Why are e-administrative services under-utilised in France?

Executive summary

In a context marked by the political will to optimise resources and to modernise the French administration, electronic administrative services have been developed. If the offer of e-administrative services is now extensive, studies show that France could be performing better in terms of utilisation of these services. Studying the factors working against the use of e-administrative services by citizens teaches us how to better adapt them and enhance utilisation.

After reviewing the existing literature on the utilisation of French e-administrative services, it appears that international literature identified factors influencing the use of e-administrative services. However, research applied to France tend to focus more on the offering of services process or the specific role of information and communications technology (ICT).

This paper analyses the utilisation made of e-administrative services in France through the lens of four factors: clarity, accessibility, habits, and trust. We use the “internal/external framework” by Lau (2003), where internal factors related to design issues of e-administrative services and external factors are associated with non-direct, societal challenges. In this regard, clarity and accessibility are internal factors; and habits and trust are external factors.

A general recommendation that emerged from the analysis is the need to incorporate a user-centric approach in the design and implementation of e-administrative services, which would foster the propensity to use e-administrative services. It would allow using to an advantage the factors we identified to positively influence the use of e-administrative services.

• Clarity

The lack of clarity in the high current number of public service websites – over a thousand (Vie-publique.fr, 2010) and their webpage design make them not user-friendly. Citizens often struggle to find the right e-administrative service online (Hargittai, 2003), or to see their online administrative procedure through (Eurostat 2014: Digital Agenda Scoreboard Dataset; Algan et al, 2016).

The recommendation resulting from the analysis would be to make service-public.fr the one-stop shop for every e-administration procedure and online service. E-administrative services should be designed to avoid generating frustration to encourage positive and recurrent user experiences.

• Accessibility

Physical and/or educational inaccessibility currently exclude parts of the population from using e-administrative services (Toubon, 2016). There are different physical and educational abilities shaping different needs in terms of accessibility. Today, people with certain disabilities cannot access e-administrative services, let alone use them (Sandoz-Guermond and Bobiller-Chaumon, 2006). The gap in digital education among the population also prevents those without the necessary skills to use e-administrative services (Soudrie, 2017).

The recommendations for this factor are included in a user-centric approach to designing e-administrative services. This would allow taking into account users with specific needs. There is also an educational recommendation, in the form of a reinforcement of users’ digital education (Fakhoury and Aubert, 2013). Ensuring the accessibility of all to e-administrative services would ensure an equality of treatment and fight against inequalities.

• Habits

Our analysis suggests that habits have an effect on the frequency and nature of the use of e-administrative services. There are different profiles of user groups whose habits differ, depending on their age, the degree of digital utilisation and trust in online services. When it comes to interacting with the administration, habits also differ based on the matter. If tax matters are preferably dealt with online, people tend to prefer to reach the police in person (Paul Delouvrier Barometer, 2017).

The integration of e-administrative services into citizens’ habits needs to be accompanied. There are different kinds of user groups and e-administrative services need to be tailored and developed to fit the needs of each user group. The habits factor offers potential spillover effects with clarity and accessibility factors: clear and accessible e-administrative services would be easier to integrate into habits.

• Trust

Trust plays an important role in the decision whether to use e-administrative services. Although the majority of people in France are increasingly trusting e-administrative services, this factor is one of the main justification for not using them (Belanche et al., 2014; Cour des Comptes, 2015). With an increasing number of online threats and governments being targets, ensuring a safe and reliable platform people can trust is a major challenge. French citizens fear the misuse of their personal data when engaging with e-administration services. Another growing concern for users is the unlimited conservation of personal data and procedure traceability.

Recommendations from the analysis include making France Connect the single sign-on portal for all e-administrative services, and transparent procedures and technical solutions concerning cybersecurity. Another recommendation would be launching awareness campaigns to differentiate official public websites from private ones, and to communicate better on the use of personal data by the state.


