Implementation of the Principles of Open Governance at Local Level as a Result of the Administrative Reform (EE0041)
Action Plan: Estonia’s Third OGP Action Plan 2016-2018
Action Plan Cycle: 2016
Lead Institution: Ministry of Finance
Support Institution(s): Ministry of the Interior, local governments; e-Governance Academy, NENO, non-governmental organisations valuing participatory democracy
Policy AreasCapacity Building, Local Commitments, Public Participation
Description of the current situation or problem resolved with the commitment There is a systematic opportunity in the course of the administrative reform to develop the governance culture at local level, which can be aided by supporting the new principles and instruments of open governance when preparing and implementing the reform. The period of the OGP new Action Plan coincides with the preparation and implementation of the administrative reform, which provides a good opportunity to use the existing experience of implementing open government partnership as a method at local level as part of this experience. The project “Open Government Partnership in Local Authorities” implemented on the initiative of the E-Governance Academy and sharing the experience obtained as part of the test projects in 2017-2018 will help the involved local governments to plan the joint development of the newly formed local government in an open and inclusive manner. Local governments that have participated in the project so far consider the initiative necessary and support its continuation, especially considering the ongoing merger preparations and the need to develop the new administrative culture of the merged local government. In a situation where the local governments have the will and need to develop an inclusive culture, such instruments are an important support. Main aim The principles of open governance are deemed important in the course of the administrative reform, which has been previously agreed on with the participation of local governments. The tools and principles for open governance developed so far will be used and further developed when preparing for the merger and following the merging of local governments. Short description of the commitment (max 140 characters) As part of the activities the merging local governments will be advised and supported when implementing the principles of open governance following the merger, also in preparing joint development before the merger takes place (by more advanced local governments), incl. in the field of applying various activities and e-solutions promoting open governance. A suitable time for implementing the project would be from the beginning of 2017. By then, the voluntarily merged local governments will have submitted their applications to join and will have made the relevant legal preparations. Furthermore, they will have had the time and opportunity until the elections in October to deal with implementing the principles of management and inclusion and open government partnership in the merged parish. The selected local governments include about 8-10 local governments, which are sufficient to achieve an impact, but to enable a personal approach for the participating local governments, setting goals and evaluating their achievements will be necessary. The activities are directly related to the priority of the OGP Action Plan, which increases the engagement of citizens and openness in the policy-making process. The implementation of activities is planned through the open application round of the Ministry of Finance. Project applicants can be an umbrella organisation of local governments and or non-profit associations together with the e-Governance Academy
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Commitment 3: Implementation of the principles of open governance at local level as a result of the administrative reform
As part of the activities, the merging local governments will be advised and supported when implementing the principles of open governance following the merger, also in preparing joint development before the merger takes place (by more advanced local governments), incl. in the field of applying various activities and e-solutions promoting open governance. A suitable time for implementing the project would be from the beginning of 2017. By then, the voluntarily merged local governments will have submitted their applications to join and will have made the relevant legal preparations. Furthermore, they will have had the time and opportunity until the elections in October to deal with implementing the principles of management and inclusion and open government partnership in the merged parish.
The selected local governments include about 8-10 local governments, which are sufficient to achieve an impact, but to enable a personal approach for the participating local governments, setting goals and evaluating their achievements will be necessary. The activities are directly related to the priority of the OGP Action Plan, which increases the engagement of citizens and openness in the policy-making process.
The implementation of activities is planned through the open application round of the Ministry of Finance. Project applicants can be an umbrella organization of local governments and/or non-profit associations together with the e-Governance Academy.
3.1. Preparing the measures, submitting applications, evaluation and selection
3.2. Implementing test projects
Responsible Institution: Ministry of Finance
Supporting Institutions: Ministry of the Interior, local governments, e-Governance Academy, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO), non-governmental organizations valuing participatory democracy
Start Date: 1 January 2017
End Date: 30 June 2018
This commitment sought to use the ongoing merger of Estonian local municipalities to foster open government values and principles at the local level. To this end, it called for open government test projects to be implemented in newly merged municipalities.
By the midterm, the commitment had seen substantial implementation. In early 2017, two newly merged municipalities were chosen for the test project “Open Government in Merging Municipalities.”[Note 15: For more information, see the project website: https://ega.ee/et/projekt/avatud-valitsemine-uhinevates-omavalitsustes/ ] The e-Governance Academy (a non-governmental consultancy and think tank) with support from the European Social Fund implemented this test project. One of the chosen municipalities (Lääneranna municipality) comprised four previously independent municipalities, whereas the other (Elva municipality) comprised six.
The test project was ongoing, and the e-Governance Academy coordinated a number of community meetings, trainings, and advisory activities in both municipalities. It also developed tailored written recommendations for the implementation of open government principles for both municipalities based on the academy’s expertise and on stakeholder discussions held in the local communities.
End of term: Complete
The test project was completed at the end of November 2017, meaning that milestone 3.2 was achieved ahead of schedule. By the end of 2017, the e-Governance Academy had developed a set of seven general recommendations for the implementation of open government principles targeted to all local governments in the form of written guidelines and seven short video clips. These were based on the more specific recommendations developed for the Lääneranna and Elva municipalities in the course of the project. The development occurred through a collaborative process involving stakeholder discussions and community engagement days in both municipalities.
The recommendations included guidelines for local municipalities for improving public access to information, civic participation, and public accountability in each respective municipality, thus covering all core OGP values.[Note 16: e-Governance Academy (2017) “Seitse ettepanekut omavalitsuse avatumaks ja kaasavamaks muutmiseks”, accessible at https://ega.ee/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ettepanekud-avatumale-omavalitsusele_logo.pdf and https://haldusreform.fin.ee/static/sites/3/2017/10/ettepanekud-avatumale-omavalitsusele.pdf. ] The e-Governance Academy disseminated the recommendations through an article in Eesti Päevaleht and the Estonian Public Broadcasting news and shared the videos via its partners’ newsletters.[Note 17: See one of the newsletters here: https://mailchi.mp/f1f679a6139a/seitse-ettepanekut-omavalitsusele-1283285 ]
Did It Open Government?
