Presentation of Local Public Services (EE0052)
Action Plan: Estonia Action Plan 2018-2020
Action Plan Cycle: 2018
Lead Institution: The Ministry of Finance
Support Institution(s): The Government Office, The Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities, Estonian Cooperation Assembly
Policy AreasAccess to Information, E-Government, Local Commitments, Open Data
Simple and user-friendly presentation of the local public service levels
Commitment Start and End Date
July 2018 – June 2020
Lead implementing agency/actor The Ministry of Finance
Other Actors Involved State actors involved The Government Office
CSOs, private sector, multilaterals, working groups The Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities, Estonian Cooperation Assembly
What is the public problem that the commitment will address? The availability and quality of local public services varies across local governments. At the same time, there is no reference information on the service level, including quality and availability, which complicates improvements.
What is the commitment? The methodology and analysis completed in the summer of 2018 gives an overview of which services are provided in local governments and on what level. An attractive and comprehensive tool available for all citizens is developed based on this methodology and analysis, and each citizen, local government, and ministry can use this tool to view the data of their local government categorised by areas and compare these to Estonian averages and data of other local governments. The users can give feedback in the application.
How will the commitment contribute to solve the public problem? The tool is a source of information for the citizens, offering knowledge on what arguments to use when participating in discussions and what service level to demand in local governments.
Simultaneously, it serves as a management tool for both local governments and the central government. Local governments can find out exactly what is done well and what needs improving. The local government can plan more exact intervention and support measures to improve the service quality.
Which OGP values is this commitment relevant to? Transparency
Additional information -
Milestone Activity Start Date: End Date:
Developing a presentation prototype in cooperation with partners July 2018 December 2018
Preparing terms of reference for the development in cooperation with partners July 2018 February 2019
Completion of the development February 2019 December 2019
Promoting active use of the tool January 2020 June 2020
IRM Midterm Status Summary
5. Simple and user-friendly presentation of the local public service levels
Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan :
“The methodology and analysis completed in the summer of 2018 gives an overview of which services are provided in local governments and on what level. An attractive and comprehensive tool available for all citizens is developed based on this methodology and analysis, and each citizen, local government, and ministry can use this tool to view the data of their local government categorised by areas and compare these to Estonian averages and data of other local governments. The users can give feedback in the application.”
5.1 Developing a presentation prototype in cooperation with partners
5.2 Preparing terms of reference for the development in cooperation with partners
5.3 Completion of the development
5.4 Promoting active use of the tool
Start Date: July 2018
End Date: June 2020
Context and Objectives
This commitment aims to advance open government at the local level by improving information provision on the availability and quality of public services that local governments provide. This commitment was driven by the perceived uneven quality of public services in different parts of Estonia and citizens’ lack of access to information about their municipality’s performance. In its 2012 audit, the National Audit Office found that while the bulk of public services are provided at the municipality level, the central government has not set standards for the expected minimum level required of the services and has no overview of how well local municipalities perform their tasks.  Saar Poll’s 2014 study on citizens’ satisfaction with local public services also pointed to notable regional and local differences in public service quality.  One of the main objectives of the 2017 amalgamation of local municipalities was to improve the quality of local public services.  However, the level of public services has so far not been measured systematically.
In order to create a reference base for monitoring and improving the level of local public services, the Ministry of Finance is developing an ICT tool that would present and visualize local governments’ performance in a range of domains. According to the action plan, the tool has three target groups: 1) the public, who can use it to obtain information; 2) local governments, who can use it as a management tool and plan interventions to improve service quality; and 3) the central government, who can use it to compare local municipalities and devise policies. The tool will apply the methodology and detailed indicators developed by the University of Tartu Center for Applied Social Sciences and Geomedia, a consultancy.