Evidence suggests that electronic administrative services are not used as much as they could be in France. The main objective of this policy paper is to examine factors that influence the use of e-administrative services available in France and explain how they could be more extensively utilised. Electronic administration or e-administration has gained new usages and new users, but despite a significant offer of e-administrative services, studies further detailed show that the resulting use by citizens is still below what could be achieved. The term “French delay” was coined to illustrate the difference between France and other European countries in terms of electronic administration and highlight the need for appropriate investments and institutionalisation (Acaud and Lakel, 2003). In a nutshell, France started the race towards electronic administration early compared to other European countries but fell back and has now been caught and surpassed by some of them. We will assess four factors: clarity, accessibility, habits, and trust in relation to the impact they have on the utilisation of e-administrative services in France.

The notion of e-government in France encompasses all roles and activities of the administration through the lens of ICT, but one of the core aspects of governance and public administration are relations with citizens that Brown calls “electronic democracy” (Brown, 2005). This paper analyses a component of e-government: e-administration, which focuses entirely on public service delivery to citizens. By extent, e-administrative services can be defined as the services provided by the e-administration to citizens. Assuming digitalisation represents an opportunity for public services, with lower operating costs for the administration and higher quality of services for the users (Roux, 2010), the state’s role in this transition is challenging, complex and multifaceted. The French state has to be simultaneously initiator, change process operator, monitor and support system of e-administration. The government ambitions to enhance state-citizen interactions as we know them and modernise administration through new frameworks and platforms (Foucaud, 2017).

The implications of this paper have important policy significance since understanding these factors is the first step towards the improvement of e-administration. We will then have a better understanding on how to address these issues and contribute “breaking the barriers” to e-administration (Modinis, 2007), by designing policies and implementing services better fitted to citizen’s needs. With the appropriate adjustments to yield a wider adoption of e-administration, and the completed transition towards e-administrative services, the potential benefits emerging from e-administration could be achieved to their full extent. A wider use of e-administrative services would reduce administrative costs for the state on a national scale and make part of the current budget available elsewhere. The following analysis will not target internal administration programmes aiming to modernise procedures nor projects between the state and private providers, focusing strictly on interactions between the state and its citizens.

Civil service ensures a key function of the administration in France, responsible for all public and private organisations achieving public interest activities (Vie public, 2013). Throughout the last decades, the delivery of administrative services has been gradually improved through a series of reform legislation1. A large part of this process was the reform of the “traditional” way of delivering administrative services – in-person contact, paper forms and files, and postal communication – to instead take advantage of technological improvements such as websites, email, and online forums. As a result, a number of e-administrative services are accessible online today: obtaining public or private information, updating personal information, or interacting with the administration. A public service is not only evaluated solely on its structure or process, but also on how used and appreciated it is from its users (Cluzel-Métayer, 2006). This explains why the utilisation of public services – and administrative services in particular – contributes to the success or failure of a public service. The level of public usage of e-administrative services is an indicator of service delivery responsiveness and adaptability of the French administration.

The policy paper reviews national and international literature to understand the extent of utilisation and to identify factors influencing it. National literature constitutes literature of reports from French national agencies such as the Economic Analysis Council (CAE), yearly control panels from the General Secretariat; Cour des Comptes reports and also academic case studies. International literature includes international organisations reports and country analysis papers from the OECD and the United Nations. Reports from national and international independent bodies give insights into the implementation of public policies for e-administrative services and put them into perspective over time and geography.

The limitations inherent to this policy paper include the lack of up-to-date research on French citizens responsiveness to e-administrative services. There are few studies on the factors negatively influencing the use of e-administrative services in France. Current knowledge of this issue is limited especially as there are few indicators to measure the evolution of the quality and user satisfaction of e-administrative services in France. This research is also constrained by the lack of quantification of the cost of the under-utilisation of e-administrative services.

First, in chapter 1, we will review the existing literature on the utilisation of French e-administrative services and develop an analytical framework to assess its performance through four factors. Second, chapter 2 discusses the extent to which services are utilised by French users. Third, we will assess the reasons for under-utilisation in chapters 3 and 4. Finally, we will formulate recommendations on how to encourage higher use of e-administrative services by French citizens.

Chapter 1 – Literature review and analytical framework

The following section gives a brief overview on how the issue of limited demand for e-administrative services has been previously analysed in the literature. It then presents the analytical framework used for assessing this issue in this paper.

