1. Introduction

Governments around the world are confronted with increasingly complex policy challenges, including widening inequality gaps, rising economic and financial instability, as well as a resurgent wave of identity politics. Relations between society and the public sector are being challenged by deteriorating trust levels. At the same time, citizens have become more vocal and demanding, not only in terms of the quality of public services but also regarding the transparency, integrity and accountability of governments. This challenge is accompanied by the need to digitally transform the public sector due to pressures from the increasing digitalisation of the environment in which people live, work and interact.

In response to these demands, Thailand and other governments in the Southeast Asia (SEA) region are rethinking the way public policies and services are designed and delivered. This implies not only acknowledging that the implementation of open and connected government reforms improves the quality of public policies and services, makes the state more efficient and effective and brings it closer to its citizens, but also accepting and being ready to overcome the related policy design and implementation challenges of such reforms.

Yet, building an open and connected government is not an end in itself. While the OECD open government principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation certainly have intrinsic value, as does the use of technology to enable them, the implementation of the resulting initiatives should serve as important means to deliver positive results in terms of national development across policy sectors.

Upon request from the government of Thailand and in accordance with the country’s reform priorities, this Open and Connected Government Review of Thailand, which forms part of the OECD-Thailand Country Programme, aims at promoting the successful design and implementation of coherent open and digital government policies and initiatives. By building on the country’s current practices, it further aims to reduce policy fragmentation, address remaining policy gaps and leverage synergies between these two public sector reform areas. To this end, the review provides an external and peer-driven assessment of Thailand’s ongoing open and digital government reforms to contribute to an evidence-based debate on their priorities, coherence and sustainability, and provide an overview of the country’s progress in creating Government 4.0.

As part of the assessment, this review focuses on Thailand’s legal and policy frameworks, key institutional actors and their roles. It provides an overview of the main ongoing policies and initiatives on open government and digital government. It provides an overview of observed challenges and proposes a set of recommendations for the way forward. It also offers indications of the government’s performance in these areas as compared to OECD standards and good practices of its members.

Among others, the following key aspects guide the analysis and the recommendations included in this review as a means to bolster the effectiveness of Thailand’s open and connected government agenda:

  • Institutionalising efforts to strengthen the impact of the open and digital transformation agenda.

  • Fostering policy co-ordination and multi-stakeholder collaboration to help in the design of a comprehensive and inclusive policy agenda and support its coherent implementation.

  • Moving towards impact through solid monitoring and evaluation tools to measure performance, ensure accountability and enable learning on the reforms to foster openness and digital transformation in the society.

  • Reinforcing and securing the relevance and agility of the legal and regulatory framework for open and digital government in Thailand.

  • Supporting the development of public sector capability for public service design and delivery, including digital skills and the enforcement of digital and data standards.

  • Underlying the need to follow a user-driven, open, and inclusive approach in public service design and delivery.

  • Building a data-driven public sector supported by the right data governance frameworks so that data can be applied for improved government operation and the streamlined relationship between government and the society, including the use of open government data.

The review supports public sector reform through an in-depth analysis of the current state of open and digital government policies and institutions at the national level, which culminates in strategic policy recommendations to the Thai government to embrace OECD principles and good practices in the day-to-day operations of the Thai public sector.

The methodology used for the elaboration of this review’s recommendations reflects upon the OECD’s longstanding work in the areas of open and digital government. The review follows the principles enshrined in the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies (OECD, 2014[1]) and Recommendation of the Council on Open Government (OECD, 2017[2]). Both recommendations were the first of their kind worldwide and define a set of criteria for the design and implementation of successful open and digital government agendas.

On the one hand, the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government features ten provisions (see Figure 1.1) against which the OECD assesses open government reform agendas worldwide and forms a basis to describe Thailand’s efforts in pursuing these principles in practice.

On the other hand (see Figure 1.2), the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies is structured around 12 principles, which aim at helping governments in achieving the shift from e-government towards a digital government. For this purpose, the OECD has developed the Digital Government Policy Framework (OECD, 2020[3]) as a means to support governments in their digital transformation journey towards a digitally mature public sector (see Figure 1.3 and Box 1.1).

In order to collect information and data on the Thai public sector context and on existing open government and digital government initiatives, the OECD administered two surveys that provided a solid evidence base for this review’s analysis. These questionnaires were sent out to:

  • the co-ordinating entities for open and digital government policies in the national government, including the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission (OPDC), the Digital Government Development Agency (DGA), the Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission (ONDE), the Office of the Council of State and the Comptroller-General’s Department (CGD)

  • all line ministries and relevant bodies of the national government.

In addition, the OECD held interviews with the key international actors such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and met with several civil society organisations during the fact-finding mission in Bangkok.

A distinctive element of OECD reviews is the involvement of senior government officials of public administrations in OECD member and partner countries, who are called peer reviewers. The present review benefitted from the participation of peers from:

  • Greece: Ms Nancy Routzouni, former Digital and Open Government Policy Adviser, Hellenic Ministry of Administrative Reform, Government of Greece.

