mGovernment can be applied to four main purposes in the public sector, as summarised below.

i. mCommunication: Improving communication between government and citizens (G2C, C2G)

Providing information to the public is not a trivial activity. It is the foundation of citizen empowerment. Without relevant information citizens are unable to form intelligent opinions and, thereby, are unable to act on the issues before them meaningfully. Information is also needed not only to promote transparency but also accountability.

Mobile devices provide an important access channel for governments to reach citizens (G2C). For example, Singaporeans can choose to receive SMS alerts for a variety of e-services such as: renewal of road tax, medical examinations for domestic workers, passport renewal notifications, season parking reminders, and parliament notices and alerts. Citizens of Malta can register to receive SMS notifications of court sitting/hearing deferrals, license-renewal, exam results, and direct credit payments from the Department of Social Security. In the UK, the London police have included text messaging in their alerting service options. This service sends alerts to businesses in London about security threats, including bomb alerts. The 24-hour service contacts all users in real time with a message that is sent within 30 seconds of the alert being received by the police. Despite a monthly fee for the pager/text message service and the existence of a free email service there are more businesses who signed up for the pager/text message alerts (1,121 firms in total) than for the email alert system (589 firms). Such figures indicate the popularity of m-government services.

Aside from these opt-in G2C communications via mobile phones, SMS is also being used in emergency broadcasting. At the height of the SARS incident, the Hong Kong government sent a blanket text message to 6m mobile phones in a bid to scotch fears emanating from rumours about intended government action to stem the disease.

SMS is also a channel for citizens to communicate with government (C2G). In the Philippines, half of cabinet agencies have SMS-based services that allow citizens to ask for information or to comment and complain about government officials and services. In China, the 150 million mobile phone owners can now send SMS to the 2,987 deputies of the National People's Congress.

ii. mServices: mTransactions and mPayments

SMS and other mobile devices not only provide a channel of communication between citizens and government, they also enable government-to-citizen transactions.

The Karnataka state government in India has computerised land records. The only problem is that the servers storing these records are in district headquarters and are not easily accessible to villages that, while perhaps only 70 kms away, are without phone lines. Enter DakNet, a "store and forward wireless broadband network" that uses a Mobile Access Point (MAP) mounted on a regular passenger bus to transmit information between village and district headquarters. A villager can request information about their land records (or other services) through a PC in a WiFi-enabled village kiosk (WiFi stands for 'wireless fidelity': a radio-based protocol for transmitting information). The request will be stored in the computer until a bus with an MAP passes and collects the information wirelessly. The information will then be transferred to the district headquarters when the bus is within range of the WiFi-enabled systems based at headquarters. The villager gets their response when the bus 'delivers' the information back to the PC in the village kiosk. This can include delivery of land record and related service transactions.

The Singapore government has drafted SMS into the service its goal of increasing population. Its Social Development Unit acts as an official dating agency for educated single people. It gives members 40 free messages over their mobile phones to allow them to contact eligible professionals. Singapore's National Library Board has also introduced an SMS service that allows regular users to query the status of their accounts and books borrowed, and receive reminders before the due date of their book loans. They can also undertake transactions such as making book renewals or paying fines using their mobile phones. The service costs each user $5 per year.

Other examples of the potential for the technology can be taken from industrialised countries:

While the use of m-payment in e-Government is still limited, it is expected that - as mobile payments systems evolve from simple payments for digital content and services to complex integrated handset, bank and operator payments - its use for transacting business with government will grow. Wireless World Forum has predicted that by 2006 there will be more than 200 million regular mobile payment users spending a total of 47.2 billion euros worldwide.

iii. mDemocracy

mVoting and the use of SMS and mobile devices for citizen input to political decision-making is an m-government application with tremendous potential to enhance democratic participation. At present, there are no significant experiments with m-democracy in developing/transitional countries, so evidence here is taken from experiences in the UK. Most of the UK experiments with electronic voting, including voting via mobile phones, are meant to discover more convenient ways to involve citizens in political decision-making.

Several concerns would have to be attended to before voting over mobile phones gains widespread acceptance. Questions of security and secrecy are top of the list. With the traditional voting method it is sufficient to present oneself at the polling (voting) station. An m-voting system has to ensure that the message sender is a registered voter, and that no-one abuses the system to vote more than once or vote in place of another person. Voters in Liverpool and Sheffield in May 2002 local elections were given PIN numbers to use if they want to vote by text message.

Another issue is to make the system as user-friendly as possible. If PINs are used, chances are many would forget their PINs if they are too long. Then there is the problem of using a phone keypad to key in parties or candidate names. Finally, the voting procedure itself must allow voters at any stage to repeat the instructions and choices. In addition, the capacity of the system would need to be sufficient to deal with peak periods because congested telephone lines are as frustrating as long lines in the polling stations.

However, these are 'technical' issues that may not be as difficult to overcome as voters' willingness to use mobile phones and SMS to vote. Recent studies in Scotland and Wales have shown a general interest - of 40-50% of those surveyed - in electronic forms of voting, including m-voting. However, another recent UK study ("Public Attitudes Toward the Implementation of Electronic Voting") finds, alongside this overall willingness to vote electronically and an interest in m-voting, that many citizens appear unwilling to use voting via text message as an electronic voting method.

According to the study, "Older respondents felt it was not an appropriate method for older voters as they did not know how to send text messages". Interestingly, the study also stated that "Younger respondents, and those that used text messaging, felt that this method would offer an easy option to vote, but few would be willing to use this method". Why reject an "easy option to vote" when the same respondents believe that the key benefits of electronic voting were convenience, speed and ease? The answer is that SMS "was perceived as too frivolous to be used in order to vote. Text messaging was perceived to be a 'fun' tool of communication, not suited to voting". Attitudes towards technology seem to be the key in determining UK citizens' willingness to use electronic methods to vote.

These findings may well have wider implications for all uses of m-government, and they chime with the problems in the Philippines of widespread fake/joke messages being sent on m-government systems. They also suggest that m-voting systems - if introduced - most be seen as one among a number of voting channels that are offered including voting by post, via the Internet, and by fixed phone.

iv. mAdministration: Improving Internal Public Sector Operations

mGovernment also provides opportunities to improve the internal operation of public agencies. Again, there are few instances of such applications yet in developing/transitional economies.

Instead, we will take the case of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. Their challenge is to effectively and efficiently use their 61 vehicles engaged in insecticide control to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in over a million acres of coastal marshland. They are now using a wireless fleet management solution that monitors the locations, heading, speed and insecticide applications of all their vehicles in real time. The information wirelessly provided by their vehicles is displayed on a digital map screen at district headquarters in Key West. The digital map monitors what each vehicle is doing, where it is spraying (or dropping) chemicals, and the vehicle rates of speed. This allows supervisory staff at headquarters to monitor vehicle progress and instruct personnel as necessary. The systems also allows them to generate reports both in real time and on a historical basis (for example to demonstrate spraying activity over a period of time or to calculate cost analysis information).

Another potential for wireless technology is that it can provide a seamless environment for government employees to stay connected from any device. Up-to-date government-to-employee (G2E) information and services can be provided at any time, whether the data they need is on the Internet, on their network, or on a portable device under their control.

Page Author: Emmanuel Lallana. Last updated on 19 October, 2008.
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