D5 – The Start of a Global Digital Network? by Dr Clare Sullivan

the D5

The United Kingdom hosted the first summit of a new network called D5 in London from 9-10 December 2014. The purpose of D5 is to identify ways to improve digital services, to exchange experiences and ideas and to collaborate on common projects. The five founding members are United Kingdom, South Korea, Estonia, Israel and New Zealand. It is the start of a network of countries which will hopefully grow over time.D5 will meet once a year with a rolling host nation chairing the meeting.

At the inaugural 2014 summit, each country shared their experience and expertise and discussed how digital government can and should evolve. The goal is to harness the global power of digital technology and help each participating country to become a better digital government faster and more efficiently through sharing and learning. As the UK explains:“[B]eing one of the D5 countries means we can share knowledge and expertise with other digitally advanced governments. We will keep pace with the rapid technical advances all around the world to continue improving our services for UK citizens.”

During the summit, the 5 founding countries signed the D5 Charter. It is a charter of cooperation and is not legally binding. The Charter which is effective for the next 5 years, specifies:

  • principles of digital development that each government of the country commits to working towards, acknowledging that they will not be able to meet all of the criteria on joining. The Participants acknowledge that Digital Government is evolving, and will update these principles as work together refines them, and in the light of new challenges and opportunities.
  • the ways that the 5 countries will work together to support each other and help each other to become better digital governments. Each Participant agrees to lead by example and contribute to advancing digital government in other D5 countries by sharing best practices and expertise, on a non-binding, voluntary basis.
  • how the D5 will convene each year

In 2014, the London summit had 3 significant themes: teaching children to code, open markets and connectivity.

The acknowledgement of the need to teach coding in school is a major development.  The London D5 summit discussed how to improve training of teachers and connecting teaching with industry to facilitate change, and how to achieve gender balance and encourage girls into tech. Estonia is the visionary in this area. Estonian primary schools have been teaching children to code since the 1990s but this year, England became the first country in the world to mandate teaching coding to children at primary and secondary schools. The new English computing curriculum emphasizes computer science, particularly how computers work and the basics of programming. It encourages students to design computer programs to address real world problems.

As to the second summit theme, i.e. open markets, the D5 summit considered ‘right sizing’ in government IT contracts and making the procurement process fairer for SMEs. The D5 discussed transitioning from IT projects that rely on large outsourcers to buying in parts of contracts at the best level of aggregation and using agile delivery. This is significant because it means focusing on using cloud services as the foundation for e- government. There is also a renewed focus on building in-house engineering and operations capability which is a major change from outsourcing which has been the norm since the 1990s.

For the third theme i.e. connectivity, again Estonia is currently leading the way. The Internet-based data exchange layer called X-Road enables extensive and cost-effective digital services to be provided by the Estonian government to its citizens. The summit looked to the future to consider the D5 shared vision for future connectivity, the infrastructure necessary for future development, and most significantly, collaborative development of standards. The latter is becoming especially important for the next stage of the technological revolution which includes machine to machine technology, the Internet of Things, 5G, cloud computing and increased cross-border data access.

The first D5 summit is an important development because it is an international acknowledgment of the importance of e-government as the new primary platform for delivery of government information and services to citizens. The major significance of the summit lies in that fact that it formally acknowledges the need for international  collaboration to consider major emerging issues affecting digital government and digital citizenship and to develop common standards and procedures.

However the impact of the first summit is diminished by its current membership. The D5 describes itself as “a group of the world’s most digitally advanced governments.” However, there are many notable absences of jurisdictions fitting that description, including Singapore, India, and Australia, other European countries (as well as the European Union), and Canada and the United States. These jurisdictions have much to add to the dialogue. Wider membership can also facilitate greater exchange of experience and cooperation as well as development and implementation of international standards. It is hoped that other countries and major governing bodies like the EU with join soon and that the 2014 summit will be just the start of what can, and should, become a major international conference.


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