Expert Group on Open Government (EE0059)
Action Plan Cycle: 2022
Lead Institution: Government Office
Support Institution(s): Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Finance; Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations, Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Estonian Employers’ Confederation, Estonian Trade Union Confederation, Estonian Council of Environmental NGOs, Estonian National Youth Council, NGO Estonian Village Movement Kodukant, Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, Estonian Social Innovation Lab, eGovernance Academy, Transparency International Estonia
Policy AreasCapacity Building, Public Participation
Brief description of the commitment Create an open government roadmap that systematically maps the necessary steps to implement co-creative policy-making in the public sector, to implement open government principles at all levels, and assess the potential impact of these developments
What problem does the commitment aim to address? The long-term national development strategy ‘Estonia 2035’ approved by the Riigikogu states the goal ‘As a country, Estonia is people-centred, where policy-making is co-creative and people can participate in making important decisions’. In order to achieve this goal, the Estonian public sector must improve both the skills and attitudes of officials in the coming years so that they correspond to the principles of open government. The same goal is supported by the plan to create the national co-creation workspace KOOS, which will create the foundations for enabling secure digital co-creation with personal identification in a flexible and open workspace.
What are the causes of the problem? So far, the main focus has been on the development of the technical platform, and less attention has been directed to the transition to co-creative policy-making. As with any change, legal conditions, public sector skills, and budgetary constraints must be taken into account. While KOOS will create a digital space that enables co-creation, the skills and attitudes that favour co-creation still need to be developed. It is not limited to the ability to organise public policy-making seminars, but includes a much broader set of competencies that allow, among other things, to create a safe atmosphere for discussion, find compromises, support parties in coming up with satisfactory solutions, and build consensus. Due to the developing environment of inclusion and co-creation, the regulatory framework concerning legal and policy-making standards also needs to be modernised. For example, the regulation of the Government of the Republic, the Good Practice of Engagement, and the methodology of impact assessment must be reviewed.
What has been done so far to solve the problem? In order to promote co-creative policy-making, a number of activities have been implemented as part of the previous action plans of the Estonian Open Government Partnership, both in the development of skills and the supporting technical solutions. They are described in more detail in this Action Plan.
What solution are you proposing? The solution consists of two measures. I To put together an open government expert group, the purpose of which is to create an open government roadmap that systematically maps the necessary steps to implement co-creative policy-making in the public sector, implement open government principles at all levels, and assess the potential impact of these developments. The open government roadmap must describe: ● a roadmap for the implementation of co-creative policy-making in state agencies, taking into account the possibilities and needs of various stakeholders; ● a roadmap for promoting open government and co-creation in local governments; ● an overview of the needs of governmental authorities in the development of co-creative policy-making skills; ● an overview of the needs of local governments in the development of co-creative governance skills; ● proposals for updating the Good Practice of Engagement; ● proposals for legal changes promoting open government and co-creation. II To supplement the toolbox of co-creation methods, which is one of the commitments of the ‘Estonia’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan for 2020–2022’, based on the proposals submitted to the public idea gathering and the conclusions of the open government expert group.
What results do we want to achieve by implementing this commitment? As a result of the work of the open government expert group, the current situation of co-creative policy-making in Estonia and the areas that need development have been systematically reviewed. The policy recommendations of the expert group help increase co-creation in policy-making. It also helps to prepare for the introduction of the cocreation workspace KOOS. At the same time, the toolbox of co-creation methods will be supplemented with specific methods and instructions, so that both central and local government officials have access to the existing experience on co-creative policy-making in Estonia in one place.
How will the commitment promote transparency? The understanding of the public sector of co-creation will be harmonised and the legal space and technological solutions supporting it will be modernised. All of these are prerequisites to increase the transparency of the policy-making process.
How will the commitment help foster accountability? How will the commitment improve citizen participation in defining, implementing, and monitoring solutions? In addition to the aforementioned, KOOS, the open government expert group, and the toolbox of co-creation methods have been co-created.
