EU eGovernment Report 2016: how Estonia made it to the top, well-explained

06.10.2016

In contemporary societies, governments usually know their citizens way better than how they do about the way things work upstairs. Nothing particularly surprising in that, it is something normal and reasonable. It is fair by the way, for anyone who would be interested in getting to know more about the Estonian way to the digital society, to have a place to go when you wish to take a closer look at how e-services are provided, who provides them and how they ease our everyday life in multiple ways. In three words, it's time to Know Your Government.

In this new section - with the eyes of the insider, shoulder to shoulder, as equals - we will take you by the hand and periodically show you how Estonia succeeded in being considered as one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world. As if we have not had enough proofs about that, the latest study on eGovernment services in EU (published earlier this month) shows how Estonia is among the top countries in terms of digitisation and penetration of its e-government strategies in the society.

Top-level benchmarks for e-government. [Grab via ec.europa.eu]

Top-level benchmarks for e-government. [Grab via ec.europa.eu]

Four variables are used to measure countries' performances:

  • User centricity - indicates to what extent (information about) a service is provided online;
  • Transparency - indicates to what extent governments are transparent as regards a) their own responsibilities and performance, b) the process of service delivery and c) personal data involved;
  • Cross border mobility - indicates to what extent European users can use online services in another country;
  • Key enablers - indicates the extent to which five technical pre-conditions for eGovernment are used.

In general, the EU eGovernment Report 2016 finds countries in a quite static situation. There are improvements taking into consideration the progressive digitisation of European societies: many more services are available than two years ago and 77% of all the information and services available can actually be found via online channels. Still, the way to the European digital society is long and full of slowdowns: quality of services provided is improving slowly ("government does not seem to view user experience as a priority"), transparency can definitely be improved, as well as cross border friendliness of services for citizens. Basically, differences from country to country stay the same: in the last two years, only three countries out of 31 have been able to jump from a lower to a higher cluster in the field. Estonia is one of those.

E for Estonia: efficiency and effectiveness of the e-society

Starting from the bottom, it is fundamental to create a provision of services that could actually ease citizens' life in almost everything they do, at least when they have to deal with the public administration. We need to talk less (and not because we don't like each other, of course); but when we do it, one of the few times that happens, it has to be done in the most effective way possible. As defined by the Report, "eGovernment maturity is also represented by the public administrations ability to produce efficient and effective procedures and service delivery". It means that we must anticipate user's (footnote, you) activities and needs, like disposing of information that users do not have to provide because public actors are able to obtain it from other secure and reliable sources. To automate, in order to interact with the PA as little as possible. Estonia already made it to the top and has been able to keep the first place in the digitisation index of the EU report. In this field, we are the real thing.

Digitisation index - EU 31. [Grab via EU eGovernment Report 2016]

Digitisation index - EU 31. [Grab via EU eGovernment Report 2016]

From the banker to the shepherd: equality in accessibility

After creating a framework of services like the one we have here in Estonia, then you have to make it work. The variable Penetration is all about this and "the extent to which online eGovernment services are widespread". "In order to understand the maturity of eGovernment", says the EU Report, "supply of public services should be compared with their usage". Great results become remarkable when you create something that can also actually be used by everyone or the great majority of the population and that is equally available for the citizens with no distinctions, no matter where they are. From the banker in Tallinn's Kesklinn to the shepherd in the deep countryside. It means that we must fight the digital divide and find ways to effectively provided services even to the most remote areas of the country. There is still something to do, but we do have the merit of being the country that has made the widest improvements in the field from the previous biennium of analysis. Once again, data speak for themselves.

Penetration index - EU 31. [Grab via EU eGovernment Report 2016]

Penetration index - EU 31. [Grab via EU eGovernment Report 2016]

The conclusion is that Estonia was already an advanced country in terms of innovation of the public administration, but has succeeded in doing even better than two years ago: "Estonia has been capable to increase the Penetration in 2014-2015, reaching the Mature cluster and exploiting the efforts made regarding digitisation. Malta, Cyprus and Lithuania [footnote, part of the same country-cluster] should follow the steps of Estonia", a country that worked hard to increase "the awareness of its eGovernment services, which were of high quality already".

Penetration index - EU 31. [Grab via EU eGovernment Report 2016]

Countries' path, cluster analysis - EU 31. [Grab via EU eGovernment Report 2016]

One last important point that can be observed from the report is that, in order to build an efficient and integrated digital society, citizens need to trust the government - and government needs to prove to be trustworthy. Countries with perceived higher levels of corruption find hard to achieve performances similar to Estonia (that by the way is not alone in this group of virtuous States) simply because citizens do not trust the government. This is a further proof of the fact that the road to the digital society has to be walked together, with everyone's commitment to play their part. It is something that largely already happened in Estonia and that, with the efforts of all the actors involved, can be kept at the current levels and improve citizen-PA interactions even more. The mission is clear: making people's lives increasingly easier, increasingly better. Let's walk this way side by side.

To read the full report of the European Commission: EU eGovernment Report 2016.

[Author: Federico Plantera]