Podcast 🎧 & blog: What’s next for digital public services in Estonia?
The wait could not have been faster. Just one week to go to e-Governance Conference 2022, to discuss resilient and seamless governance with high-level government representatives, experts, and academics. So let us do the honours with an introduction, and a look forward, from Estonia.
Luukas Ilves, freshly appointed Chief Information Officer of the Government of Estonia, features in this last episode of the podcast building up to the conference. What’s next in Estonia in terms of public service delivery?
“The best job in digital government in the world”
We left last week with outgoing Government CIO Siim Sikkut somewhat introducing this week’s guest, jokingly saying that Luukas Ilves “took the bait”. But hearing from him, it is certain that this bait was definitely a sweet one. “I think I have the best job in public administration in Estonia, and also the best job in digital government in the world,” Ilves admits.
Some curiosity arises in peers abroad over this private-public organizations interchange of personnel. Curiosity, of course, all in good faith. But this is one of the peculiarities of the Estonian human capital in digital transformation – the exchange of experiences and expertise between sectors.
“In other countries, colleagues find remarkable that I could come from a tech startup and just apply for the job through an open competition. But that, in and of itself, is very much a useful thing – to have this sort of back and forth between public and private sector,” Ilves says.
A new CIO term started, between consolidation and expectations
It was the beginning of this year that Luukas Ilves took office as the new CIO of the Estonian Government. And even though no legacy is common theory and practice in the country’s public sector innovation, something has been passed on in this case – from CIO to CIO.
“Siim bequeathed me with a new digital society strategy adopted by the government just last autumn. And I must say that, broadly speaking, it lays out very clearly where we need to go. Really, it is about inculcating a philosophy and culture of true user centricity across how public services get delivered in Estonia,” Ilves explains.
The building blocks are there. “I think our core asset is that we have many rock-solid infrastructures and agreements around how digital government is provided in Estonia. With a level of penetration or user uptake that you see nowhere else in the world. But, perhaps more importantly, there are strong user expectations. Estonian users have a positive expectation that their public services are digital by default. And when that’s not the case, they express their disappointment,” Ilves says.
Data and technology meet creativity in service design
According to Ilves, “From a functional perspective, of how Estonian public services work, we are in pretty good shape. However, users see on a daily basis that we do not have the user experience and design of the best private sector services they are by now used to. At present, in the public sector, that kind of thinking and toolbox is not as present as we would like for it to be.”
Public healthcare, education, culture – the fields where digital tools and leadership can have their say are plenty. From the CIO’s point of view, one key task is to think about new ways to make a certain process happen, more efficiently and effectively. But getting lost in one of the many topic-specific areas must be avoided at all costs. “The CIO’s job is not to solve all problems [in those fields], or to have business acumen,” Ilves warns.
“It is, instead, to meet halfway those who have a vision in healthcare, or in culture, or in public safety, with the tools to help them do their job. We are focusing on how to provide technology and infrastructure, but also data and some horizontal thinking, to help data and technology meet creativity in terms of service design,” Ilves concludes. It’s clear that from life events-based and proactive services to the necessary technical infrastructure to make it happen, the next years are going to be quite exciting in digital government Estonia. Once again.
Interested in more? Join the e-Governance Conference on 10 – 12 May at to listen to the discussions featuring Luukas Kristjan Ilves on 12 May
- What’s Next for the World’s Most Advanced Digital Governments (with Mike Bracken)
- New Trends in Technology and Governance (with Max Tegmark and Linnar Viik)