The information age is characterized by numerous innovations and a massive adoption of information technology in all spheres of life. Government, in order to improve service delivery and facilitate access to public services, has developed an interest in adopting technology in service delivery. Adoption of technology in government is referred to, in other terms, as e-governance. It is an expensive initiative that makes governments incur great expenses in their desire to become successful. E-governance calls for availability of the necessary infrastructure and resources for it to prosper. Governments must initiate measures aimed at educating citizens on how to access public services using technology. E-government has mainly been adopted in the Middle East countries with the UAE being one of the leading nations in implementation of the trend. It facilitates transparency in provision of public services, enables citizens to access public services without much strain and eliminates unnecessary procedures that traditionally slow down services delivery. In essence, adoption of e-governance is considered a move towards the right direction.
The UAE Cabinet held a retreat for all its cabinet members at Sir Bani Yas Island, which is the largest natural reserve in the country (Al-Khouri, 2012). The purpose of the retreat was to hold discussions on the outcome of the UAE Brainstorming session, which was the first nation-wide technology based citizen engagement initiative to take place in the country.
According to Al-Khouri (2012), people had high expectations for this event. It was meant to help facilitate citizens’ engagement through the application of technology so as to assist in the modernization of the country’s healthcare and education sectors. The UAE has a strong global performance record in all sectors but the healthcare and education. These two sectors have been facing chronic challenges, which called for an intervention. Al-Khouri (2012) states that the UAE is a highly diverse society hence there has been a need for identification of the nature and extent of the challenges, which various segments of the society face before identifying workable solutions at the macro and micro levels. The UAE government has had difficult times in establishing a workable solution to the challenges faced by the two sectors. It has pumped numerous resources and launched several reform initiatives but in the end, only a marginal increase has been realized. The failure to achieve satisfactory results in terms of improvements within the two sectors made the governments believe that there was a need for the citizens and all segments of the community to be included and empowered so that they could effectively participate in policy formulation and in redesigning services (Al-Khouri, 2012).
This discussion seeks to give an extensive exploration of how the UAE considered using modern societal information flows to better gauge public needs and achieve better provision of government services. The discussion focuses on the benefits of the UAE’s adoption of technology in the provision of public services and citizen participation.
Application of Social Media in Government
The adoption of e-government by the UAE was conditioned by the need of the government to provide an increased portfolio of public services to its citizens in the most efficient and affordable manner. According to As Al-Khouri (2012), e-government helps in a number of ways by boosting transparency and increasing the level of accessibility of public services among others.
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Before the introduction of technological platforms that facilitate interactions in the UAE, the citizens communicated through traditional participatory process known as the ‘majlis’(Al-Khouri, 2012). This process involved citizens, their rulers and community leaders highlight their problems in physical meetings that were open to the public. For a long time, the UAE did not have either a formal or an informal process that gave an opportunity for the public to have a systematic interaction with the government and to participate in designing and delivering government services (Al-Khouri, 2012).
Due to the gaps in the system and the decision to improve citizen participation, the government of the UAE came up with the idea of the brainstorming session. The ideas were unanimously accepted in the governments’ highest levels to be used as the first technology-based citizen engagement forum (Al-Khouri, 2012). The session used the country’s strong information and communication technology infrastructure and enjoyed the country’s wide social acceptance of the innovations. Particularly, the UAE is associated with widely accepted social media. Such acceptance was vital for the initiative that sought ways to crowd-source ideas and solutions that enable improvement of the quality of public services in the two identified sectors.
Social media use in the UAE has recorded a remarkable increase and reached 60% engagement of the entire population (Al-Khouri, 2012). The government took advantage of the wide social media use among its citizens to enable infrastructure and societal readiness for adoption of technology in provision of public services.
Benefits of Application of Social Media to the UAE Government
The UAE society is associated with a high application of technology in its activities. The society is extremely ‘tech-savvy’, and the government has been taking advantage of the citizens’ use of technology to modernize its service delivery through high-tech means. The UAE has widely been credited for its ICT readiness based on an examination of the established indicators. Several benefits are associated with the application of e-government. Most of these advantages are obtained from the improved citizens’ participation in social media for service delivery (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, n.d).
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Since the adoption of social media in service delivery by the UAE government, citizens have had very high expectations for the advancements in government-citizens interactions. The UAE customers were very receptive to the idea of introducing social media in facilitating citizens’ engagement. The goodwill presented the brainstorming session with the goal of developing government initiatives that intended to have citizens involved in redesigning services and the delivery process through application of technology. The government employees in the UAE also support the application of technology and social networking technologies in enhancing government operations. Having citizens fully involved in the process of formulating policies makes them more active in implementing the regulations (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, n.d). In essence, the adoption of technology and social media networks to enhance citizens’ participation in policy formulation and service delivery has facilitated efforts in the UAE to improve the two key sectors, including education and healthcare.
