Weddings, Super Mario, and this year’s Conference. Here is what made it so special

15.06.2020 | Federico Plantera

Nothing is easy when there is a global pandemic in action. We have come to learn this the hard way, all of us, experiencing in first person all the problems and setbacks caused by the Covid-19 crisis. And still, in times where face-to-face contact is forcefully restricted, we can rely on resources for learning, communicating, and discussing that bridge distances.

Almost inevitably, the e-Governance Conference 2020 was meant to be affected by the virus. And instead, in just two months, e-Governance Academy managed to reshuffle the cards on the table. We turned a Tallinn-based event into a truly global, far-reaching opportunity to broaden the scope of digital transformation.

 

Technical team of the e-Governance Conference 2020. Photo: Raigo Pajula

 

This would not have been possible without you – our readers, our conference participants, our speakers. You flooded the online platform, with over 1100 registered participants representing 135 different countries and territories. Linnar Viik, the man behind the concept of this year’s Conference, takes a look at how we made it possible, and why this edition is so inspiring for similar events to come worldwide.

 

A conference like a wedding party?

It is not hard to picture the initial situation, as we were all in this together. Social distancing was enforced and, consequentially, all public events were halted. At the time, it was mid-March, Linnar Viik had just returned to Estonia from international visits to partner countries and the Netherlands. A deserted Amsterdam Airport was the first hint that something had to be changed for this year’s upcoming Conference. But what, and how?

“We had to make a decision between three scenarios. The first two were obvious, we had to either cancel the Conference, or postpone it to autumn – when many other similar events, affected or not by the pandemic, were already scheduled for. But the third option was the most appealing one, of course: making the 2020 e-Governance Conference a fully-online event,” Linnar Viik recalls.

 

A live-discussion at e-Governance Conference 2020. Photo: Raigo Pajula

 

The conference experience, tailored on everyone’s needs

“I had two days to formulate the concept and present it to our teams and sponsors. And funnily enough, the eureka! moment came from local traditions and folklore. Seto people, in South Estonia, have a special way of organizing weddings: celebrations take place over a couple of days, not just one. Those invited, coming to the event on the first day, see performances and eat the food of the first day. On the second day, they get more food and do more activities. But those who join late can still enjoy all parts of the wedding celebrations, including those they first missed out on. Still, the whole festive experience is shared like a community, but remains very personal,” Viik explains.

“In the same way, we designed our Conference programme to last four days, to fit everyone’s schedule, but allowing people to tailor their personal conference experience on individual interests,” he continues.

Equipments for making the organising of the conference event safe. Photo: Raigo Pajula

 

In our conference environment, people were – and still are, until June 21 – able to navigate keynotes, live discussions, country opinions, materials and the Virtual Expo area as it best suits their wishes. ( After the 21 June, all conference material will be available at egovconference.ee.) This meant delving into software development for us, applied to event planning. But it gave the possibility to offer a unique journey to all participants, and not having to re-plan an event that always gathered so much interest in digital transformation specialists worldwide.

 

Highest attendance with limited time and resources

Speakers of the Conference. Photo: Screenshot from video

 

Moving the Conference to a digital format implied a massive work of re-organization and restructuring of the activities. But the programme remained largely intact. We took it as a challenge, both organizers and speakers, and a risk that paid off in the best way.

Not only the e-Governance Conference 2020 set an all-time record in terms of attendees. Viewers were also able to access contributions from up to 59 speakers from 30 different countries who embarked with us on this journey. And as David Rowan himself told Viik before the event, “If you are doing it, and Estonia is doing it, then I’m in! I know it will be something quite different. I want to be a part of that and learn how you are doing such thing like a fully online conference,” Viik says.

 

David Rowan at the live-discussion with Siim Sikkut and Linnar Viik. Photo: Screenshot from live session

 

This enthusiasm sets a high mark for the next e-conferences to come at large, not only those organized by us. A core team of five people in total from our side, plus all the technology partners and event managers, pulled off an entirely online programme in just two months’ time. But others should definitely brace themselves for some high intensity weeks and work sessions.

 

“If you are doing it, and Estonia is doing it,

then I’m in!

I know it will be something quite different.”

David Rowan

 

“We can see more and more of such events taking up a hybrid format, with smaller in-person sessions and broader accessibility in online e-learning environments. I believe the future of these events lies here, at least for the next year, if not even beyond the current crisis. In this way, both those attending in real life and those connected to the online platform will enjoy a personalized learning experience, as it best fits what they are looking for,” Viik explains.

 

Sincerity, resilience, and the ‘Nintendo Game Boy’ for a digital leap

Format aside, what added even more value to this year’s Conference was the nature of our speakers’ contributions. Condensing longer keynotes into 5 to 15 minutes long speeches is no easy task for anyone. However, this allowed viewers to take advantage of to-the-point, honest and focused contributions.

 

All main contributors have been captured in the photo. Photo: Raigo Pajula

 

Chatting with Linnar Viik, the defining keywords of the 2020 edition of e-Governance Conference are clear. “People were very sincere and open about their ideas and concerns on digitalization, and really tried to express them effectively. Maybe also because they were in front of a screen? For some, the real-life conference room might hinder this necessary, positive approach, which is instead what we all need. But the resilience showed by speakers and attendees towards embracing this new format, and showing so much interest and willingness to move towards e-governance, were crucial to complement this aspect,” Viik says.

 

Throwback video of the e-Governance Conference 2020

 

“Of course, making a conference fully online for the first time has its limitations. I bet our 2020 event will look a bit like the Nintendo Game Boy in a few years’ time, when methods and tools will be perfected even more. But I’d say this year’s edition is our Super Mario – maybe pixelated, maybe not 100% fluid. Still, a landmark event that pushes decision makers and experts around the globe to effectively translate digital strategies into better services for all citizens and end-users,” Viik concludes.