More Inclusive Policy-Making on a Central Government Level (EE0042)
Action Plan: Estonia’s Third OGP Action Plan 2016-2018
Action Plan Cycle: 2016
Lead Institution: Government office
Support Institution(s): Ministries; Non-government organisations, social partners
Policy AreasDemocratizing Decision-Making, Public Participation, Regulatory Governance
Main aim Creating better abilities for participating in the earlier stage of policymaking. Standardising the engagement-related information of the government website and ministries and its manner of presentation. Introducing the practice of the initiation stage of EIS in ministries. Short description of the commitment (max 140 characters) The aim of the activity is to improve the availability of information about the government’s plans, which would enable earlier participation in policymaking. The full picture of engagement offered on the government website increases the comprehensibility of the policy-making process and offers a direct link to the engagement websites of ministries, where the interested parties can contribute to policy-making. The engagement sections ensure that it is not duplicating information. Instead, it offers the opportunity of the same function to move from the aggregate information of all ministries on the government website to more detailed information in the engagement section of a specific ministry. This section has more detailed information about the respective field and engagement activities in the areas of responsibility of the ministry. Introducing the practice of the initiation stage so that people are able to receive information for earlier participation in policy-making.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Commitment 4: More inclusive policy-making on a central government level
The aim of the activity is to improve the availability of information about the government’s plans, which would enable earlier participation in policy-making.
The full picture of engagement offered on the government website increases the comprehensibility of the policy-making process and offers a direct link to the engagement websites of ministries, where the interested parties can contribute to policy-making. The engagement sections ensure that it is not duplicating information. Instead, it offers the opportunity of the same function to move from the aggregate information of all ministries on the government website to more detailed information in the engagement section of a specific ministry. This section has more detailed information about the respective field and engagement activities in the areas of responsibility of the ministry.
Introducing the practice of the initiation stage so that people are able to receive information for earlier participation in policy-making.
4.1. Development of the engagement sections of ministries and introduction of practice
4.2. Introducing the practice of use of the initiation stage created for supporting earlier engagement as an Information System of Draft Acts (EIS) development
Responsible Institution: Government Office
Supporting Institutions: Ministries, non-governmental organizations, social partners
Start Date: 1 July 2016
End Date: 30 June 2018
This commitment planned to increase public participation in the early stages of the policy cycle by improving information provision about participation opportunities on the ministries’ websites and upgrading the Information System of Draft Acts (EIS).[Note 30: EIS is a government information system used for the inter-institutional coordination of draft laws, policies, and strategies. It is also accessible for all other interested organizations and individuals, allowing all users to follow the proceedings of drafts, search for documents, and comment on drafts.]
This commitment had been substantially completed by the midterm. By that time, all ministries and the Government Office had updated the public participation-related sections on their official websites and the Government Office worked with the ministries’ engagement coordinators to encourage ministries to use these participation sections in practice to elicit citizen involvement (milestone 4.1). For milestone 4.2, the new function for informing the public about the development of new draft laws had already been added to EIS in early 2016 during the previous action plan cycle. The Government Office prepared guidelines for all ministries for using the new function, but most ministries had not used this new function after the first year. A more detailed overview of the commitment status at the midterm is available in the IRM Progress Report.
End of Term: Substantial
At the end of the action plan period, the websites of all 11 ministries and the Government Office contained uniform general information about public participation opportunities in the policy-making process, and all had updated the participation section of their websites in 2017 or 2018. During the second year of the action plan, the Government Office made some additional efforts to promote the use of the ministries’ websites and the new functionality of EIS for citizen engagement in earlier policy-making phases. This involved communicating with the ministries’ public engagement coordinators and training activities. Toward the end of the action plan cycle, the Government Office and Ministry of Finance started a large-scale training program for public officials. The first training module involved a training day on citizen engagement that also included information on EIS.[Note 31: See the government’s end-of-term self-assessment report: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/estonia-end-term-self-assessment-report-2016-2018 ] The trainings have been implemented as part of Commitment 2 in Estonia’s fourth OGP action plan (2018–2020), and the program will continue into 2019.