1.1. Literature review

This paper starts from the observation that there are few consolidated analyses of the factors influencing the adoption of e-administration in the French context. The four key factors identified here – clarity, accessibility, habits, and trust – come from different literature sources. They have not been studied all together and applied to the French context. Having done an extensive literature review, I have not come across studies focusing on the effective utilisation of e-administrative services and its influencing factors applied to France. We will use the aforementioned four factors presented in the international literature to analyse the French case, to underline the reasons for a lower use of e-administrative services than possible.

To summarise what is known about citizen utilisation of e-administrative services in France, it tends to focus on the supply side of it, in terms of delivery and effectiveness, with little interest given to the citizens’ demand and usage. The emphasis is either on the process that led to the implementation of e-administrative services in France (Acaud and Lakel, 2003), research developing models to guide the development of e-government (Layne and Lee, 2001); or for the administrative agents to adapt to the technological changes prompted by e-administrative services (Lasserre, 2000). Some research focused on local authorities’ initiatives and implementation of e-administration (Loiseau, 2000; Carmes and Andonova, 2012) or their role in the development of ICT (Attour, 2008), but not specifically the factors leading to underutilisation. The debate on e-administrative services is rather on its effectiveness (Sauret, 2004), or whether they are a determinant for user quality (Roux, 2010), than on how it is really appropriated – and used – by its users. In the examples we just mentioned, the object studied is how the change is initiated, how administrative workers are on-boarded (Carmes and Andonova, 2012), or how technology enables change but not how the change is received by citizens in the French case and it is precisely this gap that this paper aims to explore.

Nonetheless, a paper (Modinis, 2007) identified certain factors as barriers to e-government, which would impede either supply or demand for e-government. Some factors work against the adoption of e-government in two ways. Either a factor acts as a disincentive on the supply side, restraining public sector organisations from providing e-administrative services, or against the demand by acting as an obstacle for users to engage with e-government services. It is on this latter feature that this paper focuses.

The existing explanations of factors that negatively influence the use of e-administrative services in the international context can be classified in terms of four factors: the lack of clarity, poor accessibility, the weight of habits and distrust. Several sources (Hargittai, 2003; Vie-publique.fr, 2010; Yildiz, 2007) suggest that clarity is a key factor: an unclear website structure is likely to discourage citizens from using e-administrative services. Other sources (Abanumy et al., 2005; Bacache-Beauvallet et al, 2011; Lau, 2003; Roux, 2010; Soudrie, 2017; Sandoz-Guermond and Bobiller-Chaumon, 2006; Toubon, 2016) argue that accessibility is a key factor. They suggest that e-administrative services only fully accessible to people under the age of 40 with higher education, without special needs and above a certain revenue threshold are likely to exclude a majority of potential users. Sources (Paul Delouvrier Barometer, 2016; Soudrie, 2017) also indicate that habits constitute a key factor, as a citizen used to going to an office for all administrative procedures for 30 years will likely take a while to adapt his habits and go online instead. Several authors (Belanche et al., 2014; Cour des Comptes, 2015; Mayer et al., 1995) suggest that trust is a key factor, as a sceptic user who does not believe in the safety of e-administrative services is likely to be reluctant to use them. These four factors will serve as the basis for the explanation of the underutilisation of e-administrative services in France.

1.2. Analytical framework

As mentioned earlier, we will assess the utilisation of e-administrative services in France through the lens of four factors: clarity, accessibility, habits, and trust. These factors are drawn from the literature although they were not discussed conjointly, nor in the context of France, which this paper aims to do. The two formers are internal factors and the two latter are external factors. In his “internal/external framework”, Lau (2003) highlights that challenges to e-government are not solely technical and that the classification of e-administrative services into “internal” or “external” eventually depends on the conception of e-government. For this policy paper, internal factors are associated to design issues of e-administrative services and external factors refer to non-direct, societal challenges. The influence of internal factors on the underutilisation of e-administrative services in France will be seen in chapter 3: we will focus on clarity and accessibility (Hargittai, 2003; Toubon, 2016). The influence of external factors will be seen in chapter 4: we will focus on habits and trust (Belanche et al., 2014; Cour des Comptes, 2015).

Chapter 2 – Assessing the demand

We will now analyse the demand for e-administrative services as the outcome of two factors: the availability of such services and the utilisation made of it. This chapter aims to first assess the availability of e-administrative services in France, to show what e-administrative services are currently being offered, prompted by government policy. Second, based on the previous arguments, the chapter argues that utilisation is limited.

