The principle of “leaving no one behind” has emerged as a core principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This commitment aims to end extreme poverty and to act explicitly to ensure that those who have been left behind can reach those who have experienced greater progress.
Leaving no one behind in the evolving hybrid digital society is challenging for both developed and developing countries. In an era of hybrid digital societies, the new face of inequality is digital, and the digital divide is now characterized by a higher degree of complexity. Indeed, despite the remarkable progress achieved in e-government development over the past two decades, specific population segments have not been able to take full advantage of the advances made.
In the context of e-government, a vulnerable or disadvantaged person can be defined as one unable to access online information or e-services. These categories of people are identified as “digital poor”: they are the ones who are left behind because they possess certain inherent or perceived characteristics that effectively prevent them from accessing the digital opportunities enjoyed by others. Public institutions can play a crucial role in identifying those who are marginalized or disadvantaged and in ensuring that policies, funding, and resources are directed toward addressing any gaps identified.
The first issue regards gender inequality. In 2020, global averages for Internet use were 62% for all men and 57% for all women, and this gap is evident across all sectoral services, with several research studies concluding that women are 30% to 50% less likely than men to use the Internet to participate in public life.
Another disadvantaged category is people with disabilities. 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability, with many living in developing countries. In many countries, essential services for persons with disabilities are poor or unavailable. These people face exclusion at multiple levels since they deal with negative attitudes, stigma, and discrimination. Data show that, on average, poverty rates are 15 percentage points higher for persons with disabilities than for those without. Only 49.2% of the countries allow eligible persons to apply online for disability compensation benefits.
E-government can also play a central role in engaging young people as a marginalized category. Around 267 million youths are not in education, employment, or training. Given these statistics, the provision of e-services, such as providing equitable access to inclusive and equitable education, can allow young people to play an active role in society. In the same way, acknowledging the limited participation of youth in policymaking, several government administrations have been drafting and adopting targeted policies and institutional reforms, such as the adoption of relevant legislations or the creation of a national youth congresses.
To ensure that vulnerable populations are not left behind and to address evolving needs within the new hybrid digital society, governments should rethink, revise or even revolutionize how they provide services and interact with the public. Strategies centered around data, design, and delivery are not new, but they have not been used widely by governments in an integrated framework. Firstly, reliable data are essential for policy development and critical for ensuring that no one is left behind. Many countries do not have sufficient data to assess the e-government status of vulnerable groups or identify critical gaps. Secondly, the design of e-services in an inclusive way is another crucial action for leaving no one behind. Public institutions should proactively reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable to engage them in shaping e-government policies and designing e-services that respond to their needs. Finally, in developing and delivering e-services for vulnerable groups, public authorities should be guided by the need for effectiveness, inclusiveness, and accountability.
In conclusion, while all countries have expressed support for the 2030 Agenda and have pledged to leave no one behind, several questions remain about how to take action in contexts in which information is limited. Even though digital government has enjoyed political popularity, it still fails to fulfill its full potential, as many people are still left behind. “Leaving no one behind” has to be adopted as the guiding principle for better e-government development.