July 17, 2015 | by DANIEL KAPELLMANN & JAMIE STARK
Chile is one of the world's top nations on e-governance fostering citizens' political participation. Yet, without better policy knowledge and education, technological tools are not enough to improve the Andean nations democracy.
Chile has its fair share of national challenges common throughout Latin America. Economic inequality, security concerns or moderate labor market growth are all issues in the Andean nation. But Chileans have collectively dealt with these issues in a different way than many neighboring nations – they have gone online.
Chileans access government services online more than nearly any other nationality in the Western Hemisphere. In 2014, Chile tied with Uruguay as having the best e-governance indicators in all of Latin America according to the United Nations E-Government Development Index. Besides, it occupied the 8th position worldwide in the top ten of the E-Participation Index.
Chile has achieved its e-government success due to three main factors: a continuous long-term strategy, efficient policy-making and its modern socioeconomic qualities.
Differently from other countries in the region, Chile began designing its long-term e-government policy plans by the early 2000s, when its first webpage for official procedures, “Easy Errand,” was created. By 2004, Chile had designed its first Digital Agenda to start with a continuous process that would lead up to today’s 2013-2020 version.
Chile opted for a carefully planned strategy to modernize the tech part of governance, according to Nicolás Millán, general manager of Lynk, a data startup in Chile that helps people update their information in government and private sector databases.
“Chile started with that concern in 2010 when we got into the OECD group,” said Millán, referring to when he considers e-governance took off in Chile.
On strategic capacity, Chile is among the top nations worldwide
But designing digital agendas and setting goals for e-government development weren´t the only keys for Chile’s success; what really mattered here was the efficiency with which the government planned and executed. As the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) confirm, Chile must be recognized for its high policy-making standards in the fields of strategic capacity and coordination among ministries. Compared with all 41 OECD and European Union countries Chile occupies the 2nd and 8th position respectively.
In the same year Chile became the first South American nation to join the OECD, the country began Startup Chile, which has become a regional leader in promoting tech and other businesses. Two years later, then President Piñera already affirmed he hoped Chile would move from the third world to the first world by 2020.
Such as the case of Startup Chile, the Andean nation´s programs are forward thinking for the region, and generally well-designed and strategically planned based on shared knowledge with scholars, think-tanks and other private research institutions. This cooperation with other well-informed organizations creates the basis for a model of proper coordination across institutional lines. The collaboration helps the government develop multidisciplinary policies that involve digital development as much as social and economic policy.
Chile´s policy-making processes show an adequate performance in evidence-based instruments and societal consultation, where it occupies respectively the 14th and 12th position among OCDE countries according to the SGI. Even though there is a significant potential for improvement in both cases, these grades imply that there are certain mechanisms used by the government to consult its policies with interest groups, stakeholders and society, and that there are instruments created to measure and evaluate the impact of their policies. In particular, the impact of e-government policies in Chile is measured by a digital observatory coordinated by the executive branch.
Lastly, other socioeconomic factors such as the country´s fast and continuous economic growth and the relatively small population have also helped to secure Chile´s leadership in e-government and e-participation affairs. Chile’s reality allows greater priority on digital issues currently treated as low-priority in many other countries.
E-government empowers Chileans in decision-making processes
The implementation of effective e-government policies has brought enormous benefits to Chile, and it could play a crucial role in serving as a model for modernizing and democratizing other Latin American countries.
Even though the answers to Latin America’s common ills are not solvable purely through information and communication technologies, certainly they can be used as an effective tool for promoting development and democracy in the region. The implementation of technology-based solutions in public services and proper e-government practices can decrease the necessary time for bureaucratic processes, enhance productivity, foster innovation and perhaps most importantly empower society to intensify its influence in decision-making processes.
In the case of Chile, as recently as May 2014, citizens saved more than 2 million hours and more than USD$19 million thanks to Chile Atiende, a digital government program. According to Millán, the e-data startup founder, the public sector has “digitalized a lot of things that used to have a lot of bureaucracy… the standards and strategic plans are moving forward to develop a more modern government.”
The relationship between the government and its citizens is changing and it is becoming interdependent. For example, the government now puts contracts and purchases supplies online, meaning that “people all over Chile can work with it to sell the things that they do,” said Millán. He added that it is becoming more normal for his compatriots, “to see and to feel the different processes; the Chileans have a better and more open government.”
Chileans need better policy knowledge
Yet, political participation isn´t just about quantity but quality as well. When it comes to citizens’ policy knowledge, Chileans are doing rather badly in comparison with other OECD countries. Indeed only “few citizens are well-informed of government policies and most have only a rudimental knowledge of them,” argue the SGI experts.
Good e-government systems in Chile have engaged people to a good level of e-participation, but this certainly does not mean that there is a better overall democratic process. Technological tools are being correctly applied and implemented to strengthen the relationship between the government and its citizens, allowing more participation, but other factors – such as citizen´s knowledge and comprehension of policies that concern them – must be taken into consideration to find integral solutions.
This makes it clear that technology alternatives and electronic government are powerful tools for change, but in order to achieve desired overall results it is necessary to inform citizens and provide proper education in use of the new tools to see major benefits offered by these new opportunities.
For Chile’s tech-trend to continue, it is crucial to find mechanisms to join its e-programs with a crucial citizen educational element. Technology will not lead to this educational element; it is a necessary condition to make the best out of its technology programs. If Chile can marry the two, improving participation through technology and improved access through education, they will continue to be a regional leader.
Daniel Kapellmann is a Mexican international relations graduate of ITAM and current Information Technologies Consultant for the Competitive Intelligence Unit. Contact him on Twitter at @Kapellmann.
Jamie Stark is an American journalist based in Latin America and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Journalism School. Contact him on Twitter at @JamieStark.