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Recommendation Rec(2004)15

of the Committee of Ministers to member states

on electronic governance (“e-governance”)

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 15 December 2004
at the 909th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers, in accordance with Article 15 b of the Statute of the Council of Europe,

Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve greater unity between its members;

Mindful of the Council of Europe’s fundamental role in the promotion and protection of democracy;

Emphasising the importance of maintaining and enhancing democratic institutions and processes in the context of the new opportunities and challenges arising from the rapid emergence of the Information Society;

Convinced of the continued and essential leadership role that national, regional and local public authorities must play in identifying and responding to these opportunities and challenges, by implementing comprehensive e-governance strategies;

Acknowledging the range of e-governance initiatives in member states at the national, regional and local levels;

Noting that the development and implementation of these e-governance initiatives should serve to further strengthen human rights, particularly the right of everyone to express, seek, receive and impart information and ideas;

Convinced of the potential of these initiatives to improve the relationship between public authorities and other stakeholders in civil society, enhance the quality of public services and improve the efficiency of public authorities;

Aware of the potential risks related, in particular, to the abuse of personal data, lack of access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and inadequate e-literacy skills among certain sectors of the population;

Noting that e-governance is about democratic governance and not about purely technical issues, and convinced therefore that the full potential of e-governance will be harnessed only if ICT are introduced alongside changes in the structures, processes and ways that the work of public authorities is organised;

Stressing that the development and dissemination of common guidelines for good e-governance practice are essential to the sharing of expert knowledge across borders, learning from and building on the successes and difficulties of partners, and avoiding duplication of work and the inefficient use of resources;

Taking into account, and building upon the previous work by the Council of Europe and other inter-governmental organisations, particularly that listed in the Explanatory Memorandum to this Recommendation,

Recommends that member states:

1. Review their e-governance polices, legislation and practice in the light of the guidelines appended to this Recommendation.

2. Work together with the appropriate international, national, regional and local stakeholders, to develop a shared vision of e-governance that upholds human rights, democracy and the rule of law by:

– strengthening democratic institutions at all levels and making them more accessible, transparent, accountable and responsive;
– providing opportunities for all to participate in the process of decision-making, thereby contributing to a more dynamic, inclusive democracy;
– improving public administration and services by making them more accessible, user-centred, transparent, efficient and cost-effective, thus contributing to the economic and cultural vitality of society.

3. Develop an e-governance strategy which:

– fully complies with the principles and domestic organisation of democratic government;
– enhances the effectiveness of democratic processes;
– widens the choices available to users for communicating and transacting with government by providing additional channels;
– is based on an inclusive and non-discriminatory approach;
– involves users in strategic choices and respects their needs and priorities;
– ensures transparency and sustainability;
– promotes a coherent and coordinated approach between the different spheres and tiers of government;
– provides a framework for partnership between the public authorities, the private sector and other organisations of civil society;
– maintains and enhances citizens’ confidence in democratic processes, public authorities and public services, including through protecting personal data;
– includes solid risk-assessment and risk-management measures;
– enables and improves access to appropriate ICT infrastructure and services that are simple and fast to use;
– ensures system availability, security, integrity and interoperability;
– provides for an ICT policy based on technology neutrality, open standards and on the assessment of possibilities offered by different software models, including open source models;
– contains provisions for broad-based education and training as well as appropriate public information measures;
– takes into account relevant international developments;
– incorporates mechanisms for ongoing evaluation and evolution.

4. Seek to apply the principles in this Recommendation to other organisations involved in the delivery of public services.

5. Disseminate widely this Recommendation and its appendix, where appropriate accompanied by a translation.

Tasks the Secretariat to include, where appropriate, e-governance aspects into, inter alia, the Council of Europe’s democracy projects and into the work of its field offices.

Decides to reconsider the issue of e-governance two years after the adoption of this Recommendation.

Appendix to Recommendation Rec(2004)15

The purpose of this Recommendation is to assist member states in developing strategies for e-governance that make effective use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the relationships between public authorities and civil society, as well as those between public authorities, and in the functioning of public authorities in the framework of democratic processes and the provision of public services.

In this Recommendation, ‘users’ refers to individuals or any organisation, including the private sector and public authorities, using or wishing to use e-governance services.

I. E-democracy

1. The use of ICT in the democratic processes should be made available where it is considered that this would be an effective means of:

– strengthening the participation, initiative and engagement of citizens in national, regional and local public life;

– improving the transparency of the democratic decision-making process and the accountability of democratic institutions;

– improving the responsiveness of public authorities;

– fostering public debate and scrutiny of the decision-making process.

