Korea’s Open Government project

Importance of the Case
South Korea’s e-Governance efforts are important in that they represent a case in which a country deliberately and successfully used e-Go

vernment initiatives in order to attain national development objectives. Two such objectives that are important for all developing countries are e-Governance as a means of fighting corruption, and e-Government as a means of increasing productivity. South Korea is also unique in that it mo
ved beyond solely e-Government service provision and incorporated avenues of citizen participation into its web portals. Moreover, the government made sure more citizens could participate by funding training and infrastructure for marginalized populations.
South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, and it therefore seems difficult to assume that other countries can follow its lead. However, the country did not start out with that advantage: e-Governance in South Korea was successful because of the technological advancement of the country, but the reason why South Korea is technologically advanced is because the nation deliberately decided to focus on specializing in computer-based services. In short, Korea was successful because it passed national policies that deliberately used Information and
Communication Technologies (ICTs) as tools to achieve policy goals.

Today, e-Governance in South Korea is so developed that the country even has its own e-Government Publicity Ambassador, Pororo:

The Context

The South Korean government has been exploring with the use of computerized public services since 1967. However, in 1978 its e-Government program really took off as the government realized that automating menial tasks was not enough: what Korea needed was the true “informatization” of government. The “informatization” of government meant that Korea would set out to convert into an information-based society that deliberately used Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a means of furthering their national development.

In particular, the e-Governance objectives outlined by the government were meant to address two development-related problems:
1. Civil servant accountability and performance:
E-government would make civil servants more accountable by improving their communications with citizens and by providing citizens with details of the public sector activities they were supposed to provide.
2. Greater openness and reduced corruption of local government:
Converting local government services to an online format would allow them to be more easily monitored for accountability and tracked for performance. This would be especially useful in Seoul, the capital, where corruption and bribery were endemic in municipal government.

Description of project

South Korean e-Government was therefore from the start driven by government initiative and planning. In fact, the government’s stated goal was to be “the world’s best open e-government.” Its project for achieving this was laid out in two phases.
In the first phase, the government passed regulatory policies that would allow for the successful implementation of e-Government systems. These included legal incentives to develop technology and intellectual property laws such as the Computer Program Protection Act in 1986 and the Software Development Promotion Act in 1987.
It also included regulations that would facilitate the planning and funding of a cohesive system: for example, in 1995 the government formed an Informatization Promotion Fund and a steering committee to form policies about e-Governance. They also formed five national online networks for administration, finance, education & research, defense, and security. Finally, in 1997 the government introduced an evaluation system for e-Government projects that would allow it to monitor the upcoming second phase of its e-Governance development.
In the second phase of the project, government services went digital on a wider scale. In 1998 the official government homepage went online and civil services became available online. These included a government e-procurement system for businesses to apply for public contracts, an online tax filing system and social insurance system for citizens and a personnel hiring and management system for civil servants. In addition, some of the e-Government projects implemented by Korea were specifically designed to address the needs of developing countries. The most important of these development-related civil services are described below:


In order to address the problem of corruption and accountability, the government launched its OPEN system (Online Procedures Enhancement for Civil Applications). This was a web portal that:
· Explains the rules of procedures for permitting and licensing;
· Displays an anti-corruption index for different government service;

· Allows citizens to monitor the progress of an application for a permit in real time.
The OPEN system requires that city officials input the date and time when each application is processed, thereby reducing their ability to elicit bribes and improving their performance by timing them. Because citizens can see the official licensing rules, they are less likely to be convinced to pay bribes. The site also provides contact information for the responsible city department and staff, as well as an email link that citizens can use to ask questions or comments. Finally, the anti-corruption index, based on information gained from comments from citizens, evaluates the improvements caused by the OPEN system. (see The World Bank, "OPEN")

INVIL project

In addition to the OPEN system, South Korea has also adopted an Information Network Village (INVIL) that is designed to promote connections between cities and farming villages, mountain villages and fishing villages. INVIL is deliberately intended to resolve the digital divide and boost local economies. The project distributes high-speed Internet networks and PCs around the country. It also provides support to villages by helping them to build online content such as village homepages, virtual tours and e-commerce sites. Finally INVIL provides ICT education tools for local residents in an effort to make them more capable of profiting from e-Government projects and the Internet in general.

