I spent 6 weeks in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, in November and December 2015 to design the eGovernment Web Development Strategy for the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MoPT). Liberia Faced 14 years of civil war until 2003 then they faced an Ebola epidemic in 2014 and 2015. Peace Nobel Prize President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf worked hard to put Liberia on the good tracks with the support of the international community and she is still in the office until 2017. There is not metropolitan fiber yet in Liberia or national fiber connecting key cities, but the ACE submarine cable is reaching Monrovia and should help to bridge the digital divide in this country.
Web Presence Evaluation
The Government of Liberia worked on several policy documents and implementation of these policies is moving on. Half of the Ministries, Agencies and Commissions (MACs) already have functional websites and we used the eGovernment Maturity Model bellow to evaluate the 19 current functional governmental websites.
The different stages are:
- Web presence: Governments provide a website to post basic information to public.
- Interaction: Users are able to contact public entities through websites, do self-service, and contact the entity through social medias.
- Transaction: Users can complete entire transactions online.
- Transformation: Government information systems are interoperable and eServices are fully integrated across administrative boundaries.
- Distribution: Citizens get more directly involved in the governmental process by participating to the political decisions using distributed digital tools.
Current State Overview
Today, most of Governmental websites are at the interaction stage but some of them have weaknesses. Common issues are loss of websites and domain names control, no standardization on domain names, web designs are not user-centered, small readability for low literacy level user, accessibility issues (vision and hearing impaired), difficulty to access websites from smartphone, some browser types are not setup properly, some links are broken and some information is outdated.
Overview of the current situation has shown the strengths and weaknesses of the existing ICT ecosystem stakeholders active on the web.
- On level of MACs a web presence is noticeable;
- There are several local ICT SMEs, which can develop website and eServices ;
- Some ICT skills are in the MACs;
- Most important MACs are at the level two (interaction) of the eGovernment maturity model.
- There is no web presence in the research and higher education sector;
- Web presence baseline in the government is very fragmented and there is virtually no exchange of information;
- There is no strong coordinating body or initiatives, neither common collaboration platform;
- The quality of service is poor in Monrovia;
- No governmental infrastructure;
- Some MACs have no presence on the web;
- There is no public ICT curriculum at the public university.
All cons have a common denominator, which indicates a lack of knowledge, experience and coordination. Government needs to accelerate the creation, management and sharing of knowledge between all stakeholders.
Strategy has to use existing pros and has to address four main pillars:
- Reinforce web presence;
- Reinforce interactivity with citizens;
- Common collaboration and technology platform for civil servants;
- Empower the ICT ecosystem.
Vision: Creating an Open Ecosystem
The development of an information society in Liberia shall be based on a shared and open knowledge-based society, open standards, technological neutrality and broadly available ICT to empower citizens and the private sector. Effective use of ICTs can bring benefits to an open knowledge-based society by:
- Achieving enhanced human capital;
- Increasing the growth of a knowledge-based society;
- Reducing the digital divide;
- Reducing the software piracy rate;
- Increasing interoperability among systems;
- Reducing total cost of ownership;
- Increasing growth in the local ICT industry;
- Enhancing local ICT companies, universities and the public sector.
To realize this ICT vision, it’s necessary to encourage an ambitious and dynamic ICT ecosystem, which will involve all stakeholders to collaborate. It will be necessary to integrate in this ecosystem all of the existing knowledge and experience for the mutual benefit of all stakeholders. All stakeholders should be part of the ecosystem, which provides the resources and means for the realization of their respective visions and missions.
An open ecosystem is preferable that a closed one because it boosts innovation by providing tools to improve the ecosystem.
An ecosystem encompasses the policies, strategies, processes, information, technologies, applications and stakeholders that together make up a technology environment for a country, government or an enterprise. Most importantly, an ICT ecosystem includes people: diverse individuals who create, buy, sell, regulate, manage and use technology. An ICT ecosystem is defined as open when it is capable of:
- Incorporating and sustaining interoperability;
- Empowering collaborative development;
- Supporting transparency.
Increasing these capabilities helps create flexible and service-oriented ICT applications that can be taken apart and recombined to meet changing needs more efficiently and effectively.
National ICT Capability Center (NICTCC)
NICTCC represents a main lever for sustainable and centralized, government driven process of eGovernment implementation. It should be under control of the Chief Information Office (CIO) office at the MoPT.
Open solutions introducing radically different business and development models. The key difference is, that there is no central monopoly business interest, which is responsible for building the entire ecosystem of support, knowledge, experience, education and legal framework. As a solution for rapid and coordinated creation of the ICT ecosystems, many countries have opted for the creation of national ICT capability centers that coordinate or take over the design and management of the ICT ecosystem. They are also main facilitator of stakeholders’ collaboration. This is especially important because of the national interest in the use of open solutions, which is usually not recognized enough by free market mechanisms.
eGovernment centers are grouped in Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) competence center network, which defines what competence centers should:
- Be a meeting point for FLOSS users, developers, students, educators, researchers, and other enthusiasts both at the individual and institutional levels;
- Stay up-to-date with FLOSS technology, market, and trends;
- Provide and extend trust in FLOSS methods, tools, and solutions;
- Act as a neutral player within FLOSS matters, trends, and studies;
- Develop, maintain, and publish their work under a free/open license;
- Explore new innovation and collaboration opportunities by using FLOSS.
