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Article December 6th, 2023

by Nortal

AI-powered govtech puts people first

Think about the last time you tried to access public services from your government. So many everyday citizens suffer through navigating byzantine, bloated systems that it seems impossible to conceive of another way. But what if—though it’s hard to imagine—your government decided to make a 180º turn when it comes to public service delivery? What if suddenly, your government took the time to center you, as a tax-paying citizen, catering to your needs seamlessly and proactively?

It might be hard to wrap your head around in the abstract—but the Estonian government has taken this exact leap. It’s not a radical concept, the idea that government should serve its people. But, as the Estonian example shows, it takes concerted effort (and a healthy investment in new cutting-edge govtech).

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The Estonian “people-first” model of public service delivery

Estonia leaned into digitalizing public service delivery, drawing inspiration from private sector advancements to achieve their people-centric vision. The rise of fintech and platform-based business models set a new standard for service quality and personalization. Citizens now demand the same level of efficiency from their government.

But it’s not just about new tech—it’s about creating a future efficient, responsive, and personalized theory of government. The Estonian government understood the need for a shift on a broader societal level too. While people have always been on the move, we’re entering a new era characterized by intense migration and multiculturalism all across the globe. Of course, different people have different needs—and it’s part of the social contract that government should accommodate those needs.

Estonia’s “personal state” aims to meet the diverse needs of different social groups by leveraging technology to provide inclusive and equitable services. Leaning on a vision of human-centric data governance, they emphasize the right of individuals to manage their own data, while ensuring equal access for all.

Estonia serves as a model example of public service delivery automated correctly. Let’s explore Estonia’s theory of the “personal state”—and how the public sector delivers on that promise—more thoroughly.

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Key characteristics of personalized public services

The people-centric approach emphasizes services tailored around life or business events, saving citizens the hassle of navigating complex bureaucratic structures. These services prioritize accessibility through various channels, accommodating diverse social groups and language preferences.

The personalized state is also a proactive state, initiating communication, tightening efficiency, and prioritizing citizen satisfaction. Automation and AI-driven processes are a linchpin of the system, guaranteeing the speed and efficiency of these services.

Estonia’s theory of government hinges on two essential pivots: a robust AI strategy and a Government-as-a-Platform mindset. Let’s examine both further.

AI strategy and platform

Estonia’s national AI strategy empowers AI to make decisions where risk allows, providing real-time, efficient service experiences. Not every decision should (or can) rely on machines—but so much of public service delivery is simple paper-pushing that could be streamlined with the help of strategically-employed govtech.

Human-centered data management policy ensures privacy and ownership throughout this digital transformation. AI integration doesn’t turn citizens into numbers—rather, it gives each citizen a virtual assistant for seamless access to public services.

Government-as-a-Platform (GaaP)

Government-as-a-Platform (GaaP) policies pave the way for collaboration with the private sector, rather than competition alongside. The citizen is the priority—and a flatter, more unstructured approach promotes creative solutions, lowers service costs, and keeps the customer center stage. The boundary between public and private services blurs, and services are delivered in partnership with the private sector.

Reaching the individual: A unified approach

The personalized state does away with the bureaucratic maze, centering the individuals who must navigate the system day-to-day. Estonia asked “What if people could access the services they pay for in a way that actually benefits their unique lives?”—and then reorganized government to make it happen. Distinctions between the private and public sectors become somewhat irrelevant; what matters is seamless service for citizens.

At the moment, the Estonian model is an outlier when it comes to public service delivery, but other governments around the world cannot afford to ignore its outcomes. In an increasingly digitalized, globalized, personalized world, reorienting the state in a participatory, democratic fashion will prove essential to keep citizens engaged.

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Rethinking how public services work

Personal government is a vision that considers the next stage of already developed digital societies to provide more human-centric public services, considering the complexities where traditional digital government approaches do not necessarily provide a straightforward solution.

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