Retratstolipeht (republished)

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It is frequently complained that the municipal landscape of digital services is so fragmented and diverse. And fair is fair, that’s a fair observation. Moreover, it is likely that as a result we are missing out on opportunities to set up our services more efficiently and uniformly.

At the same time, there is a positive side to this diversity: apparently we are all capable of inventing the wheel ourselves. And with that we cannot deny that municipalities have an enormous innovative power! Until now we have regarded our diversity and fragmentation as a weakness, but actually this is a very good sign.

And there is even more good news, because in recent years the desire and need for cooperation has become more and more emphatic. This was evident, for example, in the massive endorsement of the principles of Organizing Together at the VNG member meeting in late 2016. There is momentum and work is underway to further develop the program to achieve a powerful digital government.

What we need now above all is direction. This is different from direction, by the way. There is no need for large-scale projects with action plans that are dated before we can start implementing them. Or with a heavy central direction up to the level of implementation. Direction requires, above all, a shared vision of what digital government services in the information society should look like. And that should not remain an abstract idea, but simply concrete and defined. Which services do we want to include, and which do not.

The Generic Digital Infrastructure is a step in the right direction, but it does not yet feel like a complete and balanced picture. For many, the ‘Estonia model’ already offers a nice glimpse of a possible future, somewhat further on the horizon. What remains is to mobilize the aforementioned innovative power to get there.

“By reversing the PilotStarter you get innovation à la carte”

Innovation à la carte
In order to get started in a focused way, my proposal is to reverse The PilotStarter of the VNG. In its current form, The PilotStarter is an instrument to capture all spontaneous ideas for innovative pilots from all corners of the country, test the support for them, organize the realization in more coherence, and scale up where possible. This is a very valuable instrument in the search for cohesion and cooperation. But it mainly provides a composite picture of all the separate, and therefore incoherent, developments.

We could consider the PilotStarter as an à la carte menu. On the menu are all the components that digital government services should consist of. From infrastructure, to portals, to transaction platforms, communication channels to specific services and the personal support organized around them as a backstop. All of which we have determined together: this is our palette of government services. Everything is modular and based on agreements about compatibility, integrality and connectivity (the more ‘-ty’, the better), so that separately developed chunks are always connected to the whole.

On the road together
On the basis of this total package, innovative municipalities, in collaboration with private parties, other government bodies, residents and entrepreneurs, can sign up for the customer-oriented development of a specific service component. When the component is ‘ready’ (to which I wholeheartedly subscribe the principle of ‘permanent beta’ of the Study Group Information Society and Government), it will be connected to the whole and other municipalities will be able to purchase this service. This method of working could be a nice route towards the realization of the +1-municipality.

What remains is an appropriate name that helps us stay on course. Something like “Retratstolipeht. That is simply The PilotStarter reversed. Perhaps not easy to pronounce, but it can be reproduced, and for the enthusiast it might even sound a bit Estonian too!

Original publication on PlatformOverheid (Dutch only):