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Estonia End-of-Term Report 2016-2018

Country: Estonia
Action Plan: Estonia Action Plan 2016-2018
Report Publication Year: 2019
Researcher: Maarja Toots, Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, in an independent capacity

In its third OGP action plan, Estonia focused on promoting open government values and digital solutions in public service provision, policy-making, public funding, local governance, and school curricula. Most commitments were fully or substantially completed but did little to change government practices. Moving forward, Estonia could design commitments that add clear value to existing government initiatives and involve mechanisms for scaling up, spreading, and sustaining good practices. Efforts could also be made to engage more diverse societal groups to the OGP process.

Table 1: At a Glance
Mid-term End of term
Number of Commitments 9

Level of Completion

Completed 0 3
Substantial 5 5
Limited 3 1
Not Started 1 0

Number of Commitments with…

Clear Relevance to OGP Values 8 8
Transformative Potential Impact 0 0
Substantial or Complete Implementation 5 8
All Three (✪) 0 0

Did It Open Government?

Major

1

Outstanding

0

Moving Forward

Number of Commitments Carried Over to Next Action Plan

5

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a voluntary international initiative that aims to secure commitments from governments to their citizenry to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) carries out a review of the activities of each OGP-participating country.

This report summarizes the results of the Estonian OGP action plan for the period of July 2016 to June 2018. Since a detailed review of the first year of the action plan is available in the OGP progress report, this end-of-term report devotes more attention to developments since July 2017.

During the third action plan, the Government Office continued to coordinate the OGP process in Estonia. The action plan was designed and implemented in collaboration with the OGP Coordinating Council that involves an equal number of public sector and non-governmental organizations, the latter mostly representing members of the national OGP Civil Society Roundtable (CSR). The implementation also involved government organizations such as the Ministry of Education and Research and the Tax and Customs Board that are not members of the Coordinating Council but were responsible for carrying out specific commitments.

The commitments for the third action plan aimed to advance citizen participation in public service design and public governance processes, promote open government in local municipalities, increase the transparency of the law-making process and public funding practices, and foster democratic participation and digital skills in general education. The commitments were mostly substantially completed, although a few suffered from delays due to staff changes or unforeseen technical obstacles. However, the effect of the activities on government practices seems to be limited—although some had an overly internal focus and missed a public-facing element, others lacked well-designed mechanisms to enforce noticeable changes in practices. The findings of this report confirm the conclusion of the IRM Progress Report that several action plan commitments (e.g., the e-Tax and Customs Board, Zero Bureaucracy project, reviewing public funding practices to NGOs) would likely have been implemented in the same way regardless of Estonia’s participation in OGP. However, according to the Government Office[Note 1: Explanatory note to OGP action plan 2018-2020, Annex 1 (“AVP tegevuskava 2018-2020 ettepanekud ja nende vastused”), p 13. Accessible at: https://heakodanik.ee/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/2018_08_30_AVP_2018-2020_tegevuskava_seletuskiri.docx.pdf ] and stakeholders involved in the OGP process,[Note 2: Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), interview by IRM researcher, 6 November 2018.] activities such as upgrading government information systems to enable better public engagement or the promotion of open government principles at the local level were clearly driven by the action plan.

The government published an end-of-term self-assessment report at the end of November 2018. The report was compiled by the OGP coordinator at the Government Office in close collaboration with the coordinator of the Civil Society Roundtable, involving the organizations directly responsible for implementing the commitments. No public consultations were held in the process. The government approved the report on 29 November 2018. The report was published on the national[Note 3: Accessible at: https://www.riigikantselei.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Failid/AVP/2018_11_30_avp_2016-2018_lopparuanne.pdf ] and international[Note 4: Accessible at: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/estonia-end-term-self-assessment-report-2016-2018 ] OGP website.

Estonia adopted its fourth action plan (2018–2020) on 30 August 2018. The action plan includes six commitments that build on the results and continue advancing the priorities of the previous action plan. The commitments aim to develop digital tools for transparency and public participation, build public engagement skills of government officials, increase the transparency of the Parliament’s work, advance open government at the local level, and foster democracy-related skills and attitudes in general education. Although several commitments (e.g., the development of democracy skills in school curricula) directly continue the activities of the third action plan, other commitments in the fourth action plan pursue the same goals through new types of activities. For example, instead of funding being provided for individual projects to foster public engagement and participation, engagement and participation capacities will be strengthened through a training program specifically for civil servants and civil society activists.

