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My love story with the digital society

Carmen Raal on digital well-being

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Speakers’ Corner is an article series where the e-Estonia Digital Transformation advisers talk about the digital society and their personal experiences related to using public e-services. Today you will meet one of our newest advisers Carmen Raal via her very first article.

I have come to love e-Estonia – which comprises a multitude of digital services – profoundly.

I have never known the headache that interacting with the public sector can bring to many people. Well, maybe except for one case – a service that had disadvantages when I was a child.  Since primary school, my parents have been able to check my homework and grades online, and it was a lot harder to get out of the messes I created as a hyperactive child. 

A woman holding hands open and looking at the mountains
Carmen in Hong Kong.

But now, as an adult having a full-time job and doing my master’s degree simultaneously, I am in awe of how much time I save compared to my friends abroad who also struggle with having the same 24 hours per day. Since I am not planning to get married soon (with divorce, these are the only services currently not online in Estonia), all my interactions with the state are done digitally. Also, I choose to opt for digital services with the private sector whenever I can. 

As some of you might have heard, Estonians are not the most extroverted bunch. The amount of socialising we can do might be limited. So, of course, we would implement solutions where communication is not required. But suppose you are a social butterfly who loves interacting or a busy bee? In that case, I am sure you will appreciate the digital signatures that save us five days every year, so that time could be well spent enjoying good company with friends and family or dedicating yourself to work. Or both! Who says you can’t have it all?

A woman posing with a bike and a mural
Carmen in George Town, Malaysia.

Before becoming a digital transformation adviser, I worked as a caseworker at the Unemployment Insurance Fund. This is the best example to illustrate how minimising the bureaucratic processes makes everyone’s lives easier. I got to be part of the Unemployment Insurance Fund during the most difficult times in recent years  – the pandemic. As the unemployment rate rose, the time for one-on-one interactions, to figure out the needs of the people registered as unemployed, decreased drastically. That is when we could truly appreciate the X-Road that allowed us instant access to all the necessary information to register people as unemployed within seconds. Also, thanks to advanced digital services, people could register as unemployed online. As a cool bonus, we didn’t have to direct too much attention to finding people the correct job propositions. Once we had checked the past experience and figured out future job wishes, people started getting job propositions automatically to their email that went together with their vision of the new job combined with the employers’ needs. Let’s say, someone was looking for a job as an assistant and there was an employer looking for an assistant, the AI compared skills needed for the job and the skills a person possessed and if they were a match, without any need for human interaction, the person was made aware of the available job post. PS! We found that people were more likely to stick to those jobs longer than when they would have gone for the job applications they found by themselves.  Once the process that often could be the biggest headache was out of the way, we got to direct our attention to one-on-one interactions to figure out what’s the best way forward in this slightly more complicated world. Even though the job load still got bigger for almost every public sector employee, I truly believe that we managed to avoid the worst type of burnout.

A woman in Singapore
Carmen in Singapore.

And now my favourite topic. I-Voting. A long time ago, I had an interesting conversation with someone from Malta. During the election period, he worked abroad, and so he could vote when the Maltese government paid for his airfare to participate. Sounds incredible, right? Getting to visit your country for free just so you could be an active citizen. That is if your country has enough resources and you – enough time. Or another example: some of my friends reach out to their embassies while living abroad to vote. The dedication! 

For comparison, Estonia has less than 50 embassies and consular posts across the globe, which means that depending on your whereabouts, voting can become a challenge of its own. As a person who values convenience, this sounds too much of a hassle for me. In South America, for example, we don’t have any embassies, the closest would be the one in Washington. So, in 2019 when I was doing my exchange semester in Hong Kong, I got to put our digital society to test and vote online. It took me just a few minutes, and all I needed for that was an internet connection and my ID card reader. Now for the confessional part – I have never been to a polling station and honestly don’t intend to either. 

All of these perks of the digital society – that actually functions –  I came to appreciate while being away from Estonia. We have come a long way and still have a long way to go. With my next articles, I intend to go deeper into the past, present, and future. Trying to peel the surface of digital services and everything related to “e- “.  I hope, dear reader, that you will come along with me on this journey to celebrate, reflect, deliberate, and occasionally to even reprimand. 

Written by
Carmen Raal

digital transformation adviser at the e-estonia briefing centre

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