2.1 Assessing the availability of e-administrative services

The objectives of e-administrative services are threefold. First, they aim to avoid citizens having to come in person to several counters. Second, e-administration enables to internally share personal data on a citizen (with his consent and under his control) amongst different administrative bodies: the “dites-le nous une fois” (“tell us once”) principle. Third, e-administrative services would centralise and coordinate electronic procedures between ministers so that they can be processed the same way whatever their origin.

The current French ambition regarding e-administrative services started in the 1990s and has been evolving since then. Acaud and Lakel (2003) identified different phases of e-administration in France, in a top-down chronology. They argue that the initiation of the movement occurred when pioneers in the upper levels of the administration were identified, as the interest in ICTs was sparked at the highest level of the administration (Acaud and Lakel, 2003). The movement towards the incorporation of ICT in national governance was marked by the creation of the Secrétariat Général pour la Modernisation de l' Action Publique (SGMAP) in 2012, which represents the top-down administrative reform process as understood by Acaud and Lakel (2003). There is currently a global trend towards the modernisation of the administration as illustrated in the creation in 2015 of the French digital services incubator “beta.gouv.fr” (Foucaud, 2017), the aim of which is to use state start-ups to spread the digital innovation culture throughout the administration.

The French e-administration is equipped with tools reflecting the new instantaneous nature of information and updates so that e-citizens can be kept informed in real time of any new content or piece of information available to them (Deprez and Bertacchini, 2015). The availability of information online is identified as the very first step of e-administration (Acaud, 2003; Deprez and Bertacchini, 2015). Following the momentum of the above-described reform process, the offer of e-administrative services has expanded, and many requests can now be done online: asking for documentation such as a birth certificate, accessing public information like the consultation of a cadastre, modifying personal information such as the notification of change of address, or interacting with the administration, whether for a grant application or income tax return.

The URL www.service-public.fr is the single national portal giving access to many government entities, for both individuals and businesses. Administrative information is exposed and explained in three parts: first citizen’s rights and procedures, second practical services providing help with procedures in the form of online services, dedicated websites and reference texts, and third a directory identifying 11,000 national services and 70,000 local administrative, also including European Union institutions. The aim of the national civil service official website is to simplify and facilitate the access to administrative information by instantly delivering the relevant information to meet the users’ needs. France Connect is the Single-Sign-On (SSO) system of the French administration. It is available country-wide since 2016 and is the first element of the state as a platform strategy. France Connect is compliant with the eIDAS European regulation requirements (EU/910/2014, 23rd July 2014). This SSO tool also carries a data sharing component amongst the administrations, enabled in 2017 (Europe's Digital Progress Report (EDPR), 2017).

2.2 Assessing the utilisation of e-administrative services

We will now give an overview of how much e-administrative services are used by citizens. The assessment of the utilisation of e-administrative services in France can be done using different indicators.

As detailed in the Dashboard of Digital Public Service (SGMAP, 2016) 37% of individuals declared having done an administrative procedure in the last twelve months. Among them, 75% said to have done so online, 90% of whom declared themselves satisfied with the online process. These indicators are on the rise since 2015. This scoreboard seems to demonstrate that a large majority of people already using e-administrative services are satisfied with it and leads us towards the scaling up challenge involving the on-boarding of more citizens.

In the last decade, the percentage of individuals in France submitting completed forms to public authorities online has seen a 65% increase, rising from 32% (2008) to 53% (2017), with an acceleration in the past four years (graph 1). Today, France’s ranking is “honourable” in terms of e-administration (Cour des Comptes, 2015), and “above average” (9th rank in DESI 2017, unchanged since last year).

However, France’s ranking remains below the objective set by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in June 2017: to put France on the same level as Estonia, Europe’s champion in the online provision of public services, by the year 2022 (Le Monde, 2017). For example, electronic tax filing has been available in France since 2003, and 49% people now declare their revenues online (SGMAP, 2016). In comparison, around 95% of all tax declarations in Estonia each year are filed electronically, and the process takes on average 3 minutes (e-Estonia, 2018). Online tax filing was made an obligation in France for revenues above a certain threshold in the past years, and it is to become mandatory for all in 2019.

