On Thursday 3 March, the ISA² program was launched via a big conference in Brussels. The day thereafter, on Friday 4 March, a fourth workshop on the preparation of a new eGovernment plan was organized. Although no concrete information, neither on the ISA² work program, nor on the new eGovernment was given during these events, there certainly was a lot of interest and sympathy for these Commission initiatives. Both initiatives (ISA² and a new eGovernment plan) were framed within the context of the Digital Single Market – in much the same way as their predecessors have been framed within the context of the Digital Agenda for Europe.
The presentations and the recordings made during the ISA² conference can be found here. While, 5 to 10 years ago, it was extremely difficult to explain to politicians the importance of interoperability, it was heart warming to have during the event not one, but two commissioners stressing the need for interoperability, supported by not one, but two members of the European Parliament. The once-only principle, the use of standards to achieve interoperability and need for common platforms to ensure interoperability were highlighted by different speakers. Also, various speakers stressed the need to extend the scope of the program beyond national administrations to regional and local administrations and to business and citizens – although it remains unclear how a program executed solely by the Commission will do so and although no representatives of these new target communities were offered an opportunity to speak at the conference. It has been done before: after IDA there was IDABC (with “BC” standing for Businesses and Citizens) but, as there is no or very little direct interaction between the Commission services and regional or local authorities, businesses and citizens there is very little interoperability needed here. The best the Commission can do here is to support their partners in the Member States with promoting the concepts of interoperability, open standards and sharing and re-use, for example via community building initiatives such as Joinup, OSOR and Semic.
As said, the conference did not provide any insight in what actions will be implemented under the ISA² program. The day before, the ISA² committee (representatives of the Member States, advising the Commission) gave a favorable opinion on the draft work program for 2016, although the lack of focus (the work program seems to be a 400+ pages document) was criticized. But apparently, the work program will not be public before the Commission has taken a final decision on it.
Vassilios. Peristeras, a member of the ISA² team, gave a short presentation on the revision of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). The Commission hopes to open soon a 12 weeks public consultation period on this revision. The rational of the revision lies in the new political context, new trends in IT such as clouds and big data, the need for a closer link with the European Interoperability Reference Architecture (EIRA) and the European Interoperability Cartography (EIC – a list of available interoperability building blocks and solutions) and more emphasis on implementation. No clarity yet if (parts of) the revised EIF will become mandatory.
Maybe the most interesting moment during the Commission was the moment that Commissioner Ansip took out his GSM, stating that banks have solved the problem of eIdentity and eAuthentication some time ago – so why is it so difficult for public administrations to do the same? He also challenged the Commission services to lead by example, complaining about the lack of good e-services for Commission staff and people that regularly need to deal with the Commission services.
The workshop on the preparation of a new eGovernment plan was the fourth and last in a series of workshops around this preparation. More than 100 representatives from Member States, industry and civil society, listened to preliminary results on two studies on open government. It was interesting to hear that two studies, contracted to the same company, both started with their own definition of open government and their own list of examples. We can only hope that the emphasis on open government (the topic also figured on the agenda of one of the previous workshops) will also be present in the actual plan that the Commission is preparing.
There was also a presentation of the results of the public consultation on a possible new eGovernment plan . This public consultation resulted in a limited number of contributions (about 1 for every 1.5 million citizens) but showed support for the policy issues and key enablers suggested by the Commission.
In the afternoon, a number of representatives of industry and civil society were given the opportunity to express their view. Representatives of the industry, the cities, the border regions in Europe, the worker unions, the youth and … OpenForum Europe expressed their support for the initiative of the Commission, each stressing tthe importance of high quality eGovernment services. As a representative of OpenForum Europe, I stressed the need for openness: open standards, an open process to propose and implement actions, dialogue with civil society and an invitation to industry to join forces with public administrations.
Conclusion: the Commission succeeded to attract large audiences to the event but was not able or not willing to share with these audiences their concrete plans. A missed opportunity for real dialogue with stakeholders?