the area. From the other side, the high-level management of the countries on both political and administrative roles share a lot of common norms and values due to same standardized system of professional education in the Soviet Union. All these factors influence various integrative dynamics of foreign relations of the countries in the region. One of the main regional organizations to be mentioned is the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that for the moment includes all post-soviet countries except Baltic region countries and Georgia. Moreover, various sub-regional integration organizations were created during the last two decades: Eurasian Economic Union that includes Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan, while Tajikistan is the candidate to join; Collective Security Treaty Organization; the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development that includes Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. From the other side, in the post-Soviet countries we can observe the tendency of integration with bigger regional establishments, like European Union, where Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are already members and Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia are on their way to join; or Shanghai Co-operation organization which is composed of China and post-soviet Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
It is obvious that emerging trends of e-government application in public sector field has high influence for the countries in the region. Post-soviet states are not able to resist the influence of this global phenomena and putting various efforts to modernize their government systems. Nevertheless, in most cases, the development of digitalized public services and electronic governance is the way behind the global leaders. Even within the region there is a big gap between maturity of e-government developments and capacities. The data from the UN E-government Survey in 2016 (Figure 4) brightly illustrates the position of the countries in the global context and outlines the huge gaps between leaders and laggards inside of the region. Estonia, the country in the top of the list, ranked number 13 in the world, while the countries in end of this list – Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – are evaluated as number 139 and 140 respectively.
Figure 4: 2016 Positions and EGDI scores of post-soviet countries in global UN E-government survey
|Country||Rank 2016||EGDI 2016|
|Republic of Moldova||65||0.5995|
Moreover, the comparison of the change in e-government ranking in the global context within the last decade can also illustrate the differences of the achievements made in the area of the electronic government and highlight the efforts and investments made to improve this sector and to keep up with world e-government dynamics (Figure 5).
Figure 5: EGDI rank changes from 2008 to 2016
|Country||Rank 2008||Rank 2016||Rank Change|
|Republic of Moldova||93||65||+28|
Countries that existed under the strong administrative machine were separated in the end of the 20th century to the independent agenda and were forced to modernize and redesign their public sector. This period matched with the global raise of New Public Management ideology among developed countries and influenced various dynamics in establishment of the public sector. Nevertheless, failures and successes in this process lead to creation of various administrative systems in the countries that have influenced the changing aspects in development of electronic government services and mechanisms. In most countries, the administrative system and professional preparation of public servants revealed the existing problems to handle the innovative changes and have put under the threat the competitiveness of the government mechanisms in the global world. The dynamics of development of the digital government strategy, however, varies from country to country and depends on various socio-economic, political and integrative factors.
Countries of Baltic region: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
Baltic countries are undoubtedly the leaders of the post-soviet region in development of electronic government. The rapid dissemination of the ICT techniques and tools in public services and modernization of public sector system helped these countries to ensure the place in global and regional vanguard of the electronic government maturity. All three countries demonstrated rapid growth in UN EGDI index from 2003 through 2016 even compared to general European trends (Figure 6).
Figure 6: Growth of EDGI score of Baltic countries from 2003 to 2016
This positive trend can be mainly explained through fast EU integration processes that fostered countries to modernize their administrative machine to comply with EU standards. Number of important strategic policy documents were adopted in the end of 1990s and beginning of 2000s that have formed the countries’ efforts in the ICT integration in the public sector. Thus, Estonian Parliament in 1998 approved the country’s principles of the ICT policy for public policy decisions that have facilitated integration of information systems in the government activities, while Lithuania in 2001 adopted the National Concept Paper on Development of the Information Society. Within the “Public Administration Reform Strategy 2001-2006” adopted in 2001, Latvia highlighted the role of the ICT system in the modernized concept of the public management area towards the engagement of citizens in governance field and forward-thinking public-sector reforms.