The commitment is clearly relevant to the OGP value of access to information as the online tool would provide public access to information that has previously not been available. The four milestones of the commitment are verifiable, although the action plan does not say much about what information the ICT tool would eventually include and what functionalities it would provide to users. A better overview can be obtained from the University of Tartu’s and Geomedia’s analysis and methodology report, which proposes hundreds of evaluation criteria to measure local governments’ performance in 16 domains.  The proposed indicators also include certain open government indicators, such as the existence of an open government action plan, and regulations for CSO engagement and funding, etc. CSOs have high hopes for this activity and believe it could have a potentially transformative impact on open government at the local level, in particular on transparency. Teele Pehk and Maarja-Leena Saar (Estonian Cooperation Assembly) both see it as a step forward in developing civic technology and emphasize the value of the data that would be collected and published.  They suggest the datasets should be released as open data to enable their reuse by interested stakeholders. If this is achieved, the commitment may also involve enriching the open data landscape in Estonia with hundreds of new high-value datasets. Liia Hänni, from the e-Governance Academy, believes this activity could create potential synergies with developing open government action plans in local municipalities as it would help analyze the situation of open government in municipalities and identify gaps.  The Ministry of Finance indeed plans to start regularly monitoring the implementation of local open government action plans as part of data collection on local-level public service quality and publish the results through the ICT tool.  According to Ott Kasuri from the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities (AECM), the ICT tool could serve as a useful means for visualizing strategic processes and planning the development of new services. 
This commitment uses state-of-the-art means to address an important gap. However, in order to transform the status quo, the Ministry of Finance should plan additional activities to ensure the targeted stakeholders will actually use the ICT tool. It is also advisable to devise measures for feeding the information revealed through the tool into policy to support the municipalities that lag behind. The IRM researcher therefore advises to continue this commitment in the next action plan and expand it to include these supportive measures. The following considerations may be useful when implementing the commitment and planning the next steps:
- The Ministry of Finance could design the system development in a collaborative way to involve representatives of the key user groups and make sure their needs are addressed in the system’s design. The process should also involve disabled people, in particular those with visual impairments, e.g. experts from the Estonian Blind Union. According to Andrus Jõgi (Ministry of Finance), the ministry plans to make the application usable for color-blind people by using icons and numerical values where possible.  In the next action plan, the ministry could continue this commitment and include activities to promote the use of the tool among all intended target groups.
- The ministry could prioritize designing processes for data collection that would be standardized and automatized to the extent possible in order to ensure users’ continued access to up-to-date data without the need for extensive manual work. According to Andrus Jõgi, data collection will involve a lot of manual work in the first years, but the ministry plans to gradually automatize the process, once it becomes clear which datasets are used more and which data can be obtained and updated at a reasonable cost. 
- For a broader impact, the data collected for the ICT tool could be published on the Estonian national open data portal in the form of open, downloadable and machine-readable datasets. Maarja-Leena Saar (Estonian Cooperation Assembly) suggests adding an open license to all the data used in the tool and encouraging citizens to reuse the data for new applications and projects.  In her view, the next OGP action plan could include activities to monitor the compliance of the data with open data standards and to promote data reuse by non-governmental stakeholders.
- In order to further advance open government values, the ministry could pay special attention to refining (and possibly adding) indicators that reflect the state of open government practices in municipalities. These indicators should be developed and selected in collaboration with CSOs.
- To achieve the expected impact and avoid unwanted outcomes, the IRM researcher highly recommends the Ministry of Finance devise a comprehensive plan for transferring the knowledge obtained through using the tool into actual policy measures. According to Krista Habakukk (Kodukant, the Village Movement), publishing data about municipalities’ performance is good for transparency but also entails the risk of exacerbating already existing inequalities between municipalities.  She notes that simply publishing rankings may result in increased migration to municipalities that have more resources to provide better services, accelerating the marginalization of municipalities with fewer resources. Habakukk expects the government to have a clear plan for helping the municipalities that lag behind to improve their services and governance practices.
- Finally, the impact of the ICT tool could also be increased by using it to help municipalities develop innovative data-driven services to citizens. According to Ott Kasuri (AECM), municipalities should increasingly develop proactive services, for example by issuing citizens automated notifications about school or kindergarten places, and eligibility for social benefits, etc.  Municipalities’ obligation to regularly provide data for the ICT tool could also help improve their data management practices, which would facilitate the use of data for service provision.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
5. Simple and user-friendly presentation of local public service levels
Aim of the commitment
This commitment aimed to advance open government in local municipalities by improving public access to information on the quality of public services provided by municipalities. The Estonian government conducted a large-scale merger of local municipalities in 2017 with the aim to strengthen the governance capacity of local municipalities and improve the quality of public services provided at the local level. However, the level of public services had not been measured systematically, nor did the public have access to information about municipalities’ performance in terms of service quality.  To create a reference base for monitoring changes in local governments’ performance, the government set out to develop a data-driven public online monitoring tool that would allow policymakers and citizens to assess and compare the performance of all local municipalities in a range of domains, from the provision of communal and social services to open government practices.
