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 three distinct directions (see below for more details):

  1. Life-event based and pro-active digital public services. Our team develops predictive services based on proxy data sources (e.g. logs of e-public services) that enable identification of life-events that could proactively trigger public services without user action.
  2. Cross-border e-governance and service impact assessment. We help to develop, pilot and assess the impact of cross-border digital services. We also study implementation of the EU Single Digital Gateway Regulation (SDGR).
  3. Internet voting and open government co-creation. Improving the use of digital tools to bring government closer to citizens, such as through e-voting systems, and to build trust in e-services.

In addition, we also work on:

  • (Automated) Impact Assessment of the outcomes and impacts of case studies and pilots; in addition, we develop digital tools that automatically collects impact assessment data;
  • Analysis of social trust and acceptance of new e-governance technologies by engaging stakeholders and community members;
  • Policy analysis and developing policy recommendations;
  • 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.

1. Life-event based and pro-active digital services

We look into life event-based and pro-active digital services are pushed to citizens based on an observed life-event or predicted service need without the citizen purposefully asking for or applying for the service out of his/her own initiative. These services would greatly simplify interactions with the state as relevant public services would be automatically 'pushed' to individuals when they become eligible due to a specific life event. For example, when a citizen becomes unemployed and seeks support (life event) the most appropriate job offers and training opportunities would automatically be offered.

Such a transformational redesign of how governments offer services is only possible when digital governance infrastructure and data sources are mature enough to enable the safe sharing of life-event information between registries to make precise predictions of a service need.

Furthermore, by linking service data with outcomes data (such as employment retention, salary level or school performance), these systems would become more effective in selecting the best services for each recipient - high quality personalized public services. More timely and effective public services will in-turn eventually lead to further refinement and improvement of existing theories on the diffusion of new technologies. 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

  1. Pilot bottom-up strategies of life-event definition and detection through proxy data sources, such as logs of services consumed that in the past were based upon theorized connections to a specific life-event (as opposed to actual usage data).
  2. Carry out empirical investigations of service needs from the client point of view by investigating service consumption clusters in service query logs.
  3. Analyse the technical, legal and organizational dependencies involved in re-designing public service delivery around life-events and pro-active service pushing.
  4. Evaluate how different state IT information systems organization methods allow or inhibit life-event based pro-active service offerings.

Research Area 2: Cross-border governance and service impact assessment

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.

For these reasons, ideally every such policy intervention would be followed by an impact assessment (IA) and redesign effort. Unfortunately, the identification of causal effects of policies tend to come too late to be able to make meaningful change. The development of digitalized services, which by design involve exchanging machine-readable data between registries, presents the opportunity to include IA into the design of the service, allowing for quantitative IA with low administrative burden and ease-of-use for service consumers.

Designing service delivery channels with later impact assessment in mind will allow for precise evidence-based service redesign to target services more accurately, speed up the policy evaluation cycle and result in more efficient and effective cross-border governance. Piloting impact assessments and proposing automations of IA in a cross-border setting is highly relevant for effective cross-border joint service governance.

The ERA Chair has identified impact assessment automation as a way to monitor the effectiveness as well as to increase the efficiency of cross-border service delivery. Our research activities involve:

  1. Investigation of the state of the art of impact assessment of digital services and the automation potential of causal effect estimation
  2. Identification of the technical and non-technical challenges of cross-border digital service causal effect estimation
  3. Conducting a proof-of-concept automatable causal effect estimation of services.

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 trust dimensions around internet voting as well as connections between trust and technology usage.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.