Nonetheless, certain level of differences in the dynamics and content of the e-government development in these countries exists. First, Estonia historically appeared to be the leader in integration of ICT system in public sector machine. Tremendous improvements in country ICT infrastructure, diversity of web services, as well as early attempts to develop regulatory and legislative frameworks for information systems and better policy strategies helped the country to stand out from the rest of the Baltic region countries. However, the area of e-participation in the country remains lagging comparing to other global leaders. Lithuania demonstrated very good progress in the increase of the e-government users and e-participation development emphasizing the services related to e-decision-making through improved telecommunications infrastructure and policy related efforts. Nevertheless, country feels lack of open data initiatives. Among three Baltic states Latvia lags in the area of transparency of government sector, as well as in e-participation, e-decision-making and accessibility of online services.
E-Government in Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus.
Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine forming the group of post-soviet countries that together with the Baltic sea region geographically associated with European area. Such location has some certain extent of influence to the competitive incentives in modernization of system of public administration and policy learning processes. Thus, Moldova and Ukraine in line with their strategic direction towards integration with EU made a lot of efforts to reform their system of governance and promote democratic standards. Both countries faced different political crises during the last decades associated with countries’ transformation from the communistic legacy to democratic governance.
Challenges related to the internal territorial conflict, national self-determination and reunification with Romania, as well high dependency on Russian economic support, exacerbated transition problems in Moldova. Even after various transformations in political area and a series of pro-European party coalitions in power since 2009, country has a strong political influence of communistic and pro-Russian forces and still exists under the strong centralized system of governance. Moldova remains the European poorest economy country with the high level of corruption. Nevertheless, the implementation of the Strategic Programme for Technological Modernization of the Government in Moldova started in 2011 with the support of World Bank and other international donors helped the country to improve its EDGI rating and to make significant progress in development of e-government services. Moldova emerged as one of the leading countries in European region with the highest Internet speed and percentage of internet users. Following the success practices and examples of the leading European countries, Moldova entered to the “e-Transformation” stage modernizing public sector with various ICT tools and mechanisms.
Despite the strong political crisis and the ongoing armed conflict, Ukraine is the country that currently located on the undergoing stage of comprehensive reforms in various spheres of governance. Such process requires the strong accountability system within the public sector and, therefore, e-government services and ICT tools in public sector is one of the topical areas in the country management agenda. In 2014 Ukraine was ranked number 87 in the global EGDI assessment, while two years after it made significant progress improving its position to the 62 place in the world on EGDI and 32 place on e-participation index. The protests and demonstrations in 2014 promoting European integration and fight against the high level of corruption in the country triggered active engagement of public officials and politicians to the process of modernization of e-government. Notwithstanding with achieved results in creation of necessary infrastructure and technical equipment development, the digital literacy of population and professional requalification of public servants remain the main barriers of e-government dissemination. Moreover, ongoing conflict in the country and complicated political processes are delaying the successful implementation of the policy documents on Strengthening Information Society in Ukraine.
Being considered as the “outpost of tyranny” and “last dictatorship in Europe”, Belarus surprisingly made a huge progress in the introduction of ICT services in government sphere. Belarus has rejected the system of the open market liberalization and continued the policy of strong government intervention and presence of vast public property. Despite the fact, that country’s economy still keeps numerous features of soviet-style centralized machine and has a weak system of checks and balances between branches of power, the direction towards digitalization of the public sector is considered as one of the main priorities in country’s agenda. Thus, recently the Government of Belarus adopted the Informatization Development Strategy of the Republic of Belarus for 2016-2022 that aims to establish a universal automated information system for public sector and introduction of various internal government e-services like interdepartmental electronic document management systems and “Mailgov” secure system for public authorities. Ministerial system is equipped with its own web-portals for legislative documents management and internal communication. From the other side, the diversity of the government electronic presence is highly limited by the “information provision” feature, while the interactions and communications of government-to-business or government-to-citizens and vice versa still remain underdeveloped. Moreover, the absence of concrete and comprehensive legislative basis of e-government accompanied by low level of digital literacy of population is still the problem.
