The yearly appointment with the eGovernment Benchmark report of the European Commission has come. And, yet again, it hasn’t left Estonia disappointed with the results. Our country is one of the three front-runners in e-government, together with Austria and Malta. An achievement that is not new anymore by now, but that comes as a confirmation of the commitment to keep developing as a digital society.
Public sectors, indeed, are called to constantly update and review lines of action and outcomes of national digital policies. It only makes sense, taking into consideration that technological change does not stop. But as innovation makes its progress, citizens’ expectations also evolve. It is crucial then to check governments’ readiness and capacity to respond to these dynamic demands.
By focusing on the supply-side of services in the digital sphere, we can detect whether governments are sailing on smooth seas, or if there’s a mismatch between people’s requests and states’ answers in the age of information society.
Core indicators, gaps, achievements. The situation in Europe, at a glance
Before delving into the specifics of Estonia’s performance, we take a look at the indicators employed to measure e-government and at the general picture at the European level. Four main priority areas make up the core components of public digital development:
- User centricity, assessing the presence of online services, as well as their usability and mobile-friendliness;
- Transparency, in terms of practices in service delivery, from steps involved to data management;
- Cross-border mobility, for the extent to which services are available to users when in another European country;
- Key enablers, on the preconditions for effective e-governance, such as digital identity and core registers.
In retrospective, it’s good to see that the gap has been narrowing between digital leaders and laggards. Since 2014, this asymmetry has been reduced by 11 points, indicating that a certain degree of convergence might be in sight. Europe is generally embracing e-government more and more, but there is still a long way to go to completely filling that void.
Countries fare particularly well in user centricity, where the European average stands at 85%. All the other three indicators, instead, show that governments can globally do a lot better, with EU average scores at 62% in Transparency, 53% in Cross-border mobility, 58% for the Key enablers. More insights, then, regard citizens’ experience with online services. Though having single national online identifiers and service description on display certainly helps, more can be done in terms of detailed information on service delivery, and cybersecurity.
Estonia stands out as a mature digital leader
Within the European framework, Estonia is one of the front-runners showing others how to achieve a holistic level of digital maturity. Despite moving already from a starting point that’s ahead of all our other continental counterparts, we haven’t been resting on our laurels.
Our country improves previous scores in all four macro-indicators analysed, with a stronger marginal increase in terms of transparency and business cross-border mobility. When looking at these in terms of life events, we consistently fare better than the European average and show effective resilience to innovation.
The report shows also how progress in e-government is associated with other contextual factors contributing to the development of a mature digital society, such as citizens’ skills and preparation to change. This dimension of usage and online presence is assessed through the two indicators of Penetration and Digitisation. Probably, it is here that the most flattering results are presented.
Indeed, Estonia is the only European country outperforming in all combinations of absolute and relative indicators, showing that there’s full alignment between policy formulation, service delivery and availability, and citizens’ demands. “Estonia is part of the fruitful eGov scenario that includes the best-in-class countries, which perform at a Digitisation and Penetration level above the European average,” the country factsheet concludes.
The quest to increase trust and inclusivity
There is always room for improvement – but once identified the path, it has to be pursued. It is not a matter of restlessness, but of being receptive when faced with changing users’ expectations. And while eagerly looking forward to other countries to catch up, a new issue emerges on the horizon. How can we make our digital societies more inclusive, and foster citizens’ trust in technology and institutions?
“A Europe fit for the digital age” is also one of the core policy directions of the new European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen. It doesn’t mean to merely keep up the pace with innovation, but also to address salient issues regarding the way we handle data, the transparency of our public sectors, the degree to which we can make people feel part of this journey. The report finds that trust in government is increasingly important, particularly with regard to digitalisation. And so the challenge of 2020 is set: opening up the black box of technological development for citizens, and cooperate towards the creation of a truly European digital society.