Commitment planning Milestones Expected outputs Expected completion date Stakeholders
Open government expert group The open government roadmap is completed January 2023 Lead: Government Office Supporting stakeholders Government CSOs Others (e.g. parliament, private sector, etc.) Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Finance See above
Supplementing the toolbox of co-creation methods with, among other things, the methodologies submitted to the public gathering of ideas for the OGP Action Plan Descriptions of at least four methodologies with examples have been added to the toolbox December 2022 Lead: Government Office Supporting stakeholders Government CSOs Others (e.g. parliament, private sector, etc.) Ministry of Estonian 16 Justice, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Finance Cooperation Assembly, Estonian Social Innovation Lab, eGovernance Academy, Green Tiger, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations
Agreeing with the parties on the implementation of the proposals of the open government expert group The implementation agreement is presented to the Open Government Committee on Development (ARVAK) May 2023 Lead: Government Office Supporting stakeholders Government CSOs Others (e.g. parliament, private sector, etc.) Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Finance Members of the expert group
Implementing the proposals of the open government expert group To the extent agreed in ARVAK June 2024 Lead: Government Office Supporting stakeholders Government CSOs Others (e.g. parliament, private sector, etc.) Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Finance Members of the expert group
IRM Midterm Status Summary
Action Plan Review
Commitment 1.2 Expert Group on Open Government
● Verifiable: Yes
● Does it have an open government lens? Yes
● This commitment has been clustered as: Increasing co-creation in policy-making (activities 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 of the action plan)
● Potential for results: Substantial
Government Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance
For a complete description of the activities included in this commitment, see activities 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 in the action plan here.
Context and objectives
Estonia has sought to nurture participatory and co-creative policy-making practices throughout several OGP action plans. Increasing the transparency and accessibility of public decision-making has been the government’s and civil society’s shared priority as the government’s lawmaking process has been deemed complicated for the public to follow and take part in.  Symptoms of this problem are persistently low public participation rates in policy-making processes and civil society organizations (CSOs) being involved in policy processes too late when there is little time to substantially influence the government’s plans. 
This commitment continues the development of a government-wide digital tool for legislative drafting and co-creation that Estonia started in its fourth action plan. In addition to giving the public an integrated view of the policy cycle, the tool will enable citizens to participate in different stages of the lawmaking process. The commitment also continues the fifth action plan’s work on developing a public toolbox of co-creation methods to serve as a resource for policy makers, and the government will continue testing specific co-creation methods in real-life policy-making exercises.
- Under the fifth action plan, the government developed a minimum viable prototype  of the legislative drafting and co-creation tool, conducted user tests and launched pilots to test the functionalities of the tool in actual legislative drafting processes. For the sixth action plan, the government aims to develop a pilot-ready version of the tool’s public interface, which would enable the public to submit comments in legislative drafting processes. In addition, data on meetings with lobbyists where the particular initiative has been discussed will be presented next to each legislative initiative.
- Under the fifth action plan, the Government Office developed an online toolbox of co-creation methods, but publication has been delayed due to discussions around the technical solution.  The toolbox will include a repository of co-creation methods, guidelines, and real-life case studies, as well as an overview of the government’s ongoing policy co-creation processes. The Government Office published the first parts of the toolbox in November 2022 and regards it as a ‘live’ resource that government agencies and other stakeholders can update with their own methods and experiences. As part of the sixth action plan, the Government Office aims to add four new co-creation methods to the toolbox, some of them based on CSOs’ input to the action plan co-creation process.
- Under the fifth action plan, in 2021, the Government Office coordinated a large-scale participation initiative gathering young people’s proposals for improving the living environment in Estonia using the “opinion journey” co-creation methodology.  The sixth action plan will adopt a similar method but on a much larger scale: government institutions, CSOs, and individual adult citizens of different ages will be invited to conduct 150 group discussions all around Estonia to solicit input to the 2023 annual action plan of the national development strategy “Estonia 2035”. The methodology and lessons learned from this exercise will be added to the co-creation toolbox and the government will provide reasoned response to participants on how their input shaped the annual action plan.
- Under the fifth action plan, the Ministry of Rural Affairs analyzed the management and participation practices of their more than 20 advisory bodies with the aim to develop guidelines for better engagement of stakeholders in these bodies.  This activity is not continued in the sixth action plan.
As a new activity, the sixth action plan includes a review of the legal and policy landscape to create a roadmap for widespread adoption of co-creative policy-making methods at the central and local government levels. This commitment therefore seeks to advance both government transparency and civic participation by combining digital tools, methodological resources, public participation initiatives, and roadmaps for legal and policy change.
Potential for results: Substantial
The impact of this commitment is not likely to be immediate – major shifts in public participation are likely to happen only in the long term if the government continues advancing transparency and inclusion in policy-making processes. However, previous action plans have already made small improvements in transparency and participation that create a strong foundation for the sixth action plan.
First, initiatives such as the youth’s “opinion journey” have given a small number of policy makers direct experience of coordinating co-creation processes and a small number of citizens experience of participating in such processes. Positive experiences like this can encourage the government to implement similar participation initiatives on a broader scale. This is visible in the new commitment to conduct 150 group discussions with citizens to co-create the “Estonia 2035” strategy’s next annual action plan. As of November 2022, 115 discussions have already been registered, covering all 15 counties of Estonia. 
