e-Governance: the Estonian Case, a scientist’s opinion
Interview with Martin Emmer, PI at Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society & Einstein Center Digital Future
Could you tell us about the motivation and research objectives for the research project “Digital Citizenship” at the Weizenbaum Institut (please also include the geographical scope of the research)? How likely would you consider the introduction of a “digital citizenship” at the European level?
Martin Emmer: Our understanding of citizenship is not based on a definition that refers to formal membership of a person to a nation or political entity, but more generally on the self-perception of individuals in relation to any nation or entity they may belong to. In geographical terms, we aim to maximize generalizability and therefore are also planning comparative analyses. Our research questions are looking at psychological and sociological phenomena like new attitudes, values and social norms citizens may have developed, given their experience with and with regard to their life in the digital world.
Are citizens, who are living in a highly digitalized environment, more attached to individualistic values than others? Do they feel responsible for maintaining a civil culture of discussion by feeling compelled to contribute and intervene when observing uncivil behavior online? To what degree do they want to be part of the political decision-making process? Is just voting and petitioning enough for them?
Which key advantages as well as challenges are governmental / public administration services facing in the digitalisation of societies more generally?
Martin Emmer: Generally speaking, citizens today can expect a certain quality of digital services by public administrations. But to me, it is important to go a bit deeper: It’s not just about how to optimize online services by the administration, but how to integrate citizens in social and political processes from the very beginning, not just at the “front end”.
Considering your research on digital societies, do you think that public administrations would need to reinforce the process towards a “digital society” (such as digital payments, digital services, training and education)? If yes, which steps would you consider as a priority?
Martin Emmer: I would highly recommend a broad approach that takes citizens more seriously, accepting them not just as customers or objects of governance on a certain e-government website, but as “citizens” who have the right to be integrated in all relevant processes of a society. To achieve this, the task of actively empowering a society for the digital world should be placed at the top of political agendas (which some European countries have done, others not yet) and to be interconnected with the other grand challenges we are currently facing.
Estonia introduced a digital residency (e-Residency) as part of building a “digital society” – an advanced step in comparison to other EU countries. How likely would you consider the introduction of a “digital residency/ citizenship” at the European level?
Martin Emmer: I would strongly support such projects – as long as dealing with the risks of abuse of citizen data by illegitimate interests, e.g. by domestic or foreign governments, have the same high priority in the development and implementation processes.