2. ICT should be used to improve access to and communication with officials and elected representatives and to enhance communication within and between public authorities at all levels.

3. E-enabled ways of voting in elections and referendums, at all levels of government, in addition to traditional non-electronic voting channels, should be considered, in conformity with Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation Rec(2004)11.

4. Citizens’ trust, motivation and capacity to participate in e-enabled democratic processes should be enhanced through appropriate information, assistance and educational activities at all levels, and within the framework of education for democratic citizenship. The media should be encouraged to play an active and independent role in raising public awareness and promoting democratic participation.

II. Public e-services

5. The use of ICT in the provision of public services should be made available where it is considered that this would be an effective means of:

– improving the overall accessibility, inclusiveness and usability of public services;

– strengthening public services’ responsiveness to user needs;

– ensuring equality in public service provision as a means to fostering social cohesion.

6. When public authorities provide public information and services through ICT,

– it should be clear what information and services are available and how and where these can be located;

– the design of e-services should allow users to tailor them according to their needs;

– it should be ensured that information is correct, authentic and up-to-date, and that services are secure;

– the information and services should be as easy to understand as possible in terms of content, context and presentation;

– the interface of services and the presentation of information by different public authorities should be harmonised;

– consistency in service quality and a seamless service across multiple service areas and modes of access, whether via traditional channels or via ICT, should be ensured;

– competent advice for users of e-services, tailored to different user characteristics, should be provided.

III. E-governance strategies

Key characteristics of e-governance strategies

7. ICT should be used in democratic processes and public-service provision alongside other channels (multi-channel access).

8. E-governance services should be made available via a range of ICT channels, where practicable and cost-effective, provided that they ensure ease of use, as well as better quality, availability and accessibility of information and services.

9. The provision of e-governance services should seek to bridge the digital divide by adapting technologies in order to make them accessible to all user groups, regardless of any individual, social or cultural characteristic or geographical location.

10. Measures should be taken so that persons with disabilities do not have extra costs when using e-governance services. Awareness-raising activities for product and service providers about the requirements of persons with disabilities should be undertaken.

11. E-governance strategies should include consideration of possible legal provisions, especially in fields such as access to information, identification and authentication, and the legal validity of e-transactions.

12. E-governance strategies should include measures to reduce the administrative and regulatory burden for users, in particular for the public and for public administration. Measures which allow users to monitor the progress of administrative procedures in which they are involved could also be included.

13. E-governance strategies should provide a framework for the efficient allocation and use of technological, financial and human resources to the development of e-governance services and relevant ICT infrastructure. Short-, medium- and long-term costs of implementation should be regularly assessed.

14. E-governance strategies should encourage piloting and prototype testing, and sponsorship of leading-edge e-governance programmes and projects whose results should be shared.

15. E-governance strategies should promote the dissemination of good practice and research within and across borders.

Guiding principles for implementation

16. The development and implementation of e-governance services should include an analysis – and where appropriate a redesign of – service delivery and administrative processes.

17. Risks associated with the use of ICT in democratic processes and the provision of public services, in particular those related to unauthorised usage or modification, should be regularly assessed, and risk prevention and management strategies should be implemented. Users should be clearly informed of such risks and of measures taken to reduce them.

18. In order to safeguard people’s right to privacy, all processing of personal data, in particular when designing user-tailored services and applying user segmentation, should take place in conformity with the requirements of the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (ETS No. 108). All necessary information should be provided to ensure the proper participation of the users and the full exercise of their rights.

19. E-governance strategies should include a quality-management system aimed at improving public
e-services, continually increasing user satisfaction, and managing possible malfunctioning.

20. E-governance strategies should include promotion campaigns for e-governance programmes and projects, using a variety of on-line and off-line channels.

21. The methods of authentication used in e-governance applications should correspond to the required degree of confidentiality and security.

22. Appropriate infrastructure should be built to ensure that privacy, confidentiality and reliability of personal data are secured at all times.

Enabling conditions for e-governance strategies

23. E-literacy among all groups of the public should be developed within the framework of life-long learning. Media should be encouraged to play an important role in promoting e-literacy.

24. Officials and elected representatives should be provided with training on relevant aspects of the use, management and delivery of e-governance services.

25. Affordable public access points to e-governance services should be provided.

26. The creation of a nationally recognised body for, or the tasking of existing bodies with, e-governance issues, should be considered.
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