Australia has lost ground in the latest study of global e-government by Brown University, going from fourth to seventh place in a ranking of countries' progress in putting services and information online.
The study of global-e-government finds 21 percent of government agencies around the world are now offering online services, up from 16 percent in 2003, 12 percent in 2002, and eight percent in 2001. It names Taiwan and Singapore as the two outstanding performers, closely followed by Canada, and with Monaco and China both ahead of Australia in overall e-government performance.
Australia's overall score of 36.7 is significantly below its 2003 score, of 41.5. And the country does even worse in the percentage of Web sites showing a security policy. The report found the countries most likely to show a visible security policy are Iraq (100 percent of its sites), Singapore (93 percent), the United States (67 percent), Taiwan (54 percent), Great Britain (41 percent), China (35 percent), Saint Lucia (25 percent), Belize (25 percent), Germany (23 percent), and Australia (23 percent).
However the findings contrast with those of the Fifth Annual Accenture eGovernment Study, released earlier this year, which ranked Australia a shared fourth placeholder (up one place on the year before and putting it alongside Finland, Denmark and Sweden) in e-Government maturity.
The Brown report finds that while the 198 surveyed nations are steadily progressing in the work of putting services and information online, much forward momentum has slowed thanks to budget, bureaucratic and institutional factors.
The fourth annual survey conducted by Professor Darrell M West of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University and a team of researchers evaluated government Web sites on two dozen different criteria, including the availability of publications, databases, disability access, privacy, security, and the number of online services.
This study reviewed 1935 government Web sites in 198 countries during June, July, and August, 2004, including those of executive offices, legislative offices, judicial offices, Cabinet offices, and major agencies serving crucial functions of government, such as health, human services, taxation, education, interior, economic development, administration, natural resources, foreign affairs, foreign investment, transportation, military, tourism, and business regulation.
Other global results include:
-12 percent of government Web sites offered services that are fully executable online, up from 8 percent in 2001;
-the most frequent services are ordering publications, making travel reservations, searching and applying for jobs, applying for passports, and renewing vehicle licenses;
-77 percent of Web sites provide access to publications and 83 percent have links to databases (the latter more than doubling from 41 percent in 2001);
-14 percent of government Web sites feature a one-stop services "portal" or have links to a government portal;
-14 percent of sites (up from 6 percent in 2001) show privacy policies, while 9 percent (up from 3 percent in 2001) have security policies.
The research team finds many national Web sites have been weakened by inconsistency in terms of design features. It recommends governments promote features that allow citizens to post comments or otherwise provide feedback about a government agency, the researchers said.
E-government leaders also use market research, public opinion surveys or focus groups to keep them informed about citizens feel about e-government Web sites and the features which would attract them to use these sites.
"One of the major challenges of e-government is the up-front costs of developing a Web site and putting information and services online. To deal with this issue, smaller and poorer countries should undertake regional e-government alliances that would allow them to pool resources and gain greater efficiency at building their infrastructure," the report recommends.
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