Podcast 🎧 & blog: How to boost your country’s digital transformation remotely

09.10.2020 | Adhele Tuulas

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, countries undertook years’ worth of digital transformation in a matter of weeks. The public sector – traditionally viewed as the slower player in the digital game– accelerated its innovation efforts to keep countries in function while decreasing risks to public health. It was only natural that governments would seek external expertise with the aim of formulating and kick-starting their digital endeavours.

The e-Governance Academy (eGA) has been here to provide such help. We have been sharing Estonia’s digital journey for over 18 years and Annela Kiirats, Programme Director of e-Governance Training, has overseen it for more than a decade. In conversation with Hannes Astok, she explores the value of sharing the e-governance experience, offline and online, to support digital transformation globally.

Photo: Annela and Hannes recording the podcast


Listen to the podcast here!


Benefits of dedicated in-person training

Since 2002, the e-Governance Academy has witnessed a growing interest in Estonia’s digital development, from all corners of the world. What started as basic training on the pillars of e-governance has now branched out into comprehensive custom-made programs.

When asked why decision-makers choose to come to Estonia, Kiirats shares her observations from years of hosting various international delegations. “People have heard about the Estonian success story. It is quite interesting to see that most of the delegations that come here say that officials, even in the same country, understand the meaning of e-government differently. They want to come here physically to experience this environment and see what e-government is about for the Estonian people,” she explains.

Photo: Visit to the Government Office of Estonia, eGA


In addition to formal training, in-person visits have functioned as a source of inspiration. Social interactions with local officials help delegations deconstruct e-government, and understand how initially abstract digital concepts function behind the scenes. “Delegations feel that meeting high-level colleagues provides support for further decision-making,” Kiirats continues. “When they get inspiration from their colleagues here, work as a team, and align their understandings of e-government, they are more enthusiastic to make bold decisions,” she says.


Constructing an effective training experience

What differentiates eGA’s training from other similar programs is the careful and focused selection of participants. This choice ensures active participation from the individuals who, ultimately, will be responsible for future e-government development in their countries. “We gather decision-makers, politicians, technologists. People from different fields would start communicating here in a way they would never do in their own country – even if they work in the same building,” Kiirats highlights.

Photo: Participants in our training programme, eGA


Looking at the process as a whole, the study visit traditionally begins with the selection of topics in close cooperation with the delegation contacts. All programs are customised for the beneficiary, but certain standard elements remain consistent. “The first day is about explaining the general architecture of e-governance. We bring examples of e-services so they see what e-government looks like for the end-user,” Kiirats outlines. “Usually, on the second or third day, we take the delegation to our government offices. And if we have agreed on covering any specific topics, such as e-justice, e-health, ICT education or else, we then focus on those.”

Most importantly, in order to maximise the value of each visit, an interactive session on the last day wraps up the training. “Here, we get feedback from the participants on what they have learned, how the visit has influenced their future projects and sometimes we already manage to compile a draft plan for the next activities. In many cases, the study visits are the first step in further cooperation,” Kiirats explains.


A widespread shift to remote digital transformation

But of course, the global cancellation of all in-person activities affected the e-Governance Academy too. As Hannes Astok notes, while the number of visiting delegations last year rose above forty, this year the number barely reached four before March. With the COVID-19 crisis still ongoing, and the importance of e-government growing rapidly as ever before, eGA started providing e-courses.

“Even though it is quite difficult for some countries to move from physical visits to so-called distanced learning, we can still assure them that the experts, lessons learned, and the best practices we share are still the same. It is just about adjusting yourself to a different situation,” Kiirats explains.

Photo: Participants in our study visit, eGA


What’s more, she is hopeful that the implementation of this new digital format could even improve the efficiency of post-pandemic study visits. “In the future, this can be the first phase to visiting Estonia – to already focus on specific needs and expected outcomes. So, perhaps, the study visits can be even more successful in the future due to this crisis,” Kiirats concludes.

For now, the online custom-made courses are eGA’s efforts to adjust and digitalise our own services. The team has paid careful attention to the differences between online and offline experiences. The programs consist of different study modes and materials, ranging from recorded presentations to live webinars.

The approach, topics, and goal to help boost digital transformation across the world have remained the same – merely adjusted and pursued remotely for the time being.


Learn how your country can boost its digital development from a distance HERE!