In France, 61% of citizens use the internet to contact the administration, but only 42% effectively see their procedure through with the transmission of completed dematerialised forms, which shows that there is a gap between the offer and the supply of e-administration (Eurostat 2014: Digital Agenda Scoreboard Dataset; Algan et al, 2016). In another example, it is now possible since January 2015 to pay a road traffic fine via a smartphone application. Within 4 months after the launch, over 110,000 payments had been made through this platform. They account only for 3% of total payments for the period (Cour des Comptes, 2016).

Graph 2: France’s country profile, e-government indicators in 2016 (European Commission, Digital Scoreboard)

To demonstrate that in France, the citizen’s use of e-administrative services is not as extensive as it could be despite the free availability of a wide range of services, we will look at the United Nations’ Online Service Index/E-Government Development Index (OSI/EGDI), one of the main indicators for measuring the online administrative offer. France's OSI/EGDI score in terms of the offer of e-administration is the highest (100), much above the European average (64), or Estonia (77) (Normand, 2016).

Nevertheless, France is not a top performer in terms of its service utilisation rating. Since 2015, the EU Commission set up a Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) for every European Union member state, which takes into account not only the online administration offer, the pre-filling of forms and open data, but also the percentage of users interacting online with the state. As shown in graph 2 above, the use of e-administrative services in France is comparatively low compared to other DESI subscores, and the utilisation of e-administrative services is comparatively lower in France than in some other European countries, as shown in graph 3.

The challenge underlying the Prime Minister's goal would, therefore, be to boost participation in e-administration and reach the 1st DESI position currently held by Estonia.

Chapter 3 – Internal Factors: Clarity and Accessibility

We will now investigate why the interactions between citizens and online administration are “not quite user-friendly and transparent enough” (Digital Agenda Scoreboard, 2015, p. 6) to be inclusive for the entire population in France. A fair share of the population experiences a lack of skills and a lack of trust towards e-administration. Both internal and external factors (Lau, 2003) can be held responsible for a low use of the French e-administration. As explained earlier in the analytical framework section, external barriers often form due to a lack of flexibility within governments architecture, concerning legislation, regulation or budget, and will be analysed in chapter 4.

3.1 Clarity

We will now address the clarity dimension in e-administrative services and how it affects its use. The very concept of e-government policy processes lacks clarity, as it is currently referred to as “the black box of e-government policy-making” (Yildiz, 2007). This statement echoes well with the French situation.

Nowadays public service websites are not user-friendly enough and citizens often struggle to find the right e-administrative services online (Hargittai, 2003). The complexity of some websites discourages people from adopting the online administrative procedures when they are already familiar with the existing system. As shown in an American study (Hargittai, 2003), the two most common sources of confusion in the experience of locating a tax form online are the confusion in the URL and the online page design layout. As in the French case, people do not necessarily know the exact administrative service website address and struggle to find the correct page (Vie-publique.fr, 2010). When they do land on the right website, the design is prone to confusion. The increased time spent looking for information without finding it is unproductive and exasperating for users. The lack of clarity leads to a frustrating experience that citizens would likely avoid reproducing and turn to alternative administrative services instead (Hargittai, 2003).

There is a lack of visibility amongst the too many public websites for the French administration, – over a thousand (Vie-publique.fr, 2010). The lack of visibility is partly due to a graphic heterogeneity from one website to another. The webpage design, also mentioned by Hargittai (2003), symbolises a core, internal issue related to the use of e-administrative services. Currently, the user experience in France is not driving the development of e-administrative services and this is striking when a majority of users are having trouble performing an administrative procedure online.

3.2 Accessibility

Accessibility indicates the degree to which information is accessible to all humans and automatic tools (Abanumy et al., 2005). E-administration accessibility refers to universal access to e-administrative services. As of today, the current e-administrative services are not accessible by the population as a whole for various reasons, and that impedes the use of e-administrative services. Distinct user groups have different needs and different barriers – physical and educational – to accessing e-administrative services.

