We’ve discussed some of the challenges of central government in terms of ICT, for example, how cloud is changing the mechanics of government. Another article mentioned the view of Peter Madden, chief executive of Future Cities Catapult, that cities do not necessarily have the staff with the skills to use the data that they collect. We were therefore interested to find that one country, Romania, has identified the problem of the shortage of ICT skills among public sector staff, and used the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) programme to equip its staff with the necessary skills and expertise to enable wider public sector reform and huge improvements in productivity and delivery of services.
What is ECDL?
The ECDL is a certification programme run by the ECDL Foundation. The Foundation exists “to enable proficient use of ICT that empowers individuals, organisations and society, through the development, promotion, and delivery of quality certification programmes throughout the world”. The European Computer Driving Licence programme, and its international counterpart, the International Computer Driving Licence, have been delivered to more than 13 million people in 41 different languages, in 150 countries around the world, and from several hundred thousand test centres. The Foundation appoints a national operator in each country, to run local programmes under defined quality assurance standards.
The Romanian government embarked on a large-scale public sector reform programme in 2007, and found that civil service ICT skills had some serious deficiencies. The ECDL was identified as a key part of the reform programme, as it could be delivered on a widespread basis, and was already designed to be adaptable and accessible. Its achievement was also easily measurable, with ECDL certification becoming a key performance indicator in the reform strategy from 2009.
The particular problems identified among civil servants included:
- Inefficient use of computers and ICT software;
- Low levels of administrative efficiency and productivity;
- High costs because of over-reliance on telephones, in the absence of suitable IT alternatives;
- Low quality and slow provision of services to citizens, because suitable solutions were not available or usable by the staff in post; and
- A low degree of motivation among staff to use technology, because of their poor ICT skills.
The Romanian civil service appears to have embraced the ECDL programme with enthusiasm. Over 12,000 staff enrolled, with more than 98% completing their certification. A formal evaluation with over 400 participants showed that the programme had been very successful in developing ICT skills, with particular praise given to implementation methods.
The specific results of the programme included:
- High levels of user satisfaction: the staff enjoyed the programme, and felt that they were learning useful skills which would support them in their jobs.
- Participants grew quicker at creating documents and databases, and so were able to spend more time on work that really made a difference, rather than administration.
- This, perhaps inevitably, led to much greater efficiency in managing tasks.
- Civil servants gained in motivation and self-confidence as they saw their skills develop.
- There was improved communication between civil servants and public, as the civil servants became more adept and also more confident in using different means of communication.
As a result of all these factors, there was an increase in the quality of work.
The Romanian government felt that the implementation of the ECDL programme had been a pre-requisite to further public sector reform. Without the necessary level of skills among civil servants, they could not have gone any further, because they could not have delivered other reforms. The technical skills required to support further reform just would not have been available. ECDL certification had several benefits. First of all, it provided a target for employees, giving them motivation to continue with skills development. It ensured that the quality of the programme was guaranteed, and allowed for clear measures of success in implementation. It also allowed an easy way to calculate return on investment, since it guaranteed that employees had reached a certain level of skill for a particular cost.
The use of a proven international standard such as the ECDL meant that the results were generalizable and repeatable elsewhere. Other central governments might well learn from Romania’s experience and consider similar programmes to support the development of their staff. With budgets becoming ever tighter, it is essential that public sector programmes can be delivered as efficiently as possible, and that means with best use of ICT.