Second, the government has laid the groundwork for more open policy-making practices at the central level by developing a digital tool, the design of which enables and explicitly encourages transparency and co-creation. According to the current roadmap, a government-wide adoption of the tool would likely not happen before the year 2024 and further developments (e.g., integration of Parliamentary proceedings) may continue beyond 2025.  This means this commitment, if implemented as planned, will constitute an incremental, yet indispensable step in a long process of shifting to new policy-making methods and tools. According to the coordinator from the Ministry of Justice, the use of the co-creation tool will become mandatory for government agencies once it is ready for adoption.  She also notes that the government users who have piloted the tool have given positive feedback and expressed a desire to use it in the future. Both the obligation and intent to use the system are important, albeit not the only preconditions for successful institutionalization of new policy-making practices.
Although previous action plans have included capacity building of public officials and ministries’ public engagement coordinators, they lacked a comprehensive plan to drive deeper institutional change. Commitment 1.2 addresses this gap, by establishing an expert group that will analyze the gaps that hinder the adoption of co-creative policy-making practices in government agencies and local municipalities. The expert group will then develop a public roadmap laying out proposals for fostering co-creation at the central and local government level. According to the commitment coordinator, the expert group is led by two open government experts from civil society and is divided into two sub-groups, one focusing on the central government level and the other on the local level.  The expert group includes representatives from three ministries, the Government Office, and a number of CSOs and social partners.  The local government subgroup also includes representatives of municipalities. To inform the roadmap, the expert group is conducting interviews with ministries and plans a survey among key CSO partners to analyze their views on the barriers of public participation. 
Ultimately, this commitment’s impact will depend on the actual implementation process that follows the adoption of the roadmap. The government is currently considering two possible approaches to that.  The first would require the expert group and Government Office to work with ministries to carry out the roadmap’s proposals that relate to their policy area. However, if a stronger mandate is needed to drive action on the roadmap, the Government Office could take the roadmap to the cabinet of ministers, who could assign tasks to government agencies and oversee their implementation. Either way, the Government Office’s strong sense of ownership of this commitment increases the prospects of it leading to substantial changes in government transparency and civic participation in the long term.
Opportunities, challenges, and recommendations during implementation
Since this commitment continues work from previous action plans, the key challenges that may affect implementation have already been highlighted in previous IRM reports. These include the need to work on promoting the take-up of the resources created as part of the action plan, and the challenge of securing institutional will to change policy-making practices.  More specifically, the lead agencies could consider the following recommendations:
- Devote attention to fostering a culture of collaboration and dialogue in addition to promoting new co-creation methods. According to the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, the action plan’s focus on trying out new methods is valuable but carries the risk that more attention is paid to the technical side of collaboration than to fostering a culture of dialogue and creating spaces conducive to genuine co-creation between different stakeholders.  Possible measures to support cultural change include civil service training and capacity building, but also identifying and empowering innovators and community leaders within the public sector and civil society who can drive cultural change in their organizations or communities. The expert group could be tasked with analyzing what resources, experiences, and incentives public officials and CSOs need to become active proponents of co-creation in their organizations. For future consideration, stakeholders have also proposed the government establish a center of competence (either as a separate institution or department of a government agency) with the responsibility and resources to develop democratic governance in Estonia. 
- Include action to support ministries’ public engagement coordinators in the work of the expert group. The IRM has previously recommended strengthening the role of public engagement coordinators to advise engagement processes in government agencies.  Despite efforts to support the coordinators’ work, the role of engagement coordinators continues to be uneven across ministries, often depending on the top managers’ interest in public engagement.  The expert group could propose a course of action for strengthening the role of public engagement coordinators in ministries. This may require reducing other work in the coordinators’ portfolio to allow them to focus on supporting their institutions in public engagement. The Government Office notes that the expert group is autonomous in deciding what solutions it will propose, but leaders of the expert group have interviewed ministries’ public engagement coordinators and they are engaged in evaluating possible steps in the future. 
- Devise an action plan to foster active use of the co-creation toolbox. As this valuable resource becomes available, it is vital to plan concrete activities to promote its use. Ministries’ public engagement coordinators could jointly plan activities to promote the toolbox among their colleagues. In addition to ministries, the toolbox could also be interesting for CSOs and local governments. The Government Office could take the lead in disseminating information about the toolbox and work with the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities and CSO networks like the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations, the OGP civil society roundtable, Kodukant the Village Movement, and others to share the toolbox with various communities.
- Engage ministries from the outset to secure their commitment to carry out the activities in the roadmap. According to the Government Office, the expert group is interviewing ministries to identify their needs regarding the use of co-creative and collaborative policy-making practices. It is important that the expert group keep close contact with all ministries to ensure their awareness of the roadmap process and discuss their role and responsibilities in implementing the resulting proposals early on.