E-Estonia: The Ultimate Digital Democracy

Estonia is a real world testimony to the concept of a digital nation, what benefits it brings and how to achieve it.

Estonia has become a worldwide phenomenon, renowned for how they have mastered technology to entirely digitize their public service, achieving the ultimate Digital Government goal of ending bureaucracy and building an end to end digital nation.

A Digital Republic of the Future

Across the world other countries have commented enviously on their success – The New Yorker wrote this excellent, detailed analysis, describing them as the Digital Republic of the future.

“E-Estonia is the most ambitious project in technological statecraft today, for it includes all members of the government, and alters citizens’ daily lives. The normal services that government is involved with—legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, and so on—have been digitally linked across one platform, wiring up the nation.”

France24 ran a special feature, and their voting platform is considered a potential solution to the democratic challenges many nations face today.

Their digital transformation isn’t limited only to the delivery of online government services, it extends entirely across their society and economy yielding multiple levels of benefit, from Education through business.

They are are now outperforming other European nations for education and their E-Residency program, a flagship example of how technology underpins new economic growth capabilities, has exemplified their openness to other countries generating € millions in direct income.

Another video shares a short case study of E-Estonia from Freethink, interviewing Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia from 2006 – 2016, telling the compelling story of the global success of Estonia as a digital nation leader, boasting the most advanced digital government in the world.

Ilves recalls how Estonia faced massive economic challenges upon achieving the restoration of independence in 1991, a time that soon saw the emergence of the Internet.

Toomas realized the opportunity was that Estonia was no further behind than any other country in this field, and so began pioneering their adoption, with all schools being online by 1998 and the framework for E-Estonia in place by the early 2000’s.

Fast forward to today and Estonia now enjoys an entirely digital society – Via a single digital identity everything except weddings and real estate can be transacted online, including voting. Not only is it a convenience but it’s also the foundation for a prosperous and healthy society. Being entirely digital has meant Estonia has continued uninterrupted during Covid-19.

A keynote theme is that size and money isn’t the essential ingredient for success.

Toomas now lives in the heart of Silicon Valley in the USA, and despite their vast wealth and being surrounded by the behemoth tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook, American digital government is surprisingly poor. Processes are still paper-based, requiring photocopies be taken to government offices, whereas Estonians can file taxes in only six clicks in two or three minutes.

The Ultimate Digital Democracy

Most importantly and powerfully Estonia has transformed the relationship between the state and the citizen, as eloquently described by Geoffroy Berson in his Medium blog, where he explores the dynamics of privacy and trust, and how Estonia in contrast to many others has succeeded in utilizing technology to build a stronger sense of mutual accountability, a new social contract.

In an age of ‘diplomacy via Twitter’, of fake news and a large scale collapse in the trust citizens have in their governments, Estonia offers an exemplar that begins with hyper-efficient Digital Government and extends far beyond that into a profound blueprint for transforming the very nature of democracy itself.

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