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Closing the digital divide; Rich countries are doing better

Arturo Herrera Gutierrez,Global Director for Governance Global Practice in the Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions Practice Group (EFI) Vice Presidency

We have seen in the last few years positive signals about closing the digital divide but the latest GovTech Maturity Index (GTMI) shows that digital inequality in the world is on the rise. GTMI comes at a time when demands on governments are increasing rapidly; countries are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns around food and energy prices, peace, stability, and climate change are growing. Debt levels are increasing, and fiscal resources are stretched. 

As governments rise to meet these challenges, there is more awareness about the potential of digital transformation to make public sectors more efficient, transparent, more responsive to citizens, and resilient.  However, digital transformation is neither a stationary goal nor a straightforward process. GTMI—launched by the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice in 2020 and updated this year—is aimed at helping governments to make the transformation by addressing the following questions:

  1. What to prioritize and what policy approaches to adopt?
  2. Which drivers, core enablers, and building blocks need to be put in place?
  3. How to secure coherent and sustainable digitalization of public sectors?

The nature of the digital divide is complex and debatable, and its measurement based on relevant indicators is not a trivial task. Therefore, the World Bank created a systematic way to measure it through an index based on objective information. The 2022 GTMI data collected from 135 economies using 48 indicators provides a snapshot of the progress and gaps in public sector digital transformation and informs policy decisions. 

Here are the important findings captured by the 2022 GTMI update:

  • Progress amidst a widening digital divide. The global average GTMI value has risen because of the substantial improvements in core government systems, shared digital infrastructure, service delivery platforms, and implementation of most of the GovTech enablers among high performing countries (about 60% of 198 economies). However, there is little improvement in the same areas in the remaining countries due to lack of policies and resources.
  • There is an overall increase in the number of economies that improved their GovTech maturity in various groups. In 2022, 136 economies out of 198 (69 percent) remain in their GTMI group compared to 2020, whereas 52 economies (26 percent) moved up one level and 10 economies (5 percent) moved down one level.
  • Persisting regional disparities. Economies in Europe and Central Asia (ECA), South Asia (SAR), Middle East and North Africa (MNA), and Latin American and the Caribbean (LCR) regions generally registered higher GTMI scores while those in the Africa (AFR), followed by the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) regions, recorded the lowest scores.
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Note: AFR = Africa Region; EAP = East Asia and Pacific Region; ECA = Europe and Central Asia Region; LCR = Latin America and the Caribbean Region; MNA = Middle East and North Africa Region; NAM = North America; SAR = South Asia Region
  • GovTech maturity is higher among higher-income countries. High-income and upper middle-income economies dominated, at 58 percent and 26 percent respectively, whereas only 16 percent of both lower middle and low-income economies were represented.  Conversely, about 40 percent of lowest performing came from low-income economies. The correlation of income and GovTech maturity implies that earmarking adequate finances for GovTech activities is essential for public sector digital transformation.
  • Room to improve on Digital Citizen Engagement. Although online public services recorded the highest average score, digital citizen participation and feedback scored lowest. This indicates that economies tend to focus more on public service delivery.
  • Eighty-six percent of FCV countries are in the bottom half in terms of GovTech maturity. This is not surprising and confirms the need to create specific solutions for low-tech environments.

For us at the Bank, launching the 2022 GTMI update represents an opportunity to renew our efforts in supporting public sector digital transformation across our client countries.  Please click on these links to explore the updated GovTech Dataset , GTMI Data Dashboard, and GovTech Projects Database.

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