The transition towards e-administrative services has two different impacts on different groups of people. On the one hand, e-administration facilitates accessibility to administrative procedures for some people, but on the other hand, makes it more difficult for other users (Toubon, 2016) with different needs, as shown in the example of Nanterre (Soudrie, 2017). The case study of Nanterre in the Parisian suburbs reveals the impact of the implementation of e-administration in a well-connected city but with a vulnerable population. The fight against numerical illiteracy is a pre-requisite for citizens to be in the capacity of accessing e-administrative services. Many inhabitants refer to local government when they cannot do their administrative procedures online. Out of all the users coming to the local structure, 20% of them need computing support and 16% are not proficient in French (Soudrie, 2017).

The current design of new administration interactive platforms does not include citizens with special needs. It has been demonstrated that for blind people in France, utilisation problems come mainly from a lack of web mastering skills and the absence of support and assistance (Sandoz-Guermond and Bobiller-Chaumon, 2006). In that case, the principles of accessibility have not been observed in the conception and design of e-administrative websites and as a result, e-administrative services are not adapted to them (Sandoz-Guermond and Bobiller-Chaumon, 2006). The need for accessible e-administrative services is clear; however, the state response in terms of means, technological solutions and awareness has not yet clearly emerged. The social demand is supported by a political will (loi sur l'accessibilité numérique, 2016), but the realisation methodology on how to involve developers is yet to be defined (Lazar, J. et al., 2004).

As part of their effort to promote the accessibility of e-administration, the French administration developed an accessibility label grading services across five levels. The four principles of this label are for administrative websites and platforms to be perceptible, usable, understandable and reliable. In June 2017, service-public.fr was awarded the e-accessibility label level five – the highest. This encouraging result shows that efforts are undergoing to make e-administrative services more accessible.

Generating the adoption of e-administration by users also faces a “digital divide” in France, which is the existence of a generational, social and cultural gap in the use of the internet (Chriqui et al., 2011). The OECD considers the digital divide “an important barrier to e-government” (2008). Lau (2003) goes further defining it as an “important barrier to e-government in that people who do not have access to the Internet will be unable to benefit from online services”. However, Bacache-Beauvallet et al. (2011) argue that the underuse of e-administrative services by citizens is not due to the digital divide in France. Furthermore, Roux (2010) calls it a “myth”. Gaining access to the internet does not obliterate other potential inequalities that could be related to possible online activities. The sole access to a computer connected to the internet does not account for the associated skills necessary to perform certain tasks online (Hargittai, 2003).

Chapter 4 – External Factors: Habits and Trust

4.1 Habits

Habits constitute the recurrent and planned behaviour towards the performance of an action (Aarts et al., 1998). A deep-rooted habit is strenuous to change to adopt a new way of doing things, such as paying taxes online. French citizens are used to communicating with the administration and going through administrative procedures in a certain way. Changing that format of contact is a long and not-straightforward process. People would need to be prompted or nudged into using e-administrative services if they were not used to do so, and may be more or less reluctant depending on which user category they belong to (Soudrie, 2017).

According to the Barometer of Trust of French People in Digital Services, there are five different user profiles of e-administrative services (ACSEL, la Caisse des Dépôts, and La Poste, 5th edition). The “technophiles”, accounting for 15% of citizens, are devoted to ICT and new usage. They completely trust online services and are open to innovation. The "trusting" people (36%) represent the core of frequent users of e-administrative services, with a high level of trust in online services, especially e-administrative services. The "followers" (16%) have a positive image of online services but do not use them often. The "pragmatists" (16%) are frequent users of online services as a whole, despite high levels of distrust: the use value is greater than the risk incurred. The "reluctants" (17%) do not trust online services and therefore do not use them.

When it comes to interacting with the administration, habits differ based on the matter. The Paul Delouvrier Institute Barometer is a dashboard monitoring the use and perceptions of digital public services. It measures every year the performance in terms of satisfaction of the French population with the online offer of e-services and summarizes their priorities and expectations. The Paul Delouvrier Barometer (2017) revealed various contact modes preferences depending on the subject. Users in France have different preferences depending on the subject of their query. Regarding tax matters, the Internet is the window used by 53% of the sample. The police, however, are mostly reached in person (62%) as opposed as online (14%). Security forces explain this by the special – and sometimes sensitive – contact of their interactions (receiving complaints, assisting and counselling victims). Overall, sampled people expressed high expectations concerning e-administrative services, although it might not always be a suitable platform for all interactions between citizens and administration.