Russia as the main constituent of the Soviet Union is the country with the largest and leading economic system in the region. After the uncertainty about the democratization processes in the country in the 1990s and liberalization in economy lead by President Yeltsin, Russian Federation, moved toward a centralized system of strong government control under the leadership of President Putin. Big ambitions of the country to play important role in the global arena forced Russian leadership to follow international trends in modernization of government services. Following the emerging popularity of New Public Management doctrine, Russia utilized the government sector reforms in three different directions: public administration, civil services and communication technologies. Using the advantages of the vertical integration of public sector and government policies, the country was able to make a good progress in global ranking jumping from number 70 in 2003 to the number 35 in 2016 in Global UN E-government Survey. On the policy level, within the Concept of the Electronic Government in Russia 2008-2010, country management considered the e-government as the necessary tool to improve the quality and accessibility, increase efficiency and reduce the costs of public services. Similar approach was continued in the Federal Program “Information Society 2011-2020” that substituted the Concept and was presented more comprehensive vision of ICT reforms in government and considered the change of modus operandi of public services delivery. From the practical side, the implementation of the e-government policy in Russia was seen as the qualitatively new framework of public institutions and, therefore, required redesign of the whole system of public services. In this regard, one of the main objectives was the establishment of the necessary institutions and development of required infrastructure. Despite the certain level success in creation of infrastructural blocks of e-government integration in public administration, as well as symbolic launch of the web-portal of public services GOSUSLUGI.RU, reforms didn’t achieve the goals of the “transactional” and “informational society” stages of e-government stage model adoption. Moreover, regardless the successes in creation of the “supply side” of the e-government “good”, there is still a lack of wide engagement of the population in digital demand of public services and relatively low progress in the e-participation index growth.
South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia
As for any other region in the post-soviet area, the collapse of the USSR triggered wide changes in political, social, and economic fields marking the establishment of three independent entities is South Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. In spite of different historical and cultural similarities between the country, economic-political realities forced each state to choose various paths of development. Thus, Azerbaijan economy relayed on the presence of natural resources, mainly on gas and oil; Armenia has built its system around the diaspora support from all over the world, while Georgia after the political tensions and revolution in 2004 made focus on the open business environment and attraction of foreign investments. The countries are also different in their political systems, where Georgia’s revolutions fostered openness of government, increased political participation, and led to to strong democratization and liberalization in the country, while Azerbaijan remains one of the most unfree and authoritarian regimes in the world. In addition to that, the region was highly affected by and is still suffering from different internal conflicts. One of the major ongoing tensions, is the disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that is currently under the control of Armenia. In Georgia, there were separatism movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that in 2008 escalated to the war with Russia (who supported both of these territories) and ended up with territorial separation of the regions from the country.
E-government reforms in Georgia were highly tied with the process of restructuration of government system and fight against corruption started after Rose revolution in 2004. The country was burdened by high level of corrupted relations between and within public services, nepotism and poorly developed infrastructure. New government saw the introduction and use of ICT technologies as one of the solutions of these problems. The reform agenda of the country that was directing the improvement of public sector frameworks, ease regulatory systems and increase country market liberalization was heavily relaying to the wide use of ICT means to minimize the risks of corruption. Starting with the development of information systems in public sector, digitalization of public information and creation of data centers, Georgia managed to introduce wide spectrum of the public e-services, improve digital interactions within the government, as well various portals for government-to-business and government-to-citizen systems. Number of e-initiatives in the country from 2008 till 2016 helped Georgia to improve its overall EGDI ranking from 100 to 61, and to move from 135 place in the world on e-participation to 76. However, the digital divide in the country is still the case, where only 45% of population are active internet users which highly affects the state’s perception on the engagement of citizens in e-participation and e-decision-making.
