Last week, between April 11-15, the e-Governance Academy (eGA) together with the ICEDA partners organised a three-day Study visit to Tallinn, Estonia for a group of 23 public officials, representatives of institutions, CSOs and media from the Western Balkan countries. The Study visit revolved around the Digital Agenda and the key factors in making digital work, the digitalization of public services, citizen engagement and collaboration between government and CSOs for the advancement of democracy and e-democracy at national and local levels. The Study visit is part of the project Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA co-funded by the European Union, and was supported by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the funds of development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
The Western Balkan delegation consisted of delegations from Albania (Aldo Merkoci – Executive Director of Levizja Mjaft, Ergis Gaxho – Cyber Security Specialist at the National Authority on Certification Electronic and Cyber Security, Ina Zjarri – Web Developer Tirana Municipality, Ueda Harizi – Inspector at the IT Information and Data Protection Commissioner Office), Kosovo (Agim Kukaj – Director of ICT Department at the Ministry of Economic Development, Burim Balaj – Head of Directorate for Rationalization of Administrative Processes Agency of Information Society, Dafina Olluri – Deputy Director at Open Data Kosovo, Shqipe Gjocaj – Independent researcher/journalist Kosovar Civil Society Foundation), Montenegro (Ferida Mandić Lazović – Chief Project Officer ICT Cortex, Milan Maric – Member of the Assembly of the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro and of the board of the ICT association, Milica Vucinic – Adviser at the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, Snežana Nikčević – National project coordinator at NGO 35 MM, Tarik Zaimović – CEO of the ICT Cortex ), North Macedonia (Admirim Aliti – Minister of Information Society and Administration, Bardhyl Jashari – Executive Director of Metamorphosis Foundation, Blerim Abazi – Director of the Office for registers of birth, marriage, and death, Elida Zylbeari – Editor in Chief of Portalb.mk, Emilija Georgieva Gjoshevski – Adviser to the Minister of Information Society and Administration, Mila Josifovska Danilovska – Programme manager, Social accountability and human rights online at Metamorphosis Foundation) and Serbia (Ana Milovanovic – Policy Coordinator/ Regulatory Reform Coordinator/ eGovernment Alliance Coordinator at NALED – National Alliance for Local Economic Development, Marija Lukić – Head of Good Governance Department Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities, Tamara Korsić – Advisor at the Department for Quality of Electronic Services at the Office for IT and eGovernment of the Government of Serbia, Uros Misljenovic – Program Officer at Partners for Democratic Change Serbia).
Source: eGovernance Academy Facebook Page, Western Balkan delegation at the Study visit in Tallinn, Estonia
These three days allowed the Western Balkan professionals to get first-hand knowledge about the way e-Estonia functions, explore the methods they use to measure, control and push the institutions toward efforts to build more open, transparent and efficient e-Government mechanisms focused on the citizens’ needs. The Study visit aimed at expertly empowering the Western Balkans central and local government decision-makers to lead digital transformation and build solid co-operation and relationships with each other and the CSOs, and support the CSOs in this process. During the visit, the participants had an opportunity to meet with the representatives of eGA, the Estonian government, local authorities and Estonian CSOs.
The first day of the Study visit was marked with introductions to eGA, e-Estonia and the Western Balkan countries. Following the introduction of the Estonian transformation story by Liia Hänni, Senior Expert on e-Democracy, eGA, the ICEDA partners presented their country overviews about e-governance and digital engagement and the relevance of the ICEDA project.
Key elements for digital transformation and development, Identity management and eID component, citizen-centric public services and digital public services, were discussed on the first day through the presentation of Estonian examples by Annela Kiirats, eGA Programme Director of e-Governance Training, Thomas de Wilde, Programme Manager at IDEAMIA (card production), and Janek Rozov, Strategy Director at Information Technology and Development Centre of The Ministry of Interior.
During the second day, the participants discussed cybersecurity and interoperability with Merle Maigre, Senior Cybersecurity Expert, eGA and Heiko Vainsalu, Programme Director of Technology, eGA, followed by parallel sessions on e-Health led by Piret Hirv, Manager, Estonian Connected Health Cluster and e-Elections led by Priit Vinkel, Senior Expert of Smart Governance, eGA.
Viljar Peep, Deputy Secretary General, Ministry of Justice received the Western Balkan delegation at the Ministry to present how data protection mechanisms are imbedded in the Estonian legislation and in public administration. This opportunity was also used to discuss the improvement of internal government efficiency, delivery of public services and the increased level of transparency as a result of opening data to the public. The delegation was also welcomed by Luukas Kristjan Ilves, Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO) / Deputy Secretary General for Digital Development, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, who talked about the Estonian digital strategy 2030 and also had a separate meeting with the Minister for Information Society and Administration of North Macedonia.
For the final day of the Study visit, the participants moved to the Creative City Telliskivi where they met with Estonian CSOs (OS Citizen, Opinion Festival, Good Deed Foundation) to discuss about building a culture of political engagement and deliberation; role of CSOs and examples of civic initiatives of organising national debates, offering digital services, collaborating with each other and the public sector.
Jarno Laur, Mayor of Tartu Parish and Kristina Reinsalu, Programme Director of e-Democracy, eGA presented the local authority view on e-governance, e-services and (digital) engagement at the local level: creating citizen-centric administration, handling documents and processes, nudging the LAs to implement digital solutions, Open Governance in the decision-making processes.
During the final discussion, the participants reflected on the new knowledge and experiences gained during this seminar and discuss if and which similar models, reforms, tools could be implemented in their respective countries, which are the barriers and solutions to overcome them.
During the Study visit the participants also had the opportunity for informal networking, brainstorming and proposing synergies, as well as participating in eGA’s podcast and interviews made by Portalb.
The project “Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA” is implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), e-Government Academy (Estonia), Levizja Mjaft! (Albania), Partners for Democratic Change (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo). The project is implemented with financial support from the European Union.