To conclude the portion on habits, the state strategy needs to be tailored to its different users in order to be successful. It is clear that changing citizen’s habits is difficult, but it is even harder if the new user experience is not clear and simple, circling back to internal/design factors. The lack of clarity and inaccessibility of e-administrative services are likely to impede their integration into the citizen habits of today.

4.2. Trust

Trust reflects the willingness of one party to assume the consequences of another party’s actions. Trust is based on the expectation that the other party will perform a particular action, regardless of monitoring or control structures (Mayer et al., 1995). One of the most important external factors is the trust people have in the service (Belanche et al., 2014; Cour des Comptes, 2015): distrust turns away citizens from using e-administrative services. Altogether, it appears that most French citizens are trusting e-administrative services, but today distrust is still one of the most frequent reasons for users not to use e-administrative services (Belanche et al., 2014; Cour des Comptes, 2015).

With an increasing number of online threats and governments being targeted, ensuring a safe and reliable platform people can trust is a major challenge. The confidence rate in e-administrative services remains satisfying at 67% ((Barometer of French people’s trust in digital services, 2015), however, it has been sharply declining (against 86% in 2009). The distrust in France stirred from an absence of strategy in regulation elaboration, the lack of a coherent comprehensive plan to take into account personal data and no agreement about the commercial and/or administrative use and security of personal data (Chatillon, 2002; Cour des Comptes, 2015). French citizens fear the misuse of their personal data when engaging with e-administration services, but this reason declined from 64% to 57% (Barometer of French people’s trust in digital services, 2016). Another growing concern for users is the unlimited conservation of personal data and procedure traceability (+22%). More than half (60%) of interviewed people preferred multifactor authentication to single authentication.

Gassert (2018) identified hard and soft factors influencing the building of trust in an e-government system: hard factors are empirically observable, soft factors depend more on individual predispositions and estimations. The clear cultural French preference for paper forms illustrates the soft factor of trust: 19% French citizens justify not using online forms because they “trust paper forms more”, against 1% British or Dutch citizens (Eurostat, 2013).

The hot topic of personal data protection is a key challenge in the trust in e-administrative services. Profiling, data leakage, history, exchanges, logs, cross-referring data between administrative institutions are potential scenarios of the handling of citizen data by the state. Several laws have been passed2 to encourage trust in online communications and democratize the use of the Internet, but users may still fear to be disadvantaged when facing too powerful and too informed an administration. It is therefore vital to ensure the necessary trust in e-administrative services and allow for cross-checking computer processing of personal data in the remote handling of cases.

Finally, trust is a factor with a high spillover effect potential on the habit factor of adoption of e-administrative services. As mentioned earlier, distrust turns away users, but a service deemed trustworthy by its users would be easier to adopt as a habit. E-administrative services rely on trust in both the public administration and on the internet (Belanche et al., 2014). The trust factor itself is influenced by the quality of the e-administrative service provided, the recommendations made by public administrations to use them and interpersonal sources (Belanche et al., 2014). E-service quality implies that users are more likely to trust and therefore use a service they deem of quality. It could be argued for trust to be also influenced by factors internal to e-administration, as it could be coming from a robust and safe system of information. Promotions from public administrations can also have a positive influence on trust in e-administrative services: platforms endorsed by government and administrative agencies are likely to yield a larger use. Last, interpersonal sources and word of mouth opting for or praising e-administrative services is likely to have a positive influence on the resorting to such platforms.

Conclusion and policy recommendations

To conclude, we identified and analysed in this paper how clarity, accessibility, habits, and trust were factors that, individually and collectively, directly and indirectly, negatively affect the use of e-administrative services in France. In light of the previous analysis, we will now see what recommendations could be formulated.

It emerges from the analysis that overall, the design of e-administrative services need to include the conditions of their use as a guiding principle. A user-centric approach in the design and implementation of e-administrative services would foster the propensity to use e-administrative services. Furthermore, there is a need to develop relevant indicators to be able to measure the evolution of the state delivery on each of the four factors. We will here describe a set of actionable items for a successful and complete transition to electronic administration in France, answering the question “What actions can help improve the utilisation of e-administration in France?”. Actions are identified for each factor currently negatively influencing the use of e-administration.

