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Proactive governance enhances service delivery in Estonia

The provision of proactive public services relies on the contribution of three fundamental components: citizens, governments, tools. In a government-to-citizen (G2C) perspective, researching into the instruments that foster seamless governance proves to be a constant work of updating programmes, shifting policy paradigms, implementing new strategies.

Nonetheless, artificial intelligence and machine learning are only some of the paths available to governments to enhance such development. Instead, a concrete impact on creating the next generation of public services entails, first, a change of heart in approaches. With an action plan tailored on citizens’ life-events, Estonia is making its way towards a new model of proactive governance.

Twenty years of experience as a digital society

The implementation of digital solutions to increase public sector efficiency started in Estonia already almost twenty years ago. It was the beginning of 2000s when interoperability and secure authentication became the founding pillars of our nascent e-state. Today, a shift in the approach to service delivery can provide the basis for a truly seamless digital state.

Janek Rozov is the Chief Digital Officer and Deputy CIO of the Government of Estonia, and is currently working on the development of this new path to service design. “Take artificial intelligence, for example – it is only a technology, and should not be a goal in itself. Surely we must use AI where it creates the greatest value, and we already have very good examples so far. The most important thing, however, is to identify problems that technology best seems to be able to solve,” Rozov says.

In general, Estonia has never ceased digging into new technologies that can make the public sector more efficient. The current “Kratt” strategy for AI deployment is a perfect example of this long-standing trend. Progressively, machine learning and automation are coming to become an integral part of the service provision duties of the government.

However, according to Rozov it is fundamental to remember: “Challenges do not lie in technology implementation, but in paradigm change. These are ethical and trust issues. Are Estonians willing to delegate data-based decision-making processes to machines? If yes, then we are already able today to provide such proactive services based on the life- and business-events of each individual person or company.”

Proactive services to increase living standards

From tax returns in a few clicks to predictive tools on macro-economic performance, digitalisation processes have already brought outstanding results. But time savings and increased efficiency allow us to replicate successful projects, and to research new ways forward in sensitive areas of life – such as health, education, employment. Proactive services in these fields can have an impact on citizens’ experience with the state, rewarding innovative public sectors.

“In healthcare, we could implement personal medicine, analysing the specific characteristics of each individual patient based on genetic information. It would also be possible to use a personal approach in education. Imagine seeing classes and learning groups formed not based on age, but on the actual capacity and potential of students. For what regards unemployment in Estonia today, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (EUIF) is already using AI to provide job seekers with the job they need based on their long-term experience. We can also predict in what areas the risk of job displacement remains high,” Rozov states.

Public sector at the forefront of technological change

Wide-ranging technological change has been driven by private sector initiatives in the past. Governments, however, are increasingly looking at such paths with greater interest. Implementing up and coming digital solutions, paired with shifts in approaching service provision, contributes to developing new ideas of governance. Estonia’s effort towards proactive services does not only aim to increasingly optimise costs and generate higher added value – it is a crucial step in the creation of a state that keeps citizens and their needs at its very core.

“The plan is to move towards invisible event services where customers are served through events in their lives. For example, when a child is born or starts school, or becoming unemployed, changing jobs, buying a house, being in an accident – technology is capable of linking dozens of services by different institutions, providing a comprehensive solution to the citizen through a single event, in only one contact. In addition, the state does not have to wait for the customer to ask for grants, assistance, advice. The state can itself proactively offer special opportunities to citizens, as all information is available and citizens have agreed to the use of this information for those purposes,” Rozov concludes.

Digital development has long been aimed at saving time and resources. Citizens’ satisfaction, however, has always been one of the pillars of legitimacy for governments’ actions. The creation of an enhanced, proactive digital society is one of the policy directions ahead. With seven seamless services to go live by 2020, Estonia is pioneering once again new ways of digitally transforming the state and its relationship with the citizens.

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