Long before the proliferation of social media technologies in the UAE, a research that was conducted to investigate citizens and employees’ level of trust on technology and its adoption in the public sector. The findings showed that the government employees fully supported the incorporation of technology in public service delivery. The employees were aware of the potential benefits of social Web 2.0 tools and most of the respondents in the research supported the use of social media tools to foster collaboration between government agencies (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, n.d).
Currently, the improved citizen engagement and e-participation is recognized and adopted as essential processes that enhance efficiency of the country’s development. Using Ubiquitous ICT, the UAE government has made great strides in engaging the public in its programs and in seeking their opinion on vital societal issues. According to the e-participation index of the United Nations, the UAE is occupied 13th place globally (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, n.d). The index is used to measure the level of citizens’ engagement through use of ICT in policy and decision-making so as to improve public participation and inclusiveness in policy formulation and service provision. After the adoption of e-government, a significant increase in the level of interaction between the UAE government and its citizens can be observed. The brainstorming session played a significant role in introducing a new culture in the UAE, such as the culture of citizen engagement (Skyline University College, 2012).
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Public participation enhanced by use of e-government helps to boost public satisfaction. According to Al-Khouri (2012), a regional study that conducted by the Governance and Innovation program of the MBRSG led to a conclusion that there was a strong correlation between the degree of citizens’ involvement with government services and the extent to which they were satisfied with public services provided to them. Citizens are happy and more satisfied when the government involves them in the process of decision-making by seeking their suggestions and input. Al-Khouri (2012) stated that there was a high level of confidence among the leaders that implementation of the e-government strategy 2012-2014 would help improve the global competitiveness of the UAE. It is because the application of technology and social media network can have citizens actively involved in the nation’s transformation processes.
The eService dimension looks into improving the opportunity for eTransformation within government and it facilitates a provision of high quality electronic services using highly innovative channels of delivery. For example, the UAE has realized a high level of eTrasformation through the internet, fixed mobile phones and kiosks that are used alongside the nation’s traditional service centers to enhance accessibility of services to the public. The citizens’ eReadiness bolstered the process of eTransformation and helped strengthen the capacity of federal agencies concerning its organizational structures, KICT and the competence of human resources (Al-Khouri, 2012).
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According to Al-Khouri (2012), e-government has enabled the UAE to make big steps regarding its national identity management. The nation’s identity management infrastructure is considered an initiative that strategically helps enhance homeland security and develop federated identity management system to improve safe e-government transactions (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, n.d). The UAE’s federated identity is a system that enables the country to link its citizen’s electronic identity and ensures that it is safely stored across multiple distinct identity management systems. Such systems are helpful to the citizens of the UAE, since they enable all residents to use the same personal identification, such as the same password and user name when signing in to the networks of different enterprises to conduct transactions (Al-Khouri, 2012). The UAE government issues smart identity cards to its citizens. The identity card is considered as one of the world’s most advanced and safe smart cards. It is issued with identification parameters that are securely stored in the smart chip. The card facilitates safety of the transactions as it enables the establishment of citizen’s identity on-site and remotely (Al-Khouri, 2012). The national identity management system has established different user credentials in separate systems. In fact, the process is considered effective in the e-government context, as it helps simplify administration besides streamlining access to resources (Skyline University College, n. d.).
The introduction of e-government has enabled agencies to share application without the necessity to adopt same technologies for directory services and authentication. In fact, the application of the active directory services of FIM enables government agencies to identify their users by means of a single identity (Al-Khouri, 2012).
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Citizens have benefited from the facilitated access to government services. In fact, citizens can simply login to the government’s online local portal to access various eServices and utility payments. When using the government’s online local portal, people are also able to view and modify their personal traffic profile with the police. The provision of such services on the online platform is a relief to citizens, because it saves them the need to travel to government offices and stand in long queues to be served. Apart from saving the time, such eService also enable the people to save their financial resources, because they eliminate transport costs that citizens incur when travelling to government offices to be physically present (Al-Khouri, 2012).
The federal identity management system also provides advanced mobility for the UAE citizens. It helps to move towards realization of the vision that is enshrined in the UAE e-government strategic plan that addresses delivery of public services through different channels, such as the internet, mobile phone applications and kiosk-machines among other electronic channels. The diversity in the channels of public service delivery is beneficial to citizens, since it gives them an opportunity to make choices concerning the channels, which they consider the most convenient for them. The national identity card that is used in the UAE is believed to be the main factor that facilitates successful deployment of e-government and eServices (Al-Khouri, 2012).
Based on this discussion, it is clear that the application of electronic approaches in the provision of public services is a move towards the right direction. The UAE has made a great milestone through the introduction of e-government. It has boosted its citizens’ participation in government processes, enabling them to take part in policy formulation and delivery of public services. The level of citizens’ satisfaction has increased with the provision of public services, since they were asked to share their opinions. The application of Information and Communication Technology in governance plays a vital role in reducing information asymmetry between the government and its citizens. This paper has used the UAE brainstorming session and its results as an example to indicate that eGovernance is a remarkable achievement that every government needs to follow. Generally, e-government is credited for its effectiveness in facilitating citizens access to public services, boosting transparency and enhancing quality of services offered to citizens.