Did it open government?
By the end of the action plan period (albeit with a delay of several months), the Ministry of Finance launched the online monitoring tool on the website https://minuomavalitsus.fin.ee. Its development process in 2018–2019 involved various governmental and non-governmental stakeholders (e.g., Government Office, Statistics Estonia, Estonian Cooperation Assembly, e-Governance Academy, Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities). 
The resulting web application aggregates and visualizes comparative data on the performance of all 79 merged local municipalities in Estonia in 16 domains that concern key local public service areas (education, youth work, housing and communal facilities, mobility, social protection, public health and safety, and culture, sports, and leisure) as well as public governance. As part of the governance dimension, the application also assesses municipalities’ performance in open government. It shows, for example, whether a municipality implements a local open government action plan, publishes information on the local budget and work of the local government, implements participatory budgeting, enables public participation via its website, has established transparent procedures for funding CSOs and conducting public procurement, and so on.
To facilitate comparison, the application shows the performance level (“basic”, “advanced”, or “excellent”) of each criterion  based on the methodology that the University of Tartu and Geomedia (a private consultancy) developed in consultation with local governments, experts, and interest groups.  While the broader public may find the methodology difficult to grasp, the online application’s use of clear visuals and color codes facilitates understanding of where each municipality stands in comparison with others. The website also provides explanations in clear language on the usage possibilities of the application and limitations of the data. 
Compared to the situation before, the application constitutes an outstanding improvement in public access to information on the work of local governments. It also provides data for local and central government to assess whether policy support, including changes to allocation of funding, is needed to support changes in practice or to address inequalities across local administrations. According to an interviewed representative of the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO), having access to detailed and comparable data on local municipalities substantially simplifies the work of advocacy organizations, who previously needed to talk to tens of municipalities to develop some level of understanding of local-level problems and needs.  Since the application uses data from a 2020 survey which assessed residents’ satisfaction with their municipalities’ services, the NENO representative believes the tool could provide the necessary evidence for citizens to demand better services from their local administrations. As an important result, the survey showed that citizens are unsatisfied with the level of civic engagement in most municipalities. 
An interviewed representative from Kodukant, the Estonian Village Movement, considers the application a valuable tool in advancing their network’s strategic partnership with local municipalities and monitoring the success of their advocacy and capacity-building work without the need to commission separate studies.  The representative highlights the value of the visual design of the tool, in particular the map view, which gives the public a quick and easily accessible comparative overview of municipalities. An additional benefit is that the tool provides the underlying data used in the measurement in an open format for public reuse. 
As the application was only launched in August 2020, the Ministry of Finance’s next priority is disseminating information on the tool among potential users.  So far, the ministry has conducted a press conference, launched a dedicated Facebook page,  and disseminated information on meetings and seminars with local municipalities, government ministries, and CSOs (e.g., the Good Citizen Club co-organized by NENO and Open Knowledge Estonia ). The ministry also plans to publish more media articles in local newspapers to disseminate information on the tool to the public. In addition to mobilizing users, the ministry plans to continue the development of the assessment methodology, having established a broad-based stakeholder advisory group with CSOs such as Kodukant for the purpose.  It also regularly collects users’ feedback via the website. 
While the delay in launching the tool has also delayed activities targeted at informing and mobilizing users, the commitment has transformed the quantity and quality of available information on local governments. The public, as well as policymakers and interest groups, now have access to a tool that provides evidence on local municipalities’ services and public governance practices based on a uniform methodology, allowing both for comparison and zooming in on a single municipality of interest. While translating the information into policy changes will take time, government officials have started using the tool when preparing visits to municipalities to acquire an overview of the municipalities’ strengths and weaknesses.  As another example, the new youth strategy for 2021–2035 plans to use the system to track the progress of one of the strategy’s key outcome indicators – percentage of local municipalities providing youth services at an ‘advanced’ level.