Experts at GCC e-Participation & e-Governance Forum emphasize on adapting global trends

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG) launched the “GCC e- Participation and e-Governance Forum” today, bringing together more than 200 government representatives, decision makers, and e-government leaders, who debated various techniques of boosting government e-services and e-participation strategies in the GCC region, so that they adapt global trends and advancements locally. As the leading-government gathering of key government bodies in the UAE and GCC, the two-day forum presents a unique platform to tackle the challenges that face authorities in delivering the latest trends in e-services to a technology savvy and demanding public.

The opening ceremony was attended by Sheikh Khalid Bin Rashid Bin Sultan Al Qassimi, Director General of Sharjah e-Government, Salem Khamis Al Shair Al Suwaidi, Deputy Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), Abdul Karim Al Raessi, Director of Strategy and Planning in Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Centre, Dr.Nabil Ibrahim, Chancellor of Abu Dhabi University, and Dr. Ahmed Badr, CEO OF Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.

Delivering the welcome address, Salem Khamis Al Shair Al Suwaidi, Deputy Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), explained that e-Participation in the UAE started with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. “He pioneered the use of social media in the region to communicate with the people. Today, he is a leading example for utilizing Facebook and Twitter for citizen engagement. Sheikh Mohammed emphasized on utilizing the social media channels to achieve enhanced communication and encourage us to follow his footsteps. Eventually, many federal and local government entities in the UAE adopted this practice”, said Al Shair.

He pointed out that the UAE government entities started engaging several e-Participation channels such as forums, blogs, surveys, polls, and online chat; and amongst the social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. As the practice became more common, the risks and other issues relating to handling the social media accounts in government entities became evident. “We realized we needed some guidelines to standardize our practices to handle social media accounts professionally and bring about effective communication. That is why we devised the Guidelines for social media usage in government entities’ document. The document lists useful practices and safety measures which the government entities in the UAE could adopt and which could help them in leveraging the social media to achieve wholesome e-Participation. The document makes detailed recommendations on access to social media websites, account management, employee conduct, content management, and security and privacy issues”, he added .

Al Shair pointed out that the document served as an important guiding factor for the UAE government entities in connecting with the people and led to improved e-Participation. This was ratified in the United Nations’ E-Government Survey 2012 which ranked the UAE at 6th position globally on e-Participation Index; 80 ranks up from the 2010 report. Moreover, the report highlighted that the UAE and South Korea are the only two countries that score 100% on taking citizen’s views into decision-making. “Recently, the UAE took the concept of e-Participation further by holding two interactive sessions via twitter; one with Mohamed Al Ghanim, Director General of the TRA, and another with myself. We took questions from people relating to our services and answered them live. The event was very successful as people from across the world participated in it”, explained Al Shair.

“Sheikh Mohammed has stressed on the importance of e-Participation as an important tool for boosting communication and I would like to call upon all government entities to embark on this trend. But as we do this we have to beware of the risks involved such as: spear phishing, social engineering, web application attacks and impersonation and work towards achieving our e-Participation goals”, he concluded.

On his part, Abdul Karim Al Raessi, Director of Strategy and Planning in Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Centre, said: “From the year 2000 to 2011 the Middle East posted the second largest internet usage growth by region in the world, climbing over an incredible 2,000 per cent.

This reflects the Arab World’s great hunger for electronic information, which we are in a position to satisfy with our visionary leadership, resources, and focus on diversified development. The GCC in particular has been an example of technology-enabled growth. The UN’s latest e-Government survey shows that our region leads the world in e-readiness. Gulf states have been praised for putting various e-government initiatives into place that have accelerated ICT adoption across the public sector to deliver efficient, transparent, inclusive and sustainable government services to our people”.

Al Raessi asserted that as the Forum’s Host Partner, the Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Centre (ADSIC) has made its own valuable contributions to promoting ICT as a catalyst for good governance and national development. “Since its establishment in late 2005 under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, ADSIC has been introducing various programs that have made Abu Dhabi Government more effective and efficient in delivering ICT-enabled modern services to government entities, businesses, and the general public”, said Al Raessi.

Senior Inter-regional Adviser on e-Government and Knowledge Management from the Division for Public Administration and Development Management at the UN, Richard Kirby, emphasized the importance of exploring the latest trends in communication, commerce, social engagement, mobility and digital media. He pointed out that some of the key issues that governments have to consider while they’re developing their e-government strategies is examining their role in moving from a controller to a facilitator of information and services, reviewing the major challenges that face governments worldwide and how to resolve them, and bridging the digital divide for greater international cooperation.

In his presentation, Dr. Jeongwon Yoon, Executive Director of the National Information Society Agency in South Korea, stressed the importance of using e-participation to drive and facilitate change. Dr. Yoon urged governments to promote e-participation to engage their citizens through improving policies, regulations and service delivery which will in turn encourage and involve citizens in the decision making processes.