ECePS ERA Chair of e-governance and digital public services team focuses on research on digital transformation of the public sector, by looking into why and how digital transformation works in practice, and how different digital solutions can be employed across fields.

Our research focuses on four distinct directions (see below for more details):

  1. Changes in organizations and in government-citizen relations. Our team analyses how organizations change with digital transformation, and how relations with citizens change as digital transformation takes place.
  2. Improving government decision-making via digital tools. We help to develop, pilot and assess the impact of digital tools and services that enable evidence-based policy-making. These include decision support tools based on public data and dashboards for automated, real-time service impact assessment.
  3. Digital open government co-creation. Improving the use of digital tools to bring government closer to citizens, such as through internet voting systems, and to build trust in e-services. This includes analysis of social trust and acceptance of new e-governance technologies
  4. E-Government related policy analysis and developing policy recommendations. This includes analysis of cross-border e-services and implementation of the EU Single Digital Gateway Regulation (SDGR).

Our efforts in each of these four areas benefits greatly from our:

  • Connections to local and regional authorities in Estonia, such as municipalities and ministries, which serve as a testbed for innovative case studies and interventions;
  • Access to the large quantities of anonymized e-governance data generated by Estonia;
  • Close working relationships with Estonian industrial actors working on cutting edge technologies in cybersecurity, privacy, and related fields.
  • Ability to engage all relevant stakeholders related to e-governance in Estonia, including citizens and community actors

1. Changes in organizations and in government-citizen relations

We look into how digital transformation and organizational change are related, and how civic servants and citizens respond to and cope with digital transformation in public sector organizations. For example, if a public sector organization or agency delivers digital public services, it may result in a change in the processes and structures of the organization or agency, and it may change the roles and tasks of people that are involved in public service delivery. Another research theme is how citizens to whom digital services are delivered, respond to and/or cope with digital services. Estonia is ideal for this research due to the wide diffusion of e-governance technology currently in place in the country. 

In more detail, we

  • Carry out empirical investigations of organizational changes, digital leaderships behaviors, and citizens’ reactions by investigating coping behaviors and attitudes in vignette surveys among Estonian citizens.
  • Analyse the organizational dependencies involved in re-designing processes and structures in public service delivery.

Research Area 2: Improving government decision-making via digital tools

As in other fields, such as healthcare, the massive quantities of data that are being collected by the public sector can be utilized to create decision-support tools for policy-makers and public administrators. One example of this developed by CITIS is a tool created for the Estonian Fire Service to aid in the scoring of household fire-risk, to help guide public education campaigns on fire-safety. Another example is our current efforts to develop a digital tool that makes use of building registry, social service and other data to identify buildings with the highest rates of energy poverty, which can be used to prioritize buildings for renovation. 

Public sector data can also be used to create digital tools that automatically collects impact assessment data, so that policy-makers can assess the impact of specific policies. For example, the development of digitalized services, which by design involves exchanging machine-readable data between registries, presents an opportunity to analyze how different levels of governance are involved in delivering services more accurately.

The ERA Chair has identified impact assessment and multi-level governance as a theoretical lens to investigate the state of the art of multi-level governance.

Research Area 3: Internet voting, open government, co-creation

Various convenience voting methods (such as advance voting and postal voting) have become increasingly popular in the last decade. This has massively accelerated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has increased usage of remote voting methods and spurred interest in internet voting as the ultimate form of remote and convenience voting.

The trials and pilots of this voting method that have been and are currently conducted in various countries focus on how to ensure election integrity with technological applications in a potentially hostile cyber environment, while offering the most user convenience and low participation barriers to ensure uptake and usage. As Estonia remains one of the few cases where Internet voting is well established and widely used, it presents an excellent case to study, or ongoing experiment, how the trustworthy internet voting technology can be developed and applied as well as how to ensure trust among a heterogeneous voting population.

ECePS and CITIS teams continue research on assessing the effectiveness and impacts of digital tools in Internet voting, open government and co-creation:

  1. Analyzing Estonian e-voter survey and anonymized log data from the voting application to determine factors that increase or decrease user trust, different latent
  2. trust dimensions around internet voting as well as connections between trust and technology usage.
  3. Cooperating with Cybernetica, a software vendor providing internet voting solutions in Estonia and globally, in organizing and running experiments designed to test how different technological applications and their deployment modes increase or decrease voter trust towards Internet voting.
Examining the implementation of open government policies in designated domains and the mechanisms of how these lead/or don’t lead to effective public engagement and service co-creation through open data usage.

Research Area 4: E-Government related policy analysis, especially cross-border governance of e-services

The development and governance of digital public services is an increasingly important and complex policy area that requires specialized policy analysis. An excellent example of this is the development of cross-boarder e-governance. The Single Digital Gateway Regulation (SDGR) mandates that cross-border access must be provided to 21 public services by end of 2023. These include services that affect all aspects of life such as requesting a proof of residence or registering a vehicle. When taken together, these can be considered as a new sixth freedom within the European Union. 

Providing such pervasive cross-border services requires the integration of many complex systems of various levels of technological development from different levels of governance across the EU. Furthermore, making changes of such scope can have many different positive and negative impacts, intended and unintended. Thus, one focus of the ERA Chair has been identification of the technical and non-technical challenges of multi-level governance and cross-border digital service delivery.