Could using Open Data be the next big leap for e-Estonia?

Let the numbers do the talking: established only less than year ago, more than 10 PhD and a hundred master’s students studying in courses and programmes taught by the DigiGovLab staff; participation in many international projects and €10 million in funding.

This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia. By Sven Paulus.

These figures characterise DigiGovLab, part of the Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance at TalTech, which focuses on practical, societally beneficial and academically excellent research on all facets of digital government, founded and headed by the professor of digital governance, Robert Krimmer.

Estonia, where 250,000 people (almost 44% of voters) submitted their ballot online in March 2019 in the last parliamentary elections, has become the world pioneer in internet voting and e-governance. Internet voting represents one area of interest for the DigiGovLab, where the price of voting through different channels was calculated. Compared with voting at a local polling station during advanced voting (€20.41), internet voting is much cheaper (€2.32).

Secrets of the digital government

The general purpose of the lab is to provide a platform allowing researchers and students to engage, study and understand how digital government works.

The research has largely dealt with open data and co-creation: how to involve different stakeholders in the public service delivery process, organisational transformation and understanding the effects of digital technologies on organisations.

DigiGovLab is located at the TalTech’s campus in Tallinn (TalTech).

The researchers of the DigiGovLab recently published an article, discussing what the reasons were behind the fact that despite its successful digital government, Estonia does not use the potential of Open Government Data and seems to be far behind many other countries, according to international surveys and indices in this matter. According to the researchers, it has to do with the political motivation, organisational issues and the lack of awareness.

But there is a tender on the table: Open Knowledge Estonia is trying to revitalise and build up an open data industry or, rather, an ecosystem in Estonia.

Using open data is free and it opens new opportunities for businesses, as they don’t have to collect the data on their own. There are many different cases for using open government data, but it is impossible to know them all. For example, at the Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, a simple real estate portal was built using nine different sources of data. The portal was built as part of the H2020 funded OpenGovIntelligence project and provided information on crime, traffic safety, and school performance in the area of a given address.

Going global

Established in December 2018, DigiGovLab is active in many projects. The major ones are The Once Only Principle Project (which aims to explore and demonstrate the once-only principle across borders, while focusing on data from businesses), the Open Government Intelligence (improving public services with multidimensional statistical data), the Cost of Democratic Elections and projects on the cost of internet voting.

It also has the Erasmus Mundus Master of Science in Public Sector Innovation and eGovernance programme, where students study at specific courses in three European universities. The lab is also involved with smart city issues and is working with countries in South America to build up capacity to teach about smart cities and governance of smart cities.

The cover image is illustrative.

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