  • United Kingdom: Ms Liz Lutgendorff, Lead Insights and Analysis Advisor, International Team, Government Digital Service, Cabinet Office, United Kingdom.

Together with the peer reviewers, the OECD Secretariat participated in a peer review mission to Bangkok, Thailand in April 2019, aimed at fact-finding by conducting extensive interviews with a wide variety of stakeholders, including public officials as well as representatives of civil society organisations and the private sector.

This review is conducted within the framework of the OECD-Thailand Country Programme (see Box 1.2) and the overall activities of the OECD in the context of the OECD Southeast Asia Regional Programme (SEARP).1

Moreover, Thailand forms part of the OECD Network on Open and Innovative Government in Southeast Asia. The network promotes policy dialogue, knowledge transfer and exchange of good practices between the OECD and SEA countries in the fields of digital government, open government, public sector innovation and civic engagement in policy making.

In addition to this Open and Connected Government Review of Thailand, the OECD Public Governance Directorate is collaborating with the Thai government on two other policy reviews.

The Integrity Review of Thailand (forthcoming[10]) provides strategic proposals for consideration by the government of Thailand to enhance its integrity policy frameworks, based on a comprehensive analysis of their structures, instruments and processes to promote a more effective public sector. The integrity review draws on the 2017 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Integrity, which sets out a vision for a coherent and comprehensive public integrity system (OECD, 2017[11]).

The OECD report Thailand: Regulatory Management and Oversight Reforms (2020[12]) provides a strategic assessment and proposals for consideration by Thailand to enhance the regulatory governance system and mainstream good regulatory practice, based on a comprehensive analysis of Thailand’s structures, instruments and processes to promote a more effective regulatory ecosystem. It includes policies targeting administrative simplification, ex ante and ex post evaluation of regulations, stakeholder engagement practices and the governance of economic regulators, among others.

Together, the three reviews of the OECD Directorate for Public Governance constitute a solid framework for governance reform in Thailand.

National cultural, political and socio-economic factors influence the design, implementation and evaluation of open and digital government reforms. This section contextualises the government’s reform efforts by analysing a number of challenges and opportunities in these areas in Thailand.

The OECD experience shows that high levels of human development can enable open and digital government reforms as well-educated and skilled citizens to engage more often in their country’s political life and to become more likely to request information, use open government data to tackle policy and societal challenges and hold their government accountable (OECD, 2018[13]). The OECD Trustlab’s findings further suggest that high levels of education and income are associated with higher levels of trust in government (Murtin et al., 2018[14]), which is a prerequisite for stakeholder engagement.

In terms of development, “Thailand has made impressive economic and social progress over the past several decades” (OECD, 2018[15]) by moving “from a low-income to an upper-income country in less than a generation” (World Bank, 2021[16]). In 2018, the UNDP calculated Thailand’s Human Development Index (HDI) value at 0.765, ranking the country at 77 out of 189 countries and territories (UNDP, 2019[17]). This value positions Thailand above the average of 0.741 for countries in East Asia and the Pacific (UNDP, 2019[17]).

While Thailand has made important socio-economic progress and aspires to become a high-income economy by 2037 enjoying “security, prosperity and sustainability”, the country continues to be challenged by remaining disparities, as the number of people living in poverty is rising again. The poverty rate increased from 7.2% in 2015 to 9.8% in 2018 (World Bank, 2021[16]). Also, Thailand’s Gini coefficient increased between 2015 and 2017, indicating mounting levels of inequality (World Bank, 2021[16]).

The OECD’s assessment in the Multi-dimensional Review of Thailand concludes that the Thai central government “must now take further steps to transform its economy and ensure that prosperity is shared more equally across the country” (OECD, 2018[15]). To overcome past implementation challenges Thailand needs to “strengthen institutions to ensure the delivery of the critical reforms outlined in the 12th Plan (2017-2021)” (OECD, 2018[15]).

Open and digital government agendas can be important tools for policy makers to design and implement public policies that support evidence-based development and help to achieve Thailand’s ambitious national goals. In that regard, participatory approaches can serve as a tool for governments to create public policies and services that reflect and respond to the needs of all societal groups. Moreover, greater transparency has the potential to positively contribute to the combat against corruption, which perpetuates inequality and poverty. Digital government can help to increase the responsiveness and agility of public institutions for service delivery, while it also promotes the creation of a competitive environment for economic activity, business and social innovation propelled by data and job creation (OECD, 2017[18]).

The challenges that some socio-economic trends represent and the related complexity for policy makers to address them can have a significant impact on citizens’ trust and confidence in government. Trust in government is pivotal for policy makers to design and implement public policies, in particular in the case of more ambitious reforms (OECD, 2017[19]).