According to the government’s end-of-term self-assessment report, engagement coordinators in ministries are responsible to monitor that information about the initiation of larger policy-making processes, such as the development of a strategy, is available on EIS earlier in the process. However, the self-assessment report and interviews with stakeholders[Note 32: Merilin Truuväärt (Government Office), interview by IRM researcher, 6 November 2018; Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), interview by IRM researcher, 6 November 2018] also reveal that the actual use of the early-phase participation function in EIS remains low due to users’ preference for other tools. This is attributed to EIS’s outdated technical platform and that many public officials responsible for policy making are not regular EIS users. Similarly, the analysis of ministries’ websites that the IRM researcher conducted for the end-of-term assessment shows that about half of the ministries (the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Justice, Ministry or Rural Affairs, Ministry of Education and Research) keep an up-to-date list of ongoing engagement initiatives in the participation sections or front page navigation bar of their websites.[Note 33: The ministries’ websites: https://www.envir.ee/et/kaasamine-osalemine/kaasamine-ja-osalemine; https://www.sm.ee/et; https://www.kul.ee/et; https://www.just.ee/et; https://www.hm.ee/et; https://www.agri.ee/et/kaasamine-osalemine/kaasamine-ja-osalemine ] Other ministries only provide general information about the policy process and citizen participation opportunities.
Did It Open Government?
Access to Information: Marginal
Civic Participation: Did Not Change
The Good Practice of Engagement, a collection of recommendations for state authorities for civic engagement, has been in place in Estonia for more than ten years. However, civil society organizations have noted a lack of information about the opportunities to participate in the early phases of policy-making.[Note 34: See the usability assessment of EIS from 2015: https://www.riigikantselei.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Failid/AVP/Osalusveeb%2C%20EIS%20lopparuanne_8-05-15.pdf ] The main aim of the commitment was to increase public access to information about civic participation opportunities and to encourage policy makers to engage citizens and civil society in the early phases of the policy-making cycle. Although all ministries had a dedicated citizen participation section on their official websites prior to the action plan, information on these sites was often insufficient or outdated. In addition, it was only possible to post draft laws to EIS when they had reached the final, inter-institutional coordination stage of the policy-drafting process.
As a result of the commitment, public access to information on participation opportunities improved to some extent with all 11 ministries having updated and improved the information on participation opportunities. The new features of EIS now provide the government more opportunities to share information about new policy initiatives and for citizens to learn about the government’s plans earlier in the policy cycle.
However, the activities have not resulted in a change in civic participation practices. Only about half of the ministries’ websites provide specific information about their own ongoing and upcoming initiatives in which citizens could participate, and only five ministries list the name and contact details of their engagement coordinators. The commitment has thus only had a marginal effect on access to information and no demonstrable effect on actual public participation. According to Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), one of the initiators of this commitment, ministries were also expected to promote the new participation features of EIS on their websites. So far, this has not been done. The lack of this information limits the likelihood of citizen participation in an ongoing policy-making process. EIS has also not been taken up as a tool for stakeholder engagement in the early policy planning stage. Ministries have used the new function a few times to provide information on an upcoming policy planning initiative, but no actual input or feedback has been submitted via this feature. Previous studies have found that civil society users find EIS complicated and uncomfortable to use and tend to prefer other channels for communication with government organizations.[Note 35: The usability assessment of EIS (2015)] As EIS was never originally designed as an online participation tool, the initiator of this commitment admits that EIS might work better as a tool for information provision rather than for active participation.[Note 36: Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), interview by IRM researcher, 6 November 2018
This commitment has been carried forward to Estonia’s fourth action plan. Commitment 1 of the 2018–2020 action plan (“Information technology supporting transparent and inclusive policy-making”) aims to develop the terms of reference for a new user-friendly government information system that would replace the current Information System of Draft Acts (EIS) and Osale.ee (an e-participation platform), including the public participation functionalities. In the next action plan, the government plans to develop the terms of reference for the new system through a collaborative process involving the Government Office, public sector organizations, and non-governmental interest groups.