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How Understandable and Accessible are Asian Government Websites?

December 21, 2016 | Connected Society | East Asia and Pacific | South Asia | Alex Smith

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote a blog post questioning whether governments were doing a good job providing understandable and accessible content for the ‘mobile first’ continent. The growth in Internet access in recent years has unlocked the potential to improve the relationship between governments, citizens and businesses. Sadly, only a minority of African governments are providing websites that are fit for purpose. Only one third of governments have websites that are ‘mobile friendly’ and available in all of the country’s official languages. 3 of Africa’s 54 countries had no government website at all.

Given that we also extensively work in Asia, we wanted to understand how well governments were performing there, so we ran the same analysis.

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1. Do all Asian governments have a website?

In Asia two governments did not have a functioning website: Cambodia and North Korea1. Given the nature of the political system in the latter, it wasn’t particularly surprising that they lacked an online presence. The former was more surprising. Although the Cambodian Government do have a website for foreigners looking to purchase an eVisa, as of December 2016, the main government website was down.

2. Do governments fulfil a minimum requirement of translating their website into all the official languages of state?

Largely Asian Governments perform well here. Only 4 developing Asian countries fail to provide a website that is not in all of the country’s official languages: Bhutan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan2. In the latter two this does not present a massive issue in that the website is available in languages that cover the vast majority of the population (Tajik, Arabic and Russian and Turkmen respectively). In Bhutan, the Government website is only in English and not in the country’s other (more widely spoken) official language, Dzongkha (or related languages).

Of the above countries, the biggest issue is in Pakistan. Here, the Government have made a commendable number of services available through their eGov portal. By brining services like passport applications onto the internet, they have made the lives of citizens easier and made the process more efficient, saving money in the process. However, at present these sites are only in English, a minority language in Pakistan. By translating websites into other languages such as Urdu, Pashto and Punjabi they can ensure that the benefits of bringing these services online are more widely distributed than at present.

3. Given that the majority of people are now accessing the internet through mobile devices, are these websites ‘mobile friendly’, therefore ensuring they don’t have a terrible user experience?

As might be expected, there is a divide between the more and less developed Asian countries in terms of the quality (and mobile friendliness) of their websites. Of Asia’s developed nations, only Cyprus and Brunei fail Google’s mobile friendly test, with the majority offering high quality sites. By contrast, only 36% of developing Asian countries have ‘mobile friendly’ websites. This is lower than Africa, where the figure is 43%.

Given that almost half of the continent is now a mobile internet subscriber and 62% of internet traffic is from mobile devices, this represents a missed opportunity to design services that meet even the most basic needs of users3. Some governments have recognised the importance of mobile. In India, the Government has laid down an explicit commitment that “web sites of all Government Departments and Agencies shall be made mobile compliant” and that “all Government Departments and Agencies shall develop and deploy mobile applications for providing all their public services through mobile devices.” This kind of commitment is welcome, and is one we urge all governments in Asia to make4.

Ultimately, Asian governments need bring information and services online, in order to bring about more efficient and inclusive states. We know this is something that matters to citizens: according to the UN’s 2015 “My World” survey, an “honest and responsive government” was voted as the fourth highest priority right after education, good healthcare and jobs5. Some governments are already doing this. In Kazakhstan, there are more than 3.7 million users registered on the eGovernment portal, receiving nearly 40 million different electronic services a year6. While it will take time for all Asian governments to reach this level, as a first step it is crucial that they make sure their offerings are ‘mobile friendly’ and in languages that their citizens understand.

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1. Note that for the purposes of our analysis we didn’t count websites focussed at foreign investors or tourists. We were interested in understanding how well governments were doing at making information available to their citizens.
2. Of the developed countries, only Cyprus and Singapore fail this requirement. However, practically all Cypriots speak Greek and of Singaporeans speak English making this less of an issue.
3. GSMA Intelligence and Stat Counter
4. Government of India, Framework for Mobile Governance, 2012
5. United Nations, My World Survey, 2015
6. World Bank Blog, Open Data for Business in Kazakhstan, August 2015

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