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A nation must think before it acts.
Estonia hosted the second annual Digital 5 Summit in November 2015. Established in 2014 by the UK, the Digital 5 is a network of the world’s most digitally advanced nations that meets to share ideas on how to improve digital government services and strengthen the digital economy. Estonia embraced the concept of digital governance over a decade ago, and has since become a world leader in the use of technology.
The UK handed over the D5 presidency to Estonia during a bilateral meeting between Prime Ministers Taavi Rõivas and David Cameron. They discussed how the two governments could work together in the future to advance e-government. The D5 is a major development because it acknowledges the importance of e-government as a method for delivering public services. Additionally, it addresses the need for the international community to establish common standards and procedures to deal with issues affecting digital government.
Each D5 member is a world leader in digital public services. The members—the UK, Estonia, South Korea, New Zealand, and Israel—share a commitment to “harness the potential global power of digital technology and help each participant to become an even better digital government faster and more efficiently through sharing and learning from each other.” The UK, for example, combined 1,700 websites into one-Gov.UK, which has led to more people accessing government information than ever before. South Korea introduced Government 3.0, an entirely new model for providing public services, with the hope of removing barriers between government agencies for better collaboration. New Zealand’s Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017 is comprised of a set of initiatives aimed at delivering better, trusted public services through the use of technology. And the government of Israel was won an international award for improved online services by the UN General Assembly in 2012 for its commitment to three fundamental principles: transparency, public participation, and accountability.
The Estonian government declared internet access as a human right in 2000, and became the first country to offer online voting in elections in 2005. Currently, “E-Estonia” offers 600 e-services to its citizens and 2,400 to businesses. Estonia’s approach makes life simple and efficient: using an electronic identity card embedded with a microchip, citizens can cast their ballots online, view their medical records, file taxes, and monitor their kids’ progress in school. Estonia’s schools are even teaching coding and computer programming to children as young as seven.
Through its most recent development, e-Residency, Estonia introduced the idea of a country without borders: anyone from outside of the country can apply for an Estonian e-resident ID card, or become an “e-Estonian.” This service allows foreign citizens to gain access to all of the efficient services that have been available to Estonian citizens–including the option to start companies without ever having to physically visit the country. So far, over 7,600 people from 121 different countries have signed up for the program. Among the new e-Estonians is Japanese Minister of Finance Akira Amari who visited the country in December to learn more about e-services and discuss closer economic ties between the two countries. After becoming an e-Resident, Amari announced Japan’s plans to follow Estonia’s example and launch electronic ID cards in 2016.
The 2015 Digital 5 summit hosted a Financial Technology Conference, attended by more than 100 participants from the UK and Estonia, including representatives of major banks, innovators, and tech experts. The three-day summit concluded with the official launch of the UK Estonia Techlink, a new platform for building partnerships between the two countries in areas of technology, innovation and science.
The UK-Estonia Techlink is designed to support partnerships between the two countries, focusing on areas such as cyber security, digital government, and education. This program plans to bring together entrepreneurs, projects, and businesses from both countries and give them the opportunity to learn from each other’s digital markets. It builds upon the UK-Israel Tech Hub, launched in 2011, which partners British companies with Israeli innovators and contributes to the growth of both economies. Estonian Prime Minister Rõivas expressed his hope that the D5 will become a platform for joint initiatives in the coming years, saying, “We could be jointly crafting the digital government of tomorrow, showing the way for rest of the world to follow.” The UK and New Zealand governments also announced plans for greater collaboration at the Summit.
Earlier in the year, Estonian President Toomas Ilves spoke at Tallinn University of Technology on the topic of people’s increasing dependence on technology, and warned that if countries do not adapt to the digital world, they will fall behind. He stated: “As the digital world increasingly becomes the real world or, more accurately, as the real world becomes digital, it is inevitable that everyone will have to acquire some level of digital literacy.” Along with the D5 members, many other countries such as Singapore, India, Australia, as well as the U.S are following Estonia’s lead in embracing digital government. If these countries maintain a level of improvement, they will be better positioned to emerge as strong digital economies.