In addition, the government's "master plan for digital opportunity" includes providing free Internet Centers in towns as well as informatics trainings. According to Young-Jin Sin of the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs:

" The government is continuing to install home network systems for 1,300 households in 2004 to 10,000,000 households in
2007. It is giving the informatization training program to over 5,000,000 people. It has plans to supply
low-income and disabled people with high speed network for 140,000 households, Internet network for
100,000 households, and PCs for 470,000 households. In addition, there are plans to operate an e-
Learning, Job Information Center, an informatization training program for the low-income population and
to support IT expert training and starting new enterprises for their living." (Young-Jin, Shin)

These efforts to bridge the digital divide deliberately target vulnerable groups in order to attempt to integrate them into the digital community. The following groups are offered special training sessions:

Source: Young-Jin, Shin

Description of Impact

Feedback from citizens about these projects has been very positive, and there has been a dramatic decrease in reported corruption: Results from a survey of 1,245 citizens showed that 84.3% believed the OPEN system led to greater transparency (see The World Bank, "OPEN"). In addition, the e-government plan is believed to have strengthened public efficiency, improved the quality of services for citizens and accelerated the national economy. As evidence of this, every year the government estimates the amount of money saved by e-Government projects, and these estimates are in the trillions.

In the case of South Korea, e-Governance has therefore helped the country to develop by reducing corruption and improving productivity. In addition, some studies claim that the country’s information projects have helped reduce the nation’s digital divide by providing universal services (Special Committee of e-Government, Republic of Korea. White Paper, January 2003); therefore, it is possible that e-Government is also a successful means of reducing inequality.

Unfortunately, it is extremely hard to actually measure the digital divide, or to determine whether improvements in access and equality were caused by e-Government projects or by other factors. The Special Committee for e-Government of the Republic of Korea has even noted this difficulty. Moreover, even though surveys show that e-Government projects have helped reduce corruption, as Steven Clift notes, “trust can only be measured in the abstract”: in others words, citizens may only feel that corruption has been reduced, and that feeling might be caused by factors other than e-Government (see Clift, Steven). Despite these evaluation problems, overall the e-Government projects in South Korea have been successful.

Why it Worked in South Korea

E-Government worked in South Korea partially because of the country’s advantages and partially because of the way the e-Governance program was implemented.

First, South Korea had certain advantages: unlike most developing countries, Korea has extremely high education and ICT usage rates. In addition, South Korea also has high-tech infrastructure, including the second fastest Internet in the world. It is unclear to what extent these statistics were ameliorated by e-Governance projects, and to what extent e-Governance projects were made possible by these favorable conditions.

But South Korea also implemented its e-Governance program in a way that other countries could imitate. In particular, the project was successful because,
· It had the active support of the President, the National Assembly, municipal mayors and the private sector: these stakeholders all collaborated by providing resources and passing supportive legislation.
· The e-Governance initiative was not technology-driven: the focus was on achieving the goals set by the public sector (such as reduced corruption and improved efficiency). Technology was simply an enabler.
· The project was extremely well-planned: for example, in 1999 a government team analyzed the government’s licensing procedure, determined exactly which applications were plagued by the most corruption, and designed how these applications could be put on the Web. In addition, the government spent almost two decades passing necessary legal regulations before implementing its e-Government programs.
· Wide participation was achieved because the program involved efforts to train civil servants and citizens to use e-Government programs. In particular, the government targeted vulnerable populations including rural citizens and older people

· Wider participation was also achieved because the program deliberately attempted to reduce the digital divide through these trainings as well as with projects like INVIL.


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