Assessment and Proposals for Action
Norway has long been active in using ICT in the public sector, which has provided it with an important tool for achieving gains in government efficiency, for improving the quality of public services and for modernising government. Norway’s efforts to become a leader in the use of ICT in government are supported by a high level of Internet penetration in Norwegian society and a burgeoning information society. In recent years, Norway has made progress in adapting government to the use of the Internet as suggested by its rank of 6th in the eEurope benchmarking exercise measuring the availability of online services (Sweden is 1st, Finland 3rd and Denmark 5th)...
E-government Structure and Context
In Norway the structure of responsibility for e-government reflects the decentralised structure of government and its limited role as an e-government co-ordinator. Central government responsibility for ICT development and co-ordination has varied over time and has been allocated to different government organisations, mirroring the development of political and public management reform agendas. In Norway several government actors performing different policy related functions share responsibility on e-government implementation. The reform in government that took place in 2004 has given the Ministry of Modernisation a full mandate for ICT coordination in society as well as in the public sector.
The Case for E-government
The main driver for ICT use in Norway was and remains internal efficiency through automation of administrative processes. Nonetheless, public sector reform has been a main driver of the development of e-government which is seen as an instrument for providing better quality services, reducing complexity and user orientation of the public sector. Decentralisation of public management has had an impact on e-government implementation, however, within this general approach, there have been swings towards and away from centralising certain elements of ICT use in government. The advancement of the information society and e-government developments at EU level have also provided important cases for e-government development in Norway.
External Barriers to E-government
While there are few legislative and regulatory barriers to e-government in Norway, the OECD survey of Norway indicates budgetary barriers as the single most important barrier to the use of ICT in government. Norway has succeeded in providing a legal framework for e-government by reviewing and amending laws and regulations which impeded e-government and ensured privacy protection. Lack of funds and long term and joint funding mechanisms have been identified as the biggest budgetary barriers. However, in light of the existing flexibility within the Norwegian budgetary mechanisms, the problem does not seem to be the lack of budget mechanisms but rather lack of collaboration and inexperience with using business cases and other budgetary justification within ministries. The digital divide does not represent a major barrier to e-government development in Norway.
Planning and Leadership
Norway has a well-established central e-government vision (eNorway) and strategy, which build on the wider vision for the modernisation of the public sector. However, when it comes to the implementation of e-government, an earlier plan (24/7 administration) seems to provide an overarching organisational vision that has acted as substitute for the lack of central guidance. Leadership of e-government is very much decentralised. The general perception is that stronger political and administrative leadership at the central level, involving the setting of clearer goals for ministries and agencies supported by increased co-ordination and more concrete guidance on how to achieve them, is in strong demand and would improve implementation of e-government. Central co-ordination of e-government has varied over time ranging from centrally driven plans to more limited central management based on agencies and local entities as driving forces. In regard to e-government co-ordination, the current government has strengthened e-government co-ordination and has created a Co-ordinating Body for E-government within the MoM in order to guide the overall decentralised implementation of e-government in certain areas.
Norway’s early application of ICT to back office functions of government (e.g. financial and public record and payroll systems) has brought changes and benefits in terms of back office management that are now mainstreamed in government and provide an important basis for future development of front office services. Also, the impact of e-government on knowledge sharing across government has been positive and online frameworks which enhance cross government collaboration and exchange of experiences have been established. The government has also taken a step forward in strengthening the development of ICT skills in the public sector, for example by focusing on increasing employers’ access to qualified ICT workforce. As regards to central government analytical capacity, it remains limited and unevenly diffused among agencies. The transformation of Statskonsult into a publicowned limited company can, at least in the short term, further reduce the central government capacity in providing strategic ICT guidance to agencies.
Common Frameworks and Collaboration
While standardisation efforts in Norway have fluctuated in terms of focus and intensity, standardisation has now emerged as a key priority in the e-government agenda. Frameworks for standards for interoperability and management of some data exist and continue to be developed through inter-agency working groups. The government has also taken a pragmatic approach to PKI by establishing regulatory and policy frameworks as well as technical requirements for the introduction of a common PKI solution for the public sector. The national e-procurement system is solid but take up has been lower than expected, despite demonstrated return on investments. Inter-agency collaboration is not considered a major challenge for the implementation of e-government, however few agencies are collaborating beyond the level of information sharing towards establishing a common framework for the delivery of joint services. Much of the collaboration is based on the joint exchange of information contained on individual data registers. Further improvements can be obtained by making a better use of data and information contained in the well-established public registers.
In common with most OECD countries, a real understanding of user demand has not yet become a major driver for e-government in Norway. Despite Norway’s high Internet penetration and the readiness of the population to use the Internet, limited efforts have been undertaken at the central government level to understand user preferences and needs with regard to online services. Government has put great emphasis on helping orient the user as a key element of e-government strategy, but few agencies have taken concrete steps to engage the user in the development of e-government services. In terms of simple one-way electronic data reporting systems, Norway has made significant progress in developing common solutions for serving both citizens and businesses (e.g. ALTINN, the business data reporting system). However, when it comes to provision of advanced interactive online services, development has been less rapid. In Norway there are also relatively few projects to improve citizen online consultation and participation in policy making being undertaken by central government.
Monitoring and Evaluation
With eNorway, the government has been successful in setting up a framework for measuring progress in the development of the information society. As yet however, there is no whole- fgovernment framework for monitoring progress and assessing the impact of e-government initiatives at agency and ministry level. Few organisations within the Norwegian government have such frameworks. Agencies’ results and achievements are often incorporated and described in annual reports but they are de-linked from discussion of targets and goals. Lack of central government guidance and of precise targets and goals have been perceived as a reason for the slowness of ministries and agencies to implement monitoring and evaluation of e-government. Justifying returns on investment has become a key issue for agencies in seeking funds and as part of the overall push for greater efficiency, but, as elsewhere, the methodology is only now being developed. The challenge is how to share the frameworks that have been implemented and the lessons learned.
Case Study 1. From Data Collection to Multiple Citizen Services
The Norwegian Mapping Authority (NMA) is the lead agency in terms of standardisation and technological activity related to geographic information in Norway. The case of this agency illustrates how government agencies can be transformed when they make strategic use of ICTs rather than simply transferring existing processes online: the NMA saw a major shift in its core mission, from routine map production to the provision of IT services between the mid-1990s and today...
Case Study 2. From Portal Project to Agency
Norway.no was established in 2005 as a public agency and is known in the country for its management of the Norwegian public sector portal ( www.norge.no). Before this, the agency had been developed as a project under the jurisdiction of the former Ministry of Labour and Government Administration (MLGA) and run by the County Governor’s office in Sogn and Fjordane. The case of Norway.no illustrates the process of development of an important Norwegian e-government project (i.e. the establishment of a portal) and the challenges inherent in its reorganisation and institutionalisation in the form of a public agency.
In order to set the development of e-government in a broader context, this section provides basic economic statistics for the public sector along with indications on the general institutional and public governance arrangements under which e-government is being developed in Norway. The section also synthesises the main features of Norway’s political and administrative regimes based on a classification made by Pollitt and Bouckart1 and applied to the Norwegian case by Pål Sørgaard.
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