Q1. You were born in Indonesia. However, in the last couple of years, you have worked in Portugal. Is there any special reason why this country?
Everything was not particularly plotted. I attended Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg (Sweden) when I obtained my PhD, in 2012. Afterwards, I got a research position at the JRC Directorate for Growth and Innovation, part of the European Commission, where I was in charge of a project analysing the performance of the EU ICT sector, particularly on Research and Development. Therefore, it was not that I moved from Jakarta to Portugal directly, but I have lived for some years in other European countries which eventually brought me to this beautiful city, Guimarães. It has been one of the most memorable parts of my life where I could experience beautiful culture, live in a very well-conserved city, and enjoy endless cultural events almost every week. The fact that I have lived in Spain before moving to Portugal has made the transition even smoother, at least there are some commonalities between Portuguese and Spanish cultures which significantly reduces the cultural shock. Moreover, as Portuguese people are very friendly, the transition process went event smoother in my case.
Q2. Your PhD, concluded in 2012, was in the area of Technology Management and Economics. How did that lead to EGOV research?
I can sense similarities between EGOV studies and my PhD program concerning the cross/ fertilisation between the different streams of knowledge. The PhD program in Technology Management and Economics contains the interface between technology, social science, public policy, management, and economics, just like how EGOV studies are currently investigated from a variety of lenses.
Moreover, the PhD program has also equipped me with tools and frameworks to assess and investigate research problems. In my case, as I work mainly with quantitative research, my experience dealing with data analysis (econometrics) helped me a lot in formulating research problems. Also, regarding content, my previous position at JRC has given me nuances about ICT and public policy, which partly also relates to Electronic Governance. Then naturally, as research work evolves, you tend to see and know more about a particular area and your interest grows. That was the case for me.
Q3. Could you then let us know a bit more about your work as a researcher in the EGOV domain?
I divided my research areas into two streams. Firstly, there is the core research related with the impact assessment of electronic governance. It is generally understood that the initial stage of EGOV policies might correspond to “spending money”, especially for developing countries that do not have strong economies to back up such initiatives. Governments spend money for broadband roll-out to give access to citizens, but they also need to improve public service delivery. Thus, instead of focusing on “spending”, I provide an overarching idea of “impacts”: when a country improves the quality of their governance, the impact is real, and it transcends economic outputs, such as corruption eradication and reduction in the informal sector. The indirect impact is also observed: for instance, better governance reduces informality and eventually increases government budget through widening tax-base, which might then stabilise macroeconomic indicators, reduce debt, increase job offer, and maintain political stability and security.
My second stream of research is related to emerging technologies. I contributed to research about the justice system in Portugal, the impact of blockchain technology in the financial sector, and the development of a smart city index. My role in these areas is more of an add-on to the primary research, so I am very grateful for these opportunities.
Q4. What is your view on the importance of EGOV for the society nowadays?
In everyday life, we might witness that EGOV has evolved and contributed to increasing the quality of life for the citizens. For instance, implementing e-Government eases the handling of administrative tasks, reduces administrative costs, and streamlines administrative procedures by following the once-only principle. This principle means that citizens and businesses are required to provide information to the government only once. Government offices would share this information internally through their systems. By making use of such integration, the government reduces the need for citizens to provide the same data multiple times. In a country like Sweden, where I lived for five years, citizens need to register their whereabouts just once at the tax office. The data will then be shared among government institutions. So, wherever required for accessing public services such as education, health and taxation, a citizen needs only to mention their person number (personnummer) to access a variety of public services.
In my research, for instance, it was found that better telecom infrastructure index, part of electronic governance indicators, has significantly reduced the size of the shadow economy by around 0.26% for every 1% increase in the telecom infrastructure index. It means that better governance might be started from the supply side by providing decent access to the citizen. While access itself is not sufficient, it will play as a tipping point towards better public service delivery, just like we provide roads so that the citizens might expect a better distribution of goods and services and a more affordable price thanks to its efficiency.
Q5. What major trends do you see in the EGOV area for the upcoming years?
I think the issue will still be fragmented depending on the development stage of each country. For countries where access has been fully provided, we might see the use of emerging technologies to help the public sector (such as artificial intelligence or blockchain technology). While further research might be needed, blockchain technology might reach a wide range of functionalities beyond there mere creation and use of cryptocurrencies. Some of these functionalities include escrow (custodial services), decentralised IoT, and digital identity. The last part is particularly intriguing. There are still 1.1 billion people living without an official ID (based on World Bank data up to 2017). Hence, this technology might mitigate the problem of ID-less citizens amidst obscuring ID policies in some countries.
For developing countries though, the EGOV aspect will still be revolving around some significant issues, such as institution, the locus of EGOV policies, and essential infrastructure provision as a necessary condition to reap the benefits of Electronic Governance.
*The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the UNU.