API Management

The API-First Digital government approach, part 1: Trends

API-First Digital government approach

In a three-part blog series, we review the emerging digital government movement around the world. In this first part, we look at the trends of governments going digital. The second part will address the benefit of digital government models. The third and final part will conclude with presenting a three-level model of maturity for the digital government. This blog series is based on the white paper “Better governance, one API at a time.”

What is digital government?

Digital government refers to the use of the internet, mobile and flexible IT architecture to improve and advance government operations and enhance service delivery. It encompasses a greater use of data to inform decision-making, and the use of more automated systems to reduce cost, increase efficiency, and support more sustainable use of resources. It includes digital transformation efforts that combine these new data and services in imaginative ways that allow partners and external stakeholders to create products and services that contribute to creating a just, dynamic, sustainable, and joyful society.

Concrete examples of digital governments are emerging

Following the trend for digital transformation throughout the industry, digital transformation activities are already occurring in most governments and clear trends are now observable, for example:

  • In Australia and Singapore, after the birth of a baby, a birth certificate is registered and the young family is automatically informed by their national, state and local government bodies of early childhood services, healthcare, and new family social services payments available to them.

  • In Estonia, new businesses can register and be up and running within 48 hours, rather than in one month. They receive their business registration and a link to be able to automatically submit their quarterly tax reports directly from their accounting software.

  • In Barcelona and other cities across Europe, city governments use APIs to integrate their neighborhood plans with online consultation platforms. Citizens can add feedback that is shared regularly with district planners and incorporated into neighborhood action plans.

All of these opportunities are made possible by a wave of digital government transformation. Governments are using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) as a way to open up and connect various digital systems. This is helping governments to create new and more dynamic models for citizen interactions and business partnerships.

What are the trends?

These new methodologies and approaches are still in their infancy. Governments are learning fast, however, and sharing their best practices. But it can still be complex for governments to get started with this massive reorientation. What are the main trends in this space of digital government?

Organization of digital government oversight

Globally, there are three ways governments are managing digital transformation. Governments may give digital responsibilities to the central government decision bodyset up a new cross-cutting organization focused on digital government, or incorporate digital government work in existing department action plans. A recent OECD survey shows there is an equal split amongst these three approaches across a wide range of countries surveyed.

Opening data systems

OECD defines two characteristics that are a necessary part of moving towards a data-enabled digital government model. They stress the importance of both opening data by default and creating ongoing mechanisms to engage with stakeholders around data needs. According to recent OECD surveys, over the past three years, the majority of governments globally have moved towards digital government systems that uphold these two principles.

OECD’s findings mirror other studies, such as the Open Data Barometer and the Open Data Index, both of which indicate that open data has rapidly gained traction in more than 70% of UN Countries. Today, most governments provide open data portals. Within the European Union, 25 out of 27 Member States have national Open Data portals. Over 200 portals have been launched by different levels of government across South, East and Southeast Asia. The United States data.gov portal publishes more than 230,000 datasets.

Enabling digital service delivery

In Europe, the Digital Economy and Society Index (measured every two years) calculated that 64% of citizens have used online services to engage and connect with governments, up from around 50% just five years earlier.

In the U.S., a survey by the Center for Digital Government found that 57% of citizens paid taxes online, 39% obtained or renewed a driver’s license vehicle registration, and 13% paid a fine or a fee.

For businesses across Europe, the pace of digital services is even faster, with the majority of European countries scoring highly for the availability of online services for businesses.

Globally, the majority of governments have begun moving towards a greater focus on opening data publicly, and on providing digital services through online and mobile channels.

Encouraging participation and strengthening open governance

There are also early signs showing the level of government partnerships that are emerging to create new digital products and services for citizens and businesses. New approaches to transparency, community feedback, and business engagement are being built with APIs. New products and services are being created that reimagine citizen and business engagement in a digital government era.


To extend these promising trends, a new wave of transformation is required that cultivates API-First approaches. This will enable digital government models to increase and generate even more benefits.

Download the white paper, “Better governance, one API at a time.”