Open Government Partnership at the Local Level in Estonia
Independent local governments were re-established in Estonia in the early 1990s, when most of the legislation on local government and its finances were written. The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia (1992) states in paragraph 154 the right of local authorities to manage local issues: “All local issues shall be resolved and managed by local governments, which shall operate independently pursuant to law.” Being the closest governmental units to citizens, local governments play a vital role in open government reform efforts. Since some of core elements of the OGP approach are the recognition of open government values and a commitment to implement concrete actions to advance transparent and participatory governance, similar methodology can be successfully applied at the local government level. The OGP approach can be used to build the capacity of local public authorities and civil society organizations (CSOs) to implement transparent, participatory, and accountable local self-governance capable of withstanding corruption and delivering citizen centric public services, including e-services.
In Estonia, the e-Governance Academy Foundation (eGA) started to implement OGP methodology at the local level in 2014. In April 2014, we launched the “Open Government Partnership in Local Governments” project, which aimed to increase the awareness and capacities of Estonian local governments to implement open, transparent, and participatory governance with the help of ICT. We believed that local governments could include specific activities related to open government in their own Local Action Plans, in close cooperation with local civil society organisations. We worked with eight local governments in Estonia, and helped them, together with their communities, to prepare and elaborate activities for the Local Action Plans. These activities were then implemented by municipalities and CSOs, their results were assessed, and further recommendations were made for new actions ensuring the sustainability of their undertakings.
One of the deliverables was a video, titled “How to make local life better with open governance,” which turned the local authorities’ attention towards the importance of openness and transparency in everyday administrative processes and providing guidelines. Another deliverable was a repository of diverse examples of collaboration practices between individuals, organisations and public institutions used in organising local life at the portal kohalikkoostöö.ee, available in Estonian, English, and Russian.
Territorial amalgamation reform in Estonia is currently at the forefront of national public debate: during the reform period of 2016-2017, Estonia reduced the number of local government units from 213 to 79, increasing the average number of inhabitants in an individual municipality from 6,349 to 17,152. We believe that the amalgamation process opens the window of opportunity for local governments to renew their dedication to local democracy – to rethink and review all administrative processes with a lens of openness and transparency.
In 2017, eGA also worked with Estonian municipalities undergoing the amalgamation process. The aim of this project was to increase the awareness and capability of amalgamating municipalities, so that they could more easily implement open governance principles during and after the local administration reform in Estonia. To attain this goal, we introduced the OGP methodology in two selected test areas, where municipalities were in the process of amalgamation and were ready to prepare concrete Action Plans of open government for the post-reform period. We prepared seven guidelines to help communities and local governments better plan their new lives together, and sent them not only to the candidates in the October 2017 local government elections, but active citizens and communities wishing to participate in organizing the newly formed local units. We have seven videos presenting our recommendations in different areas of open government.
The e-Governance Academy has been successfully sharing the Estonian experience in implementing OGP at the local level with other countries. Within the framework of OGP commitments in Georgia, we are providing practical assistance on improving existing governance processes and consulting on tools for involvement of citizens in local decision-making processes in three pilot cities in Georgia – Kutaisi, Batumi and Akhaltsikhe.
If you are interested in our work, do not hesitate to contact us!
e-Democracy team at eGA