In April 2017, we had a chance to organise and present a workshop focusing on digital identities and services provided thanks to these identities at the International eGovernment and eDemocracy Conference in Quito, Ecuador. We had a privilege working with an internationally diverse group of participants ranging from countries such as Ecuador, Estonia, France, Canada, China, Mexico, Austria, Czech Republic, Portugal, Colombia and several other countries. To foster interactivity and also to get a picture of what e-services individuals are looking for, we created a survey to ask participants the following questions:

  • What e-services they would like to see in their country?
  • What kind of identification they would foresee?
  • Could they see any obstacles in implementing these services?

Below is the summary of answers we received.

According to the results of the survey, six people mentioned different services linked to public transport: paying for it, integrated transport systems, better planning.

A platform for reporting problems in the city was another suggestion. This led to a debate whether incentives should be provided to get people to report problems and how such a system could become effective, as many participants reported that their cities already had such systems in place, but they were rarely efficient. The main complaint was that there was no follow-up of the reported problems, so individuals lose interest quite soon.

Local issues of everyday nature were also reflected in calls for participatory budgets at a municipal level and perhaps some other system such as an app to see public income/expenditure.

Among other services that people felt could be online were land registrations, renewal of driver’s licences and passports as well as visa applications. For such issues however, participants recognised the need for secure electronic identification, whereas some of the public service oriented tasks above could be done without the need for secure identification. Election related matters were also listed – voting or registering for elections online – for which, again, identification is essential.

One Estonian participant wanted the possibility of opening a bank account without having to go to the bank – one of the few services that is not already available electronically in Estonia (however this is in the process of changing right now).

There were also some other suggestions made by participants, ranging from invoicing online (for public or private services) and e-health.

It was interesting to see that the suggestions tended to be similar across countries and cultures. The need for simplified services is quite universal.

As for how to identify oneself online, the most favoured means suggested was the ID-card, followed by biometric ID. Only several individuals suggested to use bank-ID and even fewer went for the more modern ideas of some form of blockchain identification or face and voice recognition. Participants did consider if microchips or Google glasses could help identify identities, and relatively few were interested in mobile ID. This was interesting, as many countries consider mobile ID as the best way forward: not too innovative (so not too expensive and people already have the essential means), but more flexible than an ID-card, which requires some form of a reader.

In the discussion, participants pointed out that connecting to existing services may be most needed – not creating new ones. Thus the border between means of identification and service is not clear, it may be a question of how to accede to existing services. Transactions must be secure and attention should be paid to vulnerable and less digitally literal groups.

Obstacles also need to be taken into consideration. Many listed cultural obstacles, a need for education and dialogue to increase digital literacy. Legal obstacles were recognised, especially in large states, federal states, when the level of responsibility is not clear. However, at times few obstacles exist other than a lack of political will. Trustworthy bodies need to deal with processes, and create trustworthy campaigns.

Very few mentioned technical obstacles and in case there are some, they can be overcome with better software and more transparency.

Financial obstacles were rarely mentioned and if so, linked to political will.

All in all, this was an interesting experience to get some valuable insight into the existing e-services and their potential improvements, as well as observe ideas for new ones around the world.