Access to Information: Major
Civic Participation: Major
Although the situation of local democracy in Estonia has improved over the years, a 2017 report of the Council of Europe notes that access to public information and citizen involvement in policy planning could be improved at the local level.[Note 18: “Local democracy in Estonia“ (2017) of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, accessible at https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016806fda83 ] This commitment called for implementing test projects to showcase how open government principles could be integrated into local governance and to set an example to other municipalities. The e-Governance Academy started the projects shortly after the administrative-territorial reform, which reduced the number of municipalities from 213 to 79. This reform aimed to increase the service provision capacity of local governments, improve their competitiveness and ensure even development across regions.[Note 19: Ministry of Finance, Administrative-Territorial Reform: https://www.rahandusministeerium.ee/en/objectivesactivities/local-governments-and-administrative-territorial-reform/administrative. ]
As a result of the commitment’s implementation, government practices in terms of access to information and civic participation have become more open at the individual municipality level. First, the process itself was participatory. The activities in both municipalities involved events and discussions bringing together both public sector and non-governmental stakeholders. These included a community engagement day in Lääneranna on 5 June 2017[Note 20: See https://lihulateataja.ee/laaneranna/moodustuva-laaneranna-valla-esindajad-osalesid-e-riigi-akadeemia-mottekojas/ for more information on the community day in Lääneranna] and in Elva on 8 June 2017[Note 21: See http://blogid.sotsid.ee/elva/avatud-valitsemise-mottetalgud/ for more information on the community day in Elva] where various stakeholders discussed how open government could be fostered in the respective municipality. The community day was preceded and followed up by active communication and meetings with the local assemblies.
Second, the eventual recommendations proposed ways and tools for improving the provision of public information online and offline, engaging in dialogue with the local community, public service co-production, youth participation, corruption prevention, and so forth. According to Marika Saar, the deputy mayor of the Elva municipality, the municipality has already implemented many of the recommendations regarding access to information and civic participation.[Note 22: Marika Saar (Municipality of Elva), interview by IRM researcher, 15 November 2018] For instance, the implementation of open government principles has been established in Elva’s current coalition agreement and strategy, and access to information has been improved by issuing a weekly newsletter with detailed information about events in the municipality, broadcasting the local government’s sittings live on the VOLIS online platform and more active communication in social media. The municipality is also currently developing an app to notify local citizens about news and events that interest them. Additionally, Elva has adopted clear regulations for funding local initiatives[Note 23: Accessible at https://www.elva.ee/ametnik-vastab2 ], regularly holds public consultations on major policy issues (the funding regulations also went through a public consultation process) and engages different geographical areas and communities of the newly amalgamated municipality through community events in villages and participatory budgeting initiatives.
Civic participation and access to information have also improved in Lääneranna. For instance, the municipality has substantially improved its website and adopted the VOLIS platform for sharing information about the local government’s work online. It also established a youth assembly[Note 24: Website of Lääneranna municipality: https://www.laanerannavald.ee/noortevolikogu. ] to promote youth participation and funds its work from the municipality’s budget.[Note 25: Statute of the Lääneranna youth assembly: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/403012019025?leiaKehtiv. ] The municipality’s strategy for 2018–2028 involves several other goals that have the potential to foster open government.[Note 26: Lääneranna strategic development plan: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/aktilisa/4061/0201/8004/arengukava.pdf#. ]
During the action plan period, the project’s positive outcomes were not actively disseminated among other local municipalities. The Ministry of Finance (the institution responsible for implementing the commitment) just published information about the project on its website and mentioned the example in public presentations when relevant.[Note 27: Kaie Küngas (Ministry of Finance), interview by IRM researcher, 14 November 2018] However, some activities have followed the conclusion of the action plan. Based on information from the Ministry of Finance and e-Governance Academy, one additional municipality (the municipality of Valga) has decided to implement a similar model to develop an open government action plan.[Note 28: Kaie Küngas (Ministry of Finance), interview by IRM researcher, 28 March 2019; Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), interview by IRM researcher, 27 March 2019. This project is being implemented as part of commitment 4 in Estonia’s OGP action plan 2018-2020.] The Ministry of Finance is also planning an information day in 2019 to promote open government among local municipalities. As part of the next OGP action plan, the ministry plans to start regularly monitoring the level of open government in municipalities, using the existence of an open government action plan as an important indicator of success.
Marika Saar from the Elva municipality suggests the Estonian Association of Cities and Rural Municipalities (EACM) should also have a core role in disseminating and scaling up best practices. According to Jüri Võigemast from the EACM, the association has not undertaken any active dissemination efforts so far. However, he agrees that the events and communication channels of its network could be used for this purpose in the future.[Note 29: Jüri Võigemast (Estonian Association of Cities and Rural Municipalities), interview by IRM researcher, 15 November 2018]
This commitment has been carried forward to Estonia’s fourth action plan through the inclusion of two commitments targeting local municipalities. The first involves an open call for funding local municipalities’ proposals (with financing from the European Social Fund) for promoting open government values at the local level, such as through the development of a local open government action plan or conducting awareness-raising activities. In addition, another commitment seeks to develop an online benchmarking and visualization application. This application would provide citizens easy access to information about the quality and usage of public services that different Estonian local governments offer. The online tool can also be used by local municipalities for benchmarking and for comparison with their peers and by the central government to devise policy measures to increase the quality of public service provision at the local level.