1. Clarity

The earlier analysis clearly indicated the importance of clarity in a successful use of e-administrative services – i.e. the full completion of a procedure: a clear and simple platform design and a limited number of websites. To make e-administrative services more comprehensible and clarify the current multiple sources of information, it would be relevant to make service-public.fr the one-stop shop for every e-administration procedure and online service. E-administrative services should avoid generating frustration (Hargittai, 2003), which would yield less exasperating and more productive user experiences.

More generally, e-government policy processes have to be clarified (Yildiz, 2007) to optimise resources spending and maximise gains, ensure that the highest priority projects receive resources first and prevent perpetuating previous mistakes.

2. Accessibility

As previously presented, physical and educational accessibilities represent a key prerequisite for citizens to use e-administrative services. A state administration has to address a heterogeneous population with different physical and educational abilities. Different population groups have different needs and e-administrative services should be designed to overcome all population groups’ barriers and be accessible to all. E-administrative services have to be tailored to population groups in order for them to be accessible. Further efforts are needed to extend the possibility of e-administrative services to people with impairments, no matter the severity, (e.g. low vision or blindness, hearing difficulties or deafness, physical or cognitive disabilities). E-administrative services should also be accessible by automatic machine tools.

There is also an educational recommendation, in the form of a reinforcement of users’ digital education (Fakhoury and Aubert, 2013), in line with the OECD recommendations on how to “facilitate access for disadvantaged groups” (OECD, 2012). This would ensure an equality of treatment and fight against inequalities.

3. Habits

As our analysis suggests, habits influence the frequency and nature of the use of e-administrative services. Users of e-administrative services form heterogeneous groups, therefore a one-size-fits-all solution does not really fit anyone. Taking this information into account and differentiating different groups of users would imply several “customer” itineraries. Tailoring e-administrative services to its users’ capabilities could benefit them and increase the use of online administration.

Also, making the design of e-administrative procedures and platforms more user-centric could generate spillover effects on other factors influencing the use of e-administration, such as clarity and accessibility. As a result, it would make more people use e-administrative services, a better design would help in terms of clarity and facilitate the integration of habits and trust.

4. Trust

The analysis argued that trust influences the decision of whether to use e-administrative services. Increasing trust in e-administrative services is considered one of the two conditions for the successful modernisation of the French administration (Cour des Comptes, 2015). Public websites identification has to be facilitated thanks to a single sign-on portal, which is undergoing with France Connect, but also with a better distinction between public versus private websites, thanks to awareness campaigns. The guaranteeing of public freedoms needs to be integrated upstream and made more transparent (Cour des Comptes, 2015). Hence there are clear overlaps with recommendations on clarity and accessibility.

Trust is twofold: trust in the administration and trust in e-services (Belanche et al., 2014), as discussed earlier. The governmental promise is not enough if it is not backed up by technical solutions, transparent procedures, and a potential independent audit. (Layne and Lee, 2001). To facilitate and therefore increase the trusting of e-administrative services (Cour des Comptes, 2016; Fakhoury and Aubert, 2013), there is also a need for a citizen-centred approach (Fakhoury and Aubert, 2013). The OECD recommended, "factoring in user expectations when measuring quality" (OECD, 2012), which circles back to the need for an indicator measuring the evolution of the use of e-administrative services.


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1 Loi n° 79-587 du 11 Juillet 1979 relative à la motivation des actes administratifs et à l'amélioration des relations entre l'administration et le public, loi n° 2000-321 du 12 avril 2000 relative aux droits des citoyens dans leurs relations avec les administrations, ordonnance n° 2005-1516 du 08 décembre 2005 relative aux échanges électroniques, loi n° 2011-525 du 17 mai 2011 de simplification et d'amélioration de la qualité du droit organisant les consultations ouvertes sur Internet, loi n° 2013-1005 du 12 novembre 2013 sur le silence vaut acceptation.

2 Loi sur la société de l'information du 14 juin 2001, loi sur la protection des personnes physiques à l'égard des traitements de données à caractère personnel du 30 janvier 2002

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