Consultation with Civil Society during Implementation

Countries participating in OGP follow a process for consultation during development and implementation of their action plans.

The OGP Coordinating Council served as the multi-stakeholder forum to oversee the implementation of Estonia’s third action plan. The Council is chaired by the secretary of state and includes seven public sector and seven civil society representatives. Compared with previous action plans, two new members were involved in the Coordinating Council for the third action plan – the Parliament of Estonia (Riigikogu) and the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities (AECM.)[Note 5: AECM was officially established through the merger of the Association of Estonian Cities and the Association of Municipalities of Estonia on 27 February 2018, but the two organizations have jointly participated in the multi-stakeholder forum since February 2016. It represents 73 local governments in Estonia.] Members of the Coordinating Council led the implementation of most commitments, except for Commitment 1 (led by Tax and Customs Board) and Commitment 9 (Ministry of Education and Research).

According to the government’s self-assessment report, the action plan was implemented and monitored by the Coordinating Council, the OGP Civil Society Roundtable,[Note 6: The Civil Society Roundtable is an informal collaboration platform of CSOs created in 2011 to inform and monitor OGP action plans in Estonia. The roundtable currently involves 21 organizations.] and all organizations responsible for coordinating certain action plan commitments. Although the implementation of most commitments involved collaboration among different organizations, the commitments were carried out in a largely independent manner without regular information sharing or consultation with the Coordinating Council.[Note 7: IRM researcher’s interviews with the organizations responsible for commitment implementation ] The Council only met three times to discuss the action plan’s implementation. The first meeting on 21 September 2016 focused on the general organization of the action plan implementation, the second meeting on 20 June 2017 involved a midterm overview of the action plan implementation, whereas at the third meeting on 13 February 2018, the conclusions of the IRM Progress Report 2016–2017 were discussed.[Note 8: The Council conducted several additional meetings in 2018 but these were devoted to designing the 2018–2020 action plan.]

According to the OGP coordinator at the Government Office[Note 9: Merilin Truuväärt (Government Office), interview by IRM researcher, 6 November 2018.] and members of the Coordinating Council,[Note 10: IRM researcher’s interviews with Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), 6 November 2018; Alari Rammo (Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations), 7 November 2018; Kaarel Haav (Estonian Education Forum), 8 November 2018; Mall Hellam (Open Estonia Foundation), 14 November 2018; Jüri Võigemast (Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities), 15 November 2018; Mait Palts (Chamber of Commerce and Industry), 16 November 2018.] neither the Coordinating Council nor the Government Office monitored the implementation of the commitments on a regular basis. The coordinator only requested updates on implementation status for the midterm overview meeting and the end-of-term self-assessment report. Moreover, at a 13 February 2018 meeting, the Council decided to avoid overview meetings of several hours in the future and instead requested the Government Office to regularly update the OGP section on its website with information about the progress of each commitment. Following the decision, the Government Office published information about the implementation status of each commitment in the third action plan on its website. In November 2018, the website contained the status of commitments as of early June 2018 but did not yet provide a final overview of commitment completion at the end of the action plan period (July 2018).

Participants of the Coordinating Council have diverging views about the usefulness of the Government Office’s OGP website as a primary source of information. Whereas Alari Rammo (Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations)[Note 11: Alari Rammo (Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations), interview by IRM researcher, 7 November 2018] sees the provision of more information on the website as a positive step, Mall Hellam (Open Estonia Foundation)[Note 12: Mall Hellam (Open Estonia Foundation, interview by IRM researcher, 14 November 2018] considers it of little use unless the website is actively promoted among potential readers. Some members of the Council[Note 13: IRM researcher’s interviews with Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), 6 November 2018, and Jüri Võigemast (Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities), 15 November 2018] stress the importance of also continuing face-to-face meetings to be able to discuss the implementation of the commitments in more detail. That said, the availability of public information on the action plan implementation does address a criticism of the IRM Progress Report, which noted that due to the lack of up-to-date information online, information about action plan progress could only be acquired by emailing the national point of contact or the institutions responsible for each commitment.

Implementation of the third action plan did not involve broader consultations with civil society or the general public. However, certain individual activities involved a wider group of stakeholders in their implementation. For example, 35 different non-governmental organizations and individuals contributed proposals to the Zero Bureaucracy initiative (Commitment 2), and the OGP projects in municipalities (Commitment 3) involved local civil society organizations (CSOs) in co-designing recommendations to the local government for advancing open government.

