Digital Barbados: Great infrastructure, data governance but low e-participation

Published on March 22, 2024

With a rich history influenced by British colonialism, Barbados gained independence in 1966. Bridgetown, the capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the island is known for its stunning beaches. Geographically, digital Barbados is compact and one of the most densely populated countries in the Eastern Caribbean. Despite its size, the country exhibits high human development, strong governance systems, and noteworthy levels of technological connectivity.

When it comes to analyzing Barbados from a digital perspective, I think it’s notable that the country boasts high EGDI values, indicating a strong performance in digital public services and/or governance in general.

In the UN’s e-government report of 2022, digital Barbados secured the 79th position out of 193 countries. This is a decent ranking, considering the global context.

It indicates a respectable standing in terms of e-government practices, reflecting the country’s commitment to digital advancement. This also places Barbados among the 12 out of 38 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that surpass the global average in EGDI values.

However, the average EPI (e-participation index) value suggests there may be areas for improvement in terms of e-participation (citizen engagement in digital platforms and services.) While the infrastructure and governmental aspects seem strong, enhancing e-participation could further strengthen the digital ecosystem.

Strengthening digital public services

I think digital Barbados has been making significant progress in upgrading its public services through digital means. This transformation gained momentum with the Barbados Economic Reform Transformation Plan (part of the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility) initiated in October 2018.

The prioritisation of these reforms – especially in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic – proved the agility of digital Barbados in the face of unprecedented circumstances.

As highlighted in a 2023 OECD report, Barbados is actively enhancing its digital public services. This progress aligns with the objectives of the Modernisation of the Public Sector Programme supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The primary goal of this program is to address gaps in digital public infrastructure and accessibility, aiming to promote greater digitalization of government services and encourage the use of digital channels.

Also, an essential aspect highlighted in the report pertains to the digital experience of users engaging with government services in Barbados.

The island stands out for having a central service delivery platform offering both informational and transactional services. It’s worth noting that, apart from Jamaica, Barbados is the only other country in that region providing informational services through digital channels.

This signifies a positive step towards modernizing public services and making information more readily available to citizens. I believe this emphasis on digitalization, especially during these times, is a commendable strategy for digital Barbados.

Digital ID in 2024

Examining the progress towards a digital ID in Barbados, I think it’s a significant step forward for the country’s technological advancement. The assurance from Minister Davidson Ishmael that Barbadians could have a digital ID this year (2024) indicates a tangible outcome of the government’s persistent efforts over the years.

The decision to phase out the old ID cards in favour of the new Trident ID aligns with the global trend of transitioning towards more secure and digitally enabled identification systems. This shift not only enhances security but also reflects a commitment to modernizing and keeping pace with evolving technologies.

However, it’s worth noting that the introduction of a digital ID has faced resistance from some segments of the population. This is a common challenge when implementing such transformative changes, and addressing concerns from the public is crucial for successful adoption.

In my view, the upcoming digital ID rollout represents not just a technological upgrade but a fundamental shift in how Barbadians engage with identity verification processes. It opens doors to enhanced security measures and streamlined services, ultimately benefitting both the government and citizens.

Final thoughts

Barbados has shown dedication to addressing accessibility gaps and building essential digital public infrastructure. The commitment to establish government central service platforms is a step in the right direction.

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that there is still a considerable distance to cover in attaining higher digital maturity. Embedding service design into strategic goals for digital government remains a work in progress.

As the journey continues, it’s clear that Barbados is on the path to greater digital advancement, with the potential to bring about positive changes in how public services are delivered and experienced by its citizens.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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