2023 e-Governance Conference: Asking the right questions without rush, with care

The 2023 e-Governance Conference comes to an end, and all our on-site guests are making their way back to all different corners of the world. Yet again, three days in Tallinn brought together – for the 9th time this year – policymakers, experts, and innovators to explore how digital transformation is shaping the future of governance and our societies.

Right, because that is indeed already happening. And different events have significantly accelerated this process in the past five years. The pandemic, natural disasters, war. All of that, next to the ever-present rhetoric of a need for speed, when it comes to adopting digital solutions.

In a way, this year we took a step back. Not to withdraw from challenges, but to see them more clearly – and properly understand how to tackle them. Digital innovation is a tool, but the focus lies on social change. How do we want our communities and societies to look and function, from Uganda to Ukraine?

Here, some things we understood from two insight-filled days of Conference. As reviewed on stage by Kristina Mänd and Hannes Astok, respectively eGA’s own Senior Expert on e-Democracy, and Executive Director.

Deliver innovation to achieve best practice

One of the key themes of the conference was the necessity of getting the basics right, in order to ensure that digital transformation benefits as many people as possible. Yes, cultural barriers, inequality, and skill gaps are potential obstacles that can impede progress. But building institutional capacity, recruiting digital champions, and considering the diverse needs of nations and societies, can help promote a culture of digital innovation. Simple and inclusive design principles and models must be part of the picture. And by adopting solutions that cater to the most vulnerable individuals, governments can enhance accessibility for everyone.

Expand innovation to build inclusive and accessible solutions

The objective, indeed, must be to create inclusive and accessible digital solutions. Speakers from Africa to Europe highlighted how innovation should be expanded, broadened, to ensure that all citizens have equal access to services and opportunities. Best practices from various disciplines, such as inclusive design and community building, can be leveraged to enhance digital innovation, policy-making, and service design. But trust is a key component here – as people must have confidence in how the government sets to take care of their needs, through services. And how we listen, pay attention to users long before rolling out services. By incorporating principles and recommendations that improve accessibility, governments can create a level playing field for all citizens. 

Embed innovations to create engaging systems of governance

The conference highlighted the importance of embedding innovations within governance systems to foster engagement and collaboration. It was emphasized that breaking down silos and encouraging communication is vital, not only between public and private sectors but also horizontally within government agencies. Inefficiencies arising from a lack of coordination can be eliminated, leading to improved policy development and service delivery. By embedding solutions, governments can overcome silo-thinking and incorporate innovative approaches that drive social change. By focusing on transparency, accessibility, and inclusive design, governments can build trust and create healthier and more engaged societies.

Mindset matters – digital transformation as a tool for social change

Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, set the record straight on the point from the very first session of our two-day conference. Digital transformation, and being successful at it, is mostly a matter of mindset. Shifts in that should aim at recognizing, though, that digital transformation is a means to achieve innovation. But the end goal remains social change, the face and shape and mechanisms we want our societies to have. Constant learning, capacity building, and understanding how citizens interact with governments at various levels, are essential. As it is trust, once again, emphasizing the need for transparency, accessibility, and inclusive design to change society and the economy. As it is happening in Africa, in the many countries that brought their digitalization journeys to the spotlight during the Conference – showing how it is not anymore about planning or strategies there, but concrete policy actions and programmes.

To the next year!

The conference’s key observations underscored the significance of delivering innovation, expanding inclusivity, and embedding engaging systems of governance. By prioritizing building institutional capacity and digital skills, addressing accessibility and inclusion, and fostering collaboration, governments can harness the power of digital tools to create efficient, transparent, and citizen-centric services.

Embracing digital transformation as a path to social change requires continuous learning, collaboration, and trust-building. By incorporating these principles, governments can pave the way for a future where digital transformation empowers and benefits all members of society, regardless of their background or level of digital proficiency. Once again, we have done this together – us and all of you, who joined us in Tallinn and online. The work continues. Through and to next year, meeting again to celebrate the first decade of e-Governance Conferences.