Building world-beating e-government in South Korea
In 2001, South Korea passed the Promotion of Digitalisation of Administrative Work for E-Government Realisation Act. It gave legislative force to a number of initiatives “in order to improve the productivity, transparency, and social equality of administrative institutions”. South Korea's overall goal was to be the world's best e-government. To achieve that, it planned to develop “integrated portals and integrated communication centres to encourage people's participation. E-government will provide a universal service for citizens, reducing digital divides and digital obstacles”. 
It also sought to achieve a greater transparency and efficiency in carrying out administrative tasks and to increase freedom of information and encourage e-participation while protecting individual freedoms and privacy.
Since the 1960s, South Korea has been at the forefront of the use of science and technology in government. In 1967 it established a committee to coordinate ‘the development of computerised organisation' with the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). For the next 30 years it continued to push forward with initiatives such as the National Master Plan (1996-1998) and Cyber Korea 21.
At the turn of the century, the government saw an opportunity to take these initiatives to a more sophisticated level. New developments in technology, particularly the widespread use of the internet, made the innovations of e-government a reality.
The public impact
As the e-government plan has progressed, public efficiency has improved, and the administrative services have become more efficient.
South Korea was ranked 15th in the UN's 2002 e-government readiness index and 5th in 2005. In the latest UN e-government survey to be published, it was stated that: “the Republic of Korea has retained the top spot in 2014 with its continued leadership and focus on e-government innovation”.  It was given the highest possible scores in the Online Service Index and the e- Participation Index.
Stakeholders have been heavily engaged in the process of e-government. The main stakeholder is MOST. There are various other organisations that have been involved:
- The National Information Society Agency, which was set up under 1987 IT legislation.
- The Economic Planning Board (EPB) - whose functions are now carried out by the Ministry of Finance and Economy - performed the office automation for statistical analysis.
- “The national financial information system integrated financial management information.
- The electronic personnel management system handled all personnel management.
- The integrated local government system for cities, counties, and districts simplified and handled 21 key services including resident registration, automobile registration, and family registration.
- The nationwide education information system increased the efficiency of online school administration and e-courses.”
The other main stakeholders are the Korean citizens and the private sector.
The South Korean government took the initiative in implementing the strategies for governance in different phases, evidence of the stability of the initiative even though the leadership has changed. It has constructed ICT infrastructure and systems with national master plans, including:
- The Korea information infrastructure project (1995-present).
- The National master plan of ‘informatisation promotion' (1996-2000).
- Eleven e-government initiatives (2001-2002)
- The e-government roadmap (2003-2007).
There has been a strong evidence of stability since the Kim Dae Jung administration (1998-2002) enacted the 2001 e-government legislation.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the South Korean public were not allowed to express their views about the government policies. Although in 2001 the situation had progressed (the country came 39th in the 2002 World Press Freedom Index), “there is growing evidence that freedom of expression in South Korea has lagged behind ... and that it has deteriorated since 2008”.  South Korea stands at 70th place in the 2016 index.
It is therefore hard to assess the degree of public confidence in the government and in its e-government initiatives.
Clarity of objectives
South Korea's e-government objectives have been consistent over a long period of time and have been maintained throughout that period. There have been small changes in strategy, but the focus has remained the same. Also the fact that these initial objectives were measurable reinforces the clarity. These objectives included:
- To increase online public services to 85%.
- To rise into the top rankings for e-government
- To reduce visits for civil service applicants to three visits per year.
- To raise the utilisation rate of e-government programmes to 60%.
Strength of evidenceThere are many similar initiatives being implemented around the world (in Canada, Mexico and Brazil, for example), but there is no evidence that policymakers drew the evidence from them.
South Korea developed the national e-government mechanism to deliver information and services for customer-oriented public service. To enhance the public service and public productivity with the stakeholders, they introduced the following electronically networked relationships:
- Government-to-government (G2G) shares information among inter-government and agencies for e-government policy and projects.
- Government-to-business (G2B) provides better public services for industry and companies. There is, for example, a “single-window e-procurement system” (http://www.g2b.go.kr) for transparent and convenient procurement service and single registration procurement.
- Government-to-citizens (G2C) provides services requested from citizens and concerning how to modify the role and scope of government.
The e-government initiative is managed by the following organisational hierarchy:
- Three committees (Informatisation Promotion Committee, Government Reform Committee and the Cabinet Council) which report directly to the President.
- The technical and project support team reports to the Government Reform Committee.
- The Government Reform Committee plays a role of control and evaluation team by managing other departments, local government and public offices.
There are various parameters which were used to measure and monitor the impact of the e-government initiatives based on the type of objectives:
- Civil service goals - increase in online work processing, business support competitiveness, number of visits to district offices, e-government usage rate.
- Administrative democracy goals -- e-participation rate (via opinion polls), openness of administrative information, privacy protection.
- Administrative efficiency goals - e.g., digitisation of documents.
The Informatisation Promotion Committee, reporting directly to the president, is apparently responsible for monitoring the impacts of each division, including the Government Reform Committee.
AlignmentThere has been good alignment between the government and the other stakeholders via the G2B, G2C and G2G initiatives, which forms a ‘closed loop communication network’ to ensure that progress is being made. MOST works collaboratively towards the formation of e-governance shows that the actors cooperated effectively.
The Public Impact Fundamentals - A framework for successful policy
This case study has been assessed using the Public Impact Fundamentals, a simple framework and practical too to help you assess your public policies and ensure the three fundamentals - Legitimacy, Policay and Action are embedded in them.
Learn more about the Fundamentals and how you can use them to access your own policies and initiatives.