Table 2: Consultation during Implementation

Regular Multistakeholder Forum Midterm End of Term
1. Did a forum exist?

Yes

Yes

2. Did it meet regularly?

No

No

Table 3: Level of Public Influence during Implementation

The IRM has adapted the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) “Spectrum of Participation” to apply to OGP.[Note 14: For more information on the IAP2 Spectrum, see: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iap2.org/resource/resmgr/foundations_course/IAP2_P2_Spectrum_FINAL.pdf ] This spectrum shows the potential level of public influence on the contents of the action plan. In the spirit of OGP, most countries should aspire for “collaborative.”

Level of Public Influence during Implementation of Action Plan Midterm End of Term
Empower The government handed decision-making power to members of the public.
Collaborate There was iterative dialogue AND the public helped set the agenda.
Involve The government gave feedback on how public inputs were considered.
Consult The public could give inputs.

Inform The government provided the public with information on the action plan.
No Consultation No consultation

About the Assessment

The indicators and method used in the IRM research can be found in the IRM Procedures Manual.[Note 15: IRM Procedures Manual, http://www.opengovpartnership.org/about/about-irm.  ] One measure, the “starred commitment,” (✪) deserves further explanation due to its particular interest to readers and usefulness for encouraging a race to the top among OGP-participating countries. Starred commitments are considered exemplary OGP commitments. To receive a star, a commitment must meet several criteria:

  • Starred commitments will have “medium” or “high” specificity. A commitment must lay out clearly defined activities and steps to make a judgment about its potential impact.
  • The commitment’s language should make clear its relevance to opening government. Specifically, it must relate to at least one of the OGP values of Access to Information, Civic Participation, or Public Accountability.
  • The commitment would have a “transformative” potential impact if completely implemented.[Note 16: The International Experts Panel changed this criterion in 2015. For more information, visit http://www.opengovpartnership.org/node/5919. ]
  • The government must make significant progress on this commitment during the action plan implementation period, receiving an assessment of “substantial” or “complete” implementation.

Starred commitments can lose their starred status if their completion falls short of substantial or full completion at the end of the action plan implementation period.

In the midterm report, Estonia’s action plan did not contain any starred commitments. At the end of term, Estonia’s action plan still did not contain any starred commitments.

Finally, this section’s tables present an excerpt of the wealth of data the IRM collects during its reporting process. For the full dataset for Estonia, see the OGP Explorer at http://www.opengovpartnership.org/explorer.

About “Did It Open Government?”

To capture changes in government practice, the IRM introduced a new variable “Did It Open Government?” in end-of-term reports. This variable attempts to move beyond measuring outputs and deliverables to examining how the government practice has changed as a result of the commitment’s implementation.

As written, some OGP commitments are vague and/or not clearly relevant to OGP values but do achieve significant policy reforms. In other cases, commitments as written appear relevant and ambitious but fail to open government as implemented.  The “Did It Open Government?” variable attempts to captures these subtleties.

The “Did It Open Government?” variable assesses changes in government practice using the following spectrum:

  • Worsened: Government openness worsens as a result of the commitment.
  • Did not change: No changes in government practice.
  • Marginal: Some change but minor in terms of its effect on level of openness.
  • Major: A step forward for government openness in the relevant policy area but remains limited in scope or scale.
  • Outstanding: A reform that has transformed “business as usual” in the relevant policy area by opening government.

To assess this variable, researchers establish the status quo at the outset of the action plan. They then assess outcomes as implemented for changes in government openness.

Readers should keep in mind limitations. IRM end-of-term reports are prepared only a few months after the implementation cycle is completed. The variable focuses on outcomes that can be observed in government openness practices at the end of the two-year implementation period. The report and the variable do not intend to assess impact, because of the complex methodological implications and the time frame of the report.

Commitment Implementation

General Overview of Commitments

As part of OGP, countries are required to make commitments in a two-year action plan. The tables below summarize the completion level at the end of term and progress on the “Did It Open Government?” metric. For commitments that were complete at the midterm, the report will provide a summary of the progress report findings but focus on analysis of the “Did It Open Government?” variable. For further details on these commitments, please see the Estonia IRM progress report (2018).

Estonia’s third action plan focused on four crucial areas: 1) fostering user participation in designing and developing public services, 2) increasing transparency and engagement in policy-making, 3) increasing the transparency of the use of public funds, and 4) developing democracy and ICT-related skills in school curricula. Most commitments concerned the central government level, while two specifically targeted local government.

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