While trust levels have declined to a certain extent since 2001, Thais have comparatively high confidence in their government, with higher levels of trust than the OECD average in the 2017 Gallup World Poll (2017[20]). The findings of the survey reveal that 65% of respondents in Thailand trust the national government (Figure 1.4). The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 (2017[21]) finds that in terms of public trust in politicians, Thailand ranks 102 out of 137 countries.

As the results of the Government at a Glance Southeast Asia edition (OECD/ADB, 2019[22]) reveal, for six of the SEA countries that were surveyed, the main objectives that governments expressed intent to achieve by implementing open government initiatives include improving public sector transparency as well as public sector accountability.

OECD evidence has shown that a loss of the citizen’s trust in government can in part be explained by low levels of transparency and public sector integrity (OECD, 2016[23]). A value-driven approach to decision making based on transparency and participation can positively influence confidence in public institutions (OECD, 2017[19]). Assessing the transparency of government policy making, the World Economic Forum ranks Thailand 83 out of 137 countries (2017[21]). In the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, the development of Thailand’s score has stalled for a few years. Assigned a score of 37 (0 being highly corrupt and 100 being very clean) in 2012, Thailand currently ranks 101st worldwide with a score of 36 for perceived corruption levels (Transparency International, 2019[24]).

Despite the presence of relatively strong performance like Singapore (85) and Brunei Darussalam (60), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region contains some countries with the highest perceived corruption levels in the world. Thailand remains below the ASEAN regional average score of 42.3 and the worldwide average score of 43 (Figure 1.5). Open and digital government reforms focusing on transparency, participation, integrity and accountability can support Thailand’s efforts to combat corruption, increase trust and foster sustainable development. Many elements that form part of the open and connected government reform agenda, including procurement transparency, access to information legislation, asset disclosure and open data are crucial for the fight against corruption. Open government initiatives, especially in the areas of transparency and accountability, can prevent and address corruption by clarifying and opening government processes as well as public spending procedures. With the availability of more public sector information, governments have a stronger incentive to show that policy decisions are taken in the public interest and that funds are used in an effective manner; moreover, citizens are also able to better analyse and understand governmental decision making for higher levels of public scrutiny.

In line with the above, the OECD’s work on public trust (2017[19]) also stresses how improving the design, delivery and access to public services can help with reinforcing the levels of public trust in government. As explained in the following chapters, the Thai government has made progress in advancing public service delivery through digital means. However, Thailand’s evolution towards user-driven public services and engagement initiatives should pursue the creation of value for citizens rather than adopting technology platforms that replicate outdated analogue processes in the digital world.

The development of Thailand’s open government agenda, which is still in its early stage, could help to overcome the above-mentioned shortcomings. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the Thai government has not yet made any international commitments in open government. The country is not a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and has not adhered to the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government that defines a set of criteria that helps adhering countries to design and implement successful open government agendas.

Digital technologies can allow for more direct interactions and two-way communication that provide new opportunities to rethink possibilities of collaboration between different actors of society. In this regard, reforms to foster the use of digital technology and increase connectivity can support public sector accountability, improve access to government services and facilitate decision-making processes that are more inclusive.

Yet, countries’ different social, economic and technological contextual factors have an impact on the positive effects of digital and open government policies, not only at the national level but also at the regional. For instance, improving connectivity is a core element of the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity 20252 (2016[26]). The plan also foresees the development of a common digital data governance framework and a regional open data network as means to promote digital innovation in ASEAN member countries. These ambitions are proof of ASEAN countries’ willingness to invest in the digital transformation wave as being done by other countries in the region and beyond. Yet, delivering on regional ambitions demand action at the national level.

In the specific case of Thailand, increasing the access to and use of the Internet remains a policy challenge that, if not addressed, can hinder digital innovation across all sectors. Data from the 2018 Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India show that Thailand “still has room for further improvement as it is still lagging behind some of its regional neighbours, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam and China” (OECD/ADB, 2019[22]). By 2018, data for Thailand on individuals using the Internet as a percentage of total population (Figure 1.6) show that the country ranked below the average for ASEAN countries (56.82% vs. 62.74% respectively) and well below the OECD average for the same year (82.52%).

These findings are also confirmed by the results for Thailand for the 2018 edition of the UN E-government Survey (UN DESA, 2018[27]). Data for the UN E-government Survey indicates that Thailand has made good advancements in terms of delivering online services to citizens, with Thailand scoring 0.6389 (on a 0-1 scale) in the online services component of the UN E-government Index (UN DESA, 2018[27]). However, challenges remain in relation to infrastructure, with Thailand scoring 0.5338 in the Telecommunication Infrastructure component (Online Service Index, OSI) of the E-government Index.

Yet, OSI disaggregated data show a wide difference in terms of mobile and fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 habitants (92.9 vs. 10.48 respectively). This evidence shows the opportunities in terms of using mobile channels to increase the access to and use of digital services, and citizens’ remote participation and engagement in the design of public policies and public services.


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