NEWTON, MA | June 15, 2004
While governments around the world are doing more and more public business online, large segments of the population face obstacles in accessing these resources, according to a new report released at the annual Community Technology Centers Network (CTCNet) Conference in Seattle.
The report, “E-Government for All: Ensuring Equitable Access to Online Government Services”—published by the Center for Media & Community (CMC) and the NYS Forum of the Rockefeller Institute of Government—includes “top 10 lists” of challenges and opportunities for achieving equitable public access to e-government. Some of the potential obstacles include an insensitivity to reading levels when publishing government documents, lack of public engagement on the accessibility of government websites, and user unfriendliness of e-government online resources. The opportunities outline measures that can be taken to realize the potential of e-government, including enforcement of Web accessibility and readability standards and the creation of ombudsmen positions in government agencies to monitor the performance of e-government resources.
“Governments are actively embracing e-government as a tool for cutting bureaucracy and improving communications with the public,” said Andrea L. Taylor, director of CMC and vice president of Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), where the center is based. “However, millions of people, including low-literate populations, non-native English speakers and the disabled, face enormous challenges accessing these online government resources. This report is intended as a next step in an ongoing dialogue among policymakers, the private sector, researchers and civil society to ensure that e-government deployment goes hand-in-hand with sustainable strategies to bridge the digital divide,” Taylor added.
The report is a summary of the ideas generated during the November 2003 E-Government for All virtual conference. Approximately 1,300 people representing more than 80 countries participated in the two-week virtual event, co-sponsored by the Center for Media & Community’s Digital Divide Network project, NYS Forum, Group Jazz and a coalition of programmatic partners. The report details discussions and case studies regarding e-government access and the challenges faced by underserved populations on the wrong side of the digital divide. The authors also propose “four stages of achieving e-government for all:” Initiation, Engagement, Integration and Equity.