In summary, by sharing a common ethics and culture of collaboration, NICTCCs promote synergies among educational institutions, industry, government, and communities. They help the dissemination and application of knowledge on open standards and technologies, and promote the development of ICT in a way that benefits the entire human society. Furthermore, NICTCCs aim to remain aware of important trends in FLOSS technologies and encourage their use in industry, government, research, and the general population. There are different models in organizational and stakeholders’ structure depends on level of maturity and experiences of the stakeholders.
The Government needs to focus its efforts on the creation of NICTCC linked with, for example, the CIO office at MoPT in order to be more efficient with ICT challenges. This center has to be established to build capacity and strengthen investment in strategic ICT research, and improve Liberia’s ability to fully capture the productivity and transformational benefits that ICT capability can deliver.
The NICTCC will reinforce the power of the Government to deploy an eGovernment strategy able to federalize efforts, provide capacity building and workforce to resolve technical issues for the government. It will ensure staff continuity and development of the necessary local knowledge and experience.
The center will include project managers, web developers and web designers to support ICT projects for the government.
Digital Development Toolkit
A digital service toolkit should be online to support websites and eServices development. It should give notices and methodologies to develop digital services for the public and building a network of trust.
The governmental web presence has to be reinforced and harmonized to legitimize the Liberian ICT capability on the web.
A websites development toolkit is an online service for public ICT officers to find a methodology to build or improve websites by following design and technical specifications. This service will define some useful information such as public websites policy, supply chain procedure and websites management.
Government wishes to deliver services in an effective, transparent and efficient way, with improved accessibility to residents and businesses across Liberia, including in rural areas. Furthermore, eGovernment services will strengthen demand for ICT tools and services in general, by providing an effective way to satisfy specific day-to-day needs of residents and businesses.
Primary responsibility for such measures rests with the CIO office. Specific applications will be prioritized based on the preparedness, buy-in and capacity of respective Ministries, Government Departments, Constitutional and Statutory Entities.
An eServices development toolkit will be online for public ICT officers and the civil society, to propose eServices to the Government.
Government Cloud Platform
The government cloud platform is a priority initiative for GoL in order to provide efficient national services. This platform will support the next generation of eGovernment services across the public sector to propose a way of making public services more agile to access ICT services. It is intended to help GoL operate more efficiently, and will save public sector cash flow.
This platform will be the government’s first major private cloud computing initiative and will provide an important central information technology infrastructure with full cloud computing functions. It provides computing resources, including server, storage and network resources, for GoL’s bureaus and departments.
The services deployed on the government cloud platform include a range of software as a service offers, back up and recovery services, collaboration platforms, information management platforms and web hosting solutions.
This platform will substantially reduce service delivery time and enhance responsiveness in meeting dynamic demands through rapid provision of computing resources, including processing power, network bandwidth and disk storage.
The government cloud platform will support the development of electronic record keeping and facilitate better information sharing practices across government agencies. It will be progressively rolled out to support more services as the procurement model becomes normalized.
National ICT Event
Liberia does not have a major annual event in the field of ICT. Proposed yearly, this event is an opportunity to propose:
- A policy conference;
- An interactive exhibition;
- Many networking opportunities;
- A Startup Forum.
Such an event could foster the ecosystem, and usefully seed and encourage national efforts. For example, such an event could be an opportunity to establish open source, open standard and open content as the main research and development topics of the local ICT community. This event could expose technological innovations, the economic vitality and major players of the digital sector as well as their impacts on society. Advantages of concentrating efforts into a major annual event are:
- Cost savings compare to several smaller events;
- Wide and assured stakeholder participation;
- Attractive vehicle for donor partners and large corporates;
- Networking opportunities;
- Focused minds and coverage;
- National and international visibility.
A Rural One-Stop-Shop Network
This one-stop-shop platform will provide and centralize information and services for citizens. It will provide smart, cost-effective, modern public services to the population. Administrative information will be available, such as links to the online passport request service, legal Q&A concerning the Government laws, online access to birth certificates, administrative forms, text of laws and public datasets from MACs with offline and online access.
In this one-stop-shop it possible to:
- Use LibreOffice which is a free and open source office suite;
- Consult an offline Wikipedia;
- Photocopy documents;
- Take digital pictures with a rugged digital camera and print them out;
- Watch movies and listen to music;
- Access the Internet if there’s a GPRS connection provided in the locality.
The equipment include in a one-stop-shop is:
- A rugged PC;
- A solar system equipment;
- A scanner;
- A printer;
- A rugged digital camera and its printer.
The main focus of the strategy is to guide the Government of Liberia’s online presence towards an Open democracy stage by empowering citizens and supporting transparency in all instances of the government. To reach this goal, five initiatives have been introduced: The National ICT Capability Center (NICTCC), the Digital Development Toolkit, the Government Cloud Platform and the National ICT Event. The first initiative, the center, will support MACs to build proper and useful digital services for citizens. The second one, the toolkit, will support citizens with a methodology to build useful digital services in the Government. The third one, the cloud platform, will support GoL with dedicated and specialized national services. The fourth one, the National ICT Event, will give empower the national ICT ecosystem. The last one the rural one-stop-shop network will bring eGovernement to rural area.
Usefully implemented, this strategy encourages the Government of Liberia to increase its web presence, empower citizens and intensify its authority at the international level.