At the end of 2002, three men – Linnar Viik, Ants Sild and Ivar Tallo – turned their ideas into reality by establishing the e-Governance Academy: a think tank providing consultation for the creation of information societies. In this interview we talk to Viik, who has recently rejoined the eGA’s team, about why the academy was set up, what draws him to its activities and what he feels the future will bring.
Why did you decide to set up an academy specifically?
The ‘academy’ bit of our name is a tribute to the way knowledge and skills were passed on in ancient Athens, it refers to the way we approach our work. By the time we founded the academy (in 2002 – Ed.) we’d realised that without skills and experience and knowledge on the ground no one anywhere would ever be able to build up a successful information society. We also felt – and I still feel – that the information society, and everything that comes with it, is still only taking its first steps. There aren’t any countries or regions light years ahead of everyone else, never to be caught.
There is no universally applicable correct roadmap, as local social, cultural and legal aspects carry greater role than technology. Estonian approach doesn’t fit all, every state needs to find their own path. Learning from other’s experiences and getting inspired and motivated by their ideas makes the global information society fascinating.
Have you made something of all of the ideas you had back then?
There have been a few distinct stages in the way the e-Governance Academy has developed. At the outset its focus was on sharing Estonia’s experience to that point with other transition countries. For the most part we were mapping our experience and then providing loads of training and consultation. The next stage was and indeed still is playing the role of strategic partner and consultant in the development of a number of countries and certain key areas within them. The latest stage is not so much passing on the knowledge and experience of Estonia or the e-Governance Academy per se, but sharing new partnerships and the successful initiatives that have been launched in lots of other countries with everyone who’s interested now. Our role is still guiding and managing long-term strategic cooperation, but experts and organisations from other countries are much more involved in activities than they were before. Just as it seemed to Ukraine and Moldova back in the day that, because of the shared history, they had more to learn from Estonia than some developed country, the situation is similar to the one you find in Africa or Asia, where states have a lot to learn from one another at the regional level. Frequently a lot more than from European countries with a different culture and a different social context.
The eGA’s team is an international one, having studied and gained experience in different parts of the world. But to share that experience even more – including with our partners to build up local, long-term capabilities – we need an even bigger and even more international team.
What has digital technology changed in public administration in the last 15 years?
Compared to the turn of the millennium quite a few changes stand out where digital solutions used for public admin are concerned. The majority of them are related to developments in technology and the attitudes of governments towards using such solutions. Initial ignorance gave way to interest, and interest gave way to a desire to achieve something. In a lot of countries this has led to disappointment if the solutions don’t spring up overnight or as part of a campaign. These days the use of digital solutions is becoming more and more of a through-line in government priorities for the long-term achievement of objectives. Of course, the abilities and complexity of the systems used has grown, so having local sufficient competence for developing and administrating complex information systems has become unavoidable.
During the last 15 years, considering and tackling cyber-threats has become an important subject. User’s transition from conventional desktop setups to smart devices is also an important change.
We weren’t able to predict the majority of these developments, especially in technology, and it’s getting harder and harder to foresee the success of future innovations of technology. In a situation like this it’s even more important to set long-term visions and goals not dependent on hype from the development cycle of technology.
What one word would you use to characterise the e-Governance Academy today in your view?
What do you hope to see happening with the academy in the coming years?
Internationalisation and networking! Knowledge of new areas will definitely add to the academy’s portfolio. In a situation where ICT runs through every part of our lives and has linked them all together, the competence of the field and its ability to provide effective consultation need to run through a number of different areas as well.
Linnar Viik at e-Governance Conference 2017