API’s role in digital government, 10 national best practices
As the digital revolution reshapes government operations worldwide, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have emerged as a critical tool in driving digital transformation. Through APIs, governments can ensure smoother interoperability between various systems, facilitate data sharing, and innovate public services. Here, we look at 10 best practices for using APIs in digital government, based on national examples from around the globe.
“APIs are instrumental in public digital service provision for their connective nature”. According to the publication: Application Programming Interfaces in Governments: Why, what, and How.
National API best practices and guidelines
1. Developing a National API Strategy - The United Kingdom
The UK's national API strategy provides a clear roadmap for how public sector organizations should leverage APIs. The UK government's API strategy revolves around a set of standardized principles and guidelines which ensure API development and usage align with the nation's digital services framework. This strategic approach ensures coherence and encourages interoperability across various government systems.
This API management strategy also highlights the importance of using an API Gateway to manage everyday operations like user and application authentication, rate limiting, and throttling inbound requests, logging, and reporting. Apache APISIX API Gateway can be employed as a central control point for managing APIs and related services with various plugins.
Reference: UK Government Digital Service, API technical and data standards (2017). https://www.gov.uk/guidance/gds-api-technical-and-data-standards
2. API Standardization - The United States
The US Government is known for its data.gov initiative, where it has standardized the APIs across all federal agencies. This initiative has led to better consistency, security, and interoperability, thereby enhancing the data and services' value. They are used the API management tool to enforce strict encryption and access control measures, providing secure access to the vast amount of public data hosted by federal agencies.
Reference: U.S. General Services Administration, Data.gov, Developer's Guide (n.d.). https://www.data.gov/developer/
3. Prioritizing Privacy and Security - Estonia
Estonia, one of the world's most digitally advanced nations, prioritizes privacy and security in its API usage. The country's X-Road data exchange layer allows public and private sector organizations to securely share data while maintaining citizen privacy, providing an excellent example of balancing data accessibility with security considerations.
X-Road is a government API framework licensed under the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) license. It is also used as a backbone of the Finnish national data exchange layer. Originally built for SOAP/XML web services, now extends to REST APIs. Rather than requiring governments to develop API management directly, X-Road provides an API management layer, including an API gateway, which is open-sourced and available to other governments worldwide (Finnerty, 2018).
Reference: X-Road, Data Exchange Layer X-Road (n.d.). https://x-road.global/
4. Promoting Open Innovation - Finland
Finland, through its open API initiative, invites citizens, companies, and other stakeholders to use government data to create innovative solutions for societal challenges. This approach, known as "open innovation", demonstrates how APIs can help stimulate creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, driving societal advancement and economic growth.
Reference: Opening up access to data for innovative use of information, https://vm.fi/en/opendata
5. Building API Catalogs - Canada
Canada's federal government has created an extensive catalog of its public APIs, offering a straightforward way for developers to discover and use these interfaces. The searchable, categorized catalog enhances the accessibility and usability of government APIs.
Reference: Government of Canada, API Store (n.d.). https://api.canada.ca/
6. Leveraging API for Real-Time Data - Singapore
Singapore's data.gov.sg, a repository of datasets from 70 public agencies, provides real-time data feeds through APIs. The availability of real-time data can significantly enhance decision-making processes and public service delivery.
In Singapore, the government has implemented a national identity API that empowers citizens to authenticate their identity online for access to various services. This innovative approach accelerates service delivery by eliminating the need for citizens to repeatedly input their information each time they engage with government agencies.
7. Facilitating Public-Private Partnerships - Australia
Australia has effectively used APIs to forge public-private partnerships in the digital space. Notably, the Consumer Data Right (CDR) allows consumers to share their data with trusted parties, leading to the development of new services and opportunities.
The API Guidelines propose an API gateway so that all government departments and third-party partners can manage APIs through a common architecture, and also stipulate the creation of a single developer portal so that potential API users can discover all available APIs in one location. Style guidelines reflect industry and government best practices in API lifecycle management, API product management, and the use of technical principles including REST.
Reference: Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, Consumer Data Right (n.d.). https://www.accc.gov.au/focus-areas/consumer-data-right-cdr-0
8. Implementing API Governance - Germany
Germany's firm API governance policy ensures that APIs are designed, implemented, and managed according to best practices. This approach ensures API quality and interoperability while facilitating effective lifecycle management.
9. Educating and Engaging with API Users - France
France engages actively with API users through workshops, hackathons, and challenges. These events promote the use of public APIs, enable the government to understand user needs better, and encourage active usage of digital resources.
10. Driving Citizen Participation - New Zealand
New Zealand's approach to APIs encourages active citizen participation. The government actively involves citizens in the process of digital service design and delivery. By adopting a citizen-centric approach to API implementation, New Zealand ensures that its digital services genuinely meet the needs and expectations of its people.
Reference: New Zealand, API Guidelines.
Strategy and action
Having a strategy for APIs is fundamental to guarantee that APIs are successfully adopted. The API framework illustrated below identifies how a government should proceed when adopting and implementing APIs. The API framework for digital government provides a model that you can use to implement API government programs. It comprises 12 proposals that support APIs, from the strategy level and tactical decisions like resource allocation and priority setting to operational concerns like the implementation of technical best practices.
You can also use the online API framework self-assessment maturity tool to identify the specific actions you need to focus on building your API strategy and extending your current API activities.
Governments are using API-enabled infrastructures around the world to move fast towards digital to build improved citizen experience with gov services, work with external partners, reuse IT components more efficiently, and incorporate data into decision-making across their operations. As we have seen globally, the adoption of APIs by governments varies widely. A government’s API engineering team should be able to work efficiently and an API should be able to scale quickly. Therefore, tools should be selected that are widely adopted like open-source Apache APISIX or API7 cloud-based and enterprise API management platform to manage the full API lifecycle, secure and control access, establish SLAs, or throttle calls to API endpoints.