Regardless of ongoing conflict and very weak level of democratic institutions and freedoms, Azerbaijan demonstrated a very positive trend in development of e-government structure and promotion of various e-services. Azerbaijan rose from 96 place in 2010 to 56 place in 2016 or went up by 40 ranks and firmly holds the leadership role in the South Caucasus region. The conceptualization of e-government in state agenda started in 2003 in the National Strategy on Information and Communication Technologies for (2003-2012) which has led to the creation of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technologies in 2004. Electronic government policies were continued in the state programs “Electronic Azerbaijan” for 2005-2008 and 2010-2012 aiming to establish the technological and infrastructural basis for a new system in the first and facilitated transition to e-government in the second. Currently, the country developed a strong infrastructure for the single sing on functions, e-payment tools and electronic identification tools, e-safe system, information exchange and registries. The progress is observed also in a provision of various e-services in issuance of different personal documents and licenses. Country established basic components of e-government, such as e-signature, e-payment system, and central secure data exchange infrastructure and e-storage system. Nevertheless, country lacks strategic vision of the place of e-government as the public administration doctrine and full utilization of possible ICT tools. Various areas of e-services need to be improved, while e-participation still remains underdeveloped, especially in the areas of e-decision-making.
Armenia is the least developed country in the area of digitalization of public administration in Caucuses region. Moreover, it is also not demonstrating good results in post-soviet countries’ comparisons holding the 11 place out of 15 states. Nevertheless, instant growth of the internet users combined with gradual development of the ICT infrastructure creates more opportunities in the country for adoption of e-government tools. Thus, government already established the virtual private network among the governmental entities and agencies, connecting it to the regional organizations. The development of the electronic government systems in the country is mainly supported by various international donors and investors such as the EU, the UN and the World Bank. Several reforms have been implemented in ministries with regard to policy-making, monitoring, coordination functions, service provision and regulation. Basic elements of electronic communication and interoperability between the Government and citizens were established. A number of complex and integrated systems were created in order to ensure communication between citizens, businesses and the Government.
Central Asia region
The region of Central Asian countries is mainly associated with increased authoritarian dynamics and regional security issues dominating in countries’ agenda. After the disintegration of soviet machine in 1990s many experts and scholars expected these governments to make a rapid transformation of the systems to adopt the democratic practices and foster liberalization and development of sustainable civil society. Instead, the leadership of the countries in the region concentrated and united their power in the presidency, limiting the powers of judicial and legislative branch and restricting civil and political liberties. Currently, four out of five central Asian states are considered as “not free” in the Freedom House assessment in 2017, while Kyrgyzstan which is known as the “island of liberty” in Central Asia is ranked as “partially free”, but still has various problems with strong use of administrative resources, weak system of checks and balances, and powerful law-enforcement bodies.
The adoption and development of the e-government in such authoritarian Central Asian states is challenged due to various reasons. First of all, wide use of ICT in public sector increases transparency and democratization of the governmental activities. In the context of Central Asia such environment might threaten the corruption networks in various public-sector domains, influence the leadership consolidation of power and challenge their positions. Another reason is that system of preparation of public servants in these countries after the collapse of Soviet Union didn’t allow the transformation of human resources in government and public servants towards digital professionalization. Finally, in average, only 36% of population are active users, where in the countries like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan this figure does not exceed 20%. As one can expet, Kazakhstan ranked 3rd in post-soviet area and first in Central Asia with 73% of internet users and is rather an exception. The country made an impressive improvement since 2012, modernizing and improving both infrastructure and strategically reforming the system of public services. Another, relatively good progress during the last 10 years demonstrated Uzbekistan, moving from 109th position in 2008 to the number 80 in EGDI ranking and to the 47 in e-participation score. Creation of basic legislative framework for e-government and establishment of unified portal for e-government helped country to initiate the process of modernization. At the same time, countries such as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan still do not have e-government platform, despite the presence of legislative and policy documents that were accepted only for the manifestation of efforts. Countries are limited to the only web presence of government entities providing general information, and not fostering the citizens’ engagement and participation. Lack of sub-national level (regional) e-government services demonstrates weaknesses of the system as soon as regional population in Central Asian countries reflects the major layer of the public services demand in the country.