We recently attended the fifth annual e-Governance Conference, which took place in Tallinn, Estonia on May 21-22. The conference created a space for countries to compare notes on digitization and learn from one another about solutions, but also policy and the legal space surrounding e-governance, sustainability and the environmental impact, AI and much more.
Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of Estonia, who opened the conference, said that discussion on digital societies only makes sense, if we take into account sustainable development as well. “The ability to do things remotely saves time and resources. This leads to less CO2 emissions and we can address climate change better,” she said.
The President also stressed the importance of tailor-made e-governance solutions. They have to be specifically made for a country and available in local languages. At the same time, it is also important to have international compatibility as this delivers higher ROI on digital services. President Kaljulaid also noted that creating the legal environment to apply technologies is much harder than just building the software. When asked about the main foundation of a digital society, she said that identity is key to everything. “Giving people a digital identity, allows us to help them better, but also regulate privacy and security better,” said President Kaljulaid.
Fabrizio Hochschild, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, said that Estonia has been exemplary in developing policy and making use of digital services in keeping with human rights. He stressed that the world needs cooperation on a global scale, which at the moment is far from sufficient to address emerging threats. “Estonia has a proven track record and Estonian policy experts will be looked to for leadership in data privacy and cybersecurity,” he said.
Future e-governance trends
The conference didn’t only look at what’s been done in the past, however, but also to the future applications of e-governance solutions. Siim Sikkut, the Estonian government CIO, introduced invisible services. These are services that work as seamlessly as possible around life events and require no action from citizens. “It’s AI-driven governance. This is not theory, these are practical solutions that we have already started to apply,” said Sikkut. This type of services allow a government to save time. Sikkut illustrated the point: “If we can employ machines, we can only grow and be more effective as an economy.”
Linnar Viik, Programme Director of Smart Government at the e-Governance Academy and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi, Co-Investigator and Head at Digital Planet, discussed what happens when governments start thinking like startups. Agility and experimentation are necessary to achieve digital transformation. To help governements with this, the e-Governance Academy will soon be launching an accelerator.
Lastly, Liselotte Lyngsø, who holds the title of Chief Futurist at Future Navigator, drove home some hard truths about what it takes to be a futurist. According to her, the main issue we must address is what it takes to be a human in future societies. To find the answer, the number one rule is to go into a space of exploration and approach everything with the mindset of “interesting, exciting”. “It is important not to have a distant relationship with the future. You cannot handle the future alone and we mustn’t make it our enemy,” said Lyngsø. She highlighted that in the future digital methods can be used to create empathy.
Over 450 participants from 110 countries attended the conference. Eight countries were represented at ministerial level: Armenia, Aruba, Bangladesh, Brunei, Ghana, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Mauritius and Rwanda. Participants that came the longest way were from Vanuatu, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. The largest delegations were from Ukraine, Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan. 23 United Nations ambassadors were also in attendance.