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Estonia pioneers transformational digital citizenship

January 9, 2015



How do you reengage a citizenry with the process of democracy? How do you enable better government and deliver better front lines services. Services that are higher performing but reduce the capital costs of running these services? How can openness offer new ways for countries to engage a local and a global citizenry? empowering both state and its populace?

Estonia it seems are doing just that by pioneering the concept and associated services of E-citizenship. Technological tools that can make life better for the everyday citizen and businesses. The concept  is the first of its kind to bridge the “digital borders” of a country, giving “digital citizens” in other countries new rights in Estonia. In the early 90s, Estonia’s leaders were faced with a grim reality: theirs was a small country with a small population and few resources. If Estonia was to succeed, they knew, they had to find a way to push the country forward. With the digital technologies and the internet having just arrived on the world stage, leaders made a conscious decision to use it to build an open, e-society – a cooperative project involving government, business and citizens that would mold the nation’s path to the future.

In Estonia, the availability of integrated e-solutions has created an effective, convenient interface between citizens and government agencies. Using their eID, citizens can access the State Portal, a one-stop-shop for the dozens of state services connected by the X-Road. Here they can do everything from voting to updating their automobile registry to applying for universities. Each and every citizen is also given an e-mail address for official communication.

Estonia is however pioonering the idea of e-citizenship, Siim Sikkut, who is a member of the government’s strategy unit, explains in an interview:

The primary goal of the e-residency initiative has been straightforward: to make life and business easier for our international partners and non-resident foreigners who have a relation to Estonia – who invest, work or study here and do trade with us. General banking, government dealings, company management, contracts, medical visits; non-residents will have secure access to online services and ability to digitally sign in legally binding manner just like Estonians do.  On 21 October, Estonia’s parliament unanimously voted to extend national digital e-residency rights to foreigners by the end of the year. With this e-residency programme, the least populous country in Europe, of 1.3 million people, intends to attract around 10 million “digital citizens” by 2025.

Why is this important? Clearly, by doing so, a small country can attract new revenue flows and commercial activity into its economy. What one might call nonlinear thinking. Estonia can grow its economy and intellectual capital both at the same time. Signalling a new collaborative economic system, it is the death knell of the vertically integrated organisation. Transformation often comes from the edge not the centre, Scotland take heart. In many ways, Estonia is becoming an open universal platform, in tech jargon, that allows the networked two way flows of information to freely flow. When this happens forward momentum is generated. Meaning, a more vibrant citizenry, and a more vibrant economy.

Journey further

  • i-voting: Internet voting, or ‘i-voting’, is a system that allows voters to cast their ballots from any internet-connected computer, anywhere in the world.
  • e-business: infrastructure X-Road and eID to create fast interaction and access needed to make commerce work.  electronic tax filinge-business registry and the availability of public records online have pared bureaucratic waste down to a bare minimum.e-oriented government makes an unprecedented amount of legal and tax information available on the web.
  •  e-School system: parents have 24-hour online access to their children’s school activity data and can check everything from grades and attendance records to today’s homework assignment. Using the same system, teachers can do everything from plan curricula to send notes to parents, individual students or an entire class. Students can see their progress online, and even put their best work into a personalized e-portfolio. ProgeTiiger (CodeTiger) and TechSisters are two Estonian initiatives looking to discover techolgical prowess in children.
  • e-government: The e-government systems used in Estonia are breaking down the barriers between officials and the public, creating an atmosphere of openness and trust. Anyone can log into e-Law to see what their parliamentarians are doing with draft legislation, for example. Citizens can also log into the State Portal to see all of their own government-held records, check who has reviewed that data, and in some cases, set limits to access.
  • e-health: e-Prescription system (2010) is cutting down on paperwork and doctor visits, saving an untold amount of time and effort. Doctors can now prescribe medicine to their patients in an online environment, without having to physically meet them to write out a paper each time a refill is needed. The patient then simply goes to the pharmacy, presents his ID Card, and picks up the medicine

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