Podcast 🎧 & blog: Digital innovation as catalyst for social change

28.03.2023 | Federico Plantera

Preparations for the 9th e-Governance Conference are well under way, for what has come to be one of the highest level e-governance events globally. In the past few years, we addressed ever-so-salient topics such as resilience and crisis management, with the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine inevitably driving the agenda.

In the 2023 edition we look at what are the sustainable and distributed societal returns that come from technological development. “Digital Innovation as Catalyst for Social Change” is the umbrella for this year’s programme, and Senior Expert on e-Democracy Kristina Mänd joins us today for the appetizer, a preview of what to expect from the conference on May 30-31 in Tallinn and online.

‘Present calls the future’ – a conference about social change

This year’s e-Governance Conference features stories of digital transformation from all corners of the globe – from Costa Rica to Georgia, from Ukraine to Tonga. But the overarching scope lies on the long run, on how technology can serve lasting, viable social change.

“Because social change can be defined by human interactions and the relationships that transform our cultural and social innovations, and the impact they need to have,” Mänd explains.

In the past few years, digital development happened very quickly, so to say. “Now we are wondering what we can do in the field of healthcare, now in artificial intelligence implementation, now on improving this or that particular service. But the social change view needs to come along with that, to make sure that with those digital innovations we are not harming societies, the way they function, and the system of human interactions between people, and with the state.”

Like renovating a house piece by piece

Fast-paced technological development, however, did not limit itself to the past couple of years of dynamism and emergencies. It can be looked at as a trend that, for almost about a decade already, has permeated policy papers and consultants’ strategic recommendations to both governments and companies. But have we been going too fast, perhaps? If and what gets lost in the process?

It’s not that much about speed, as it is to feeling comfortable in the society we create. “As an example, take something most of us have been through: renovating your apartment. Perhaps you need to repair something about to collapse in one corner, and you really get into it. But then somebody comes in, and says ‘hey, I also have this brilliant solution that can fix your kitchen too’. And in this renovation rush you can fix the balcony, and do something else too. But in the end, you look at the big picture, and you don’t recognize your house anymore,” Mänd points out.

“Maybe it’s not anymore the kind of house you wanted to live in. Similarly, when implementing technological solutions, both people and institutions need to keep in sight the longer term view. They do need to address current affairs and take care of short-term projects. But without a perspective on the long run, we might take very different directions. And end up in very different places.” Without a holistic and lasting approach to digitalization, “we might leave a lot of different people and groups behind, creating digital vulnerability,” Mänd warns. The opposite of what fruitful, distributed development needs to bring – inequalities, instead of opportunities.

What to expect at the 2023 e-Governance Conference

With this holistic view in sight, the 2023 e-Governance Conference will host an array of renown international speakers from all over the globe.

In no specific order, attendees will hear from Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia; Paul Timmers, Research Fellow at Oxford University; Luukas Kristjan Ilves, Government CIO; Jorge Mora Flores, former Director of Digital Governance in Costa Rica; changemakers in the Western Balkan countries, our own senior experts, and many more.

It’s a conference that keeps a global scope, while exploring all the sub-themes in governments’ policy agenda to pair with long-standing, viable social change. Such as cybersecurity and cyber hygiene, capacity building and human capital development, citizen engagement, the groundwork for conscious and effective AI adoption.

Find out more on the official website of the 2023 e-Governance Conference. And whether in person or online, join us to build better and inclusive digital societies, together.