Portugal’s Journey Toward A Digital Government
Published on June 23, 2022
In the past years, governments all over the world have been implementing new ways to communicate with their citizens and improve the efficiency of public services.
Thanks to the digital revolution, governments can now offer digital services to their citizens, which are more accessible, faster, and more cost-effective.
In Portugal, the digital evolution has been quite impressive, especially considering that it was a mainly paper-based administration just a few years ago.
Let’s take a look at Portugal’s journey toward becoming a digital government.
Extraordinary digital transformation
In the past two decades, Portugal has undergone a digital transformation that has been extraordinary.
It has changed mindsets and the traditional culture of the Portuguese administration, putting citizens at the centre.
The country’s leapfrogging into the future demonstrates that other countries can do the same as well.
The combination of political and technical efforts has been instrumental in the achievements made in digital transformation.
Portugal has significantly invested in its digital infrastructure from the beginning, which helped build the necessary foundations for its government’s digital services.
By combining investments in cross-government digital enablers with strategic initiatives, it has made it possible to deliver quick wins to build political support for sustaining the reforms.
The key to success has been the focus on rethinking service delivery instead of digitalising already obsolete and redundant processes.
Important digital initiatives
1) Citizen Card – the national identity card as physical and digital documents
2) Digital Mobile Key – an authentication mechanism that allows users to access public and private services, sign digital documents and more
3) Zero Licensing – a simple and time-saving service that simplifies the process of issuing specific business licenses
4) e-Portugal – a platform that provides a single digital point for accessing all public services to citizens and businesses
6) SIMPLEX Program – an administrative simplification and modernisation program launched in 2006 that follows a citizen-driven approach
7) LabX – a governmental laboratory used for experimenting with innovation in the public sector
8) AMA Academy – a program that focuses on encouraging new forms of participation of civil servants, promoting their achievements, and developing digital skills
Action Plan for the future
The Action Plan for Digital Transition was published on the 21st of April 2020, and it outlined the strategy set for the country’s future digital transformation.
The Portugal Digital Mission Structure oversees every component of this digital plan toward making the country more competitive in the digital arena.
This institution is responsible for the plan’s strategic objectives, the global coordination, implementation and reporting of the Action Plan results, and promoting it, both at a national and international level.
Three main pillars of actions
- Capacity building and digital inclusion
While there are still quite a few people in Portugal who have never used the internet (16% in 2021), that number keeps decreasing yearly.
According to the UN EGDI Index, Portugal ranked 41st (out of 193 countries) in e-participation in 2020.
Meaning that there is still room for improvement in this regard.
To achieve it, the government is working on providing users and professionals with the support and training needed to get started with digitisation – helping them build their capacity to gain confidence in using e-services.
They should also keep looking for new ways to help citizens facing specific challenges related to technology or needs specific to certain groups, such as minors or people with disabilities.
2. Businesses’ Digital Transformation
Portugal has sought ways to implement new technologies to improve its bureaucratic processes to modernize how it communicates with citizens and businesses.
However, the Portuguese government wants businesses to take charge of their own digital transformation.
To achieve that, Portugal needs to invest more in digital hubs that help SMEs and startups test new digital technologies, get access to digital skills, access funding for their growth etc.
With the collaboration between SMEs, large enterprises and entities from the research and innovation ecosystem, it will be possible to create and offer better and more secure services.
3. Public Services’ Digitization
Every day public services must emphasise communication accessibility, enabling everyone — especially individuals with disabilities– with the necessary tools to access different services generated by new digital technologies.
This development must constantly fulfill government websites and mobile applications’ current “accessibility” criteria.
The case for digital government is clear: It makes better use of technology and opens up new avenues for citizens to interact with their governments.
At its core, a government’s responsibility is to improve the quality of life and tackle society’s most challenging problems.
Of course, it can do that only if citizens trust their government and are willing to support it in meaningful ways.
And as we know all too well, there are plenty of things happening in today’s world that shake that trust—and make people feel powerless to effect change.
But Portugal, just like many other countries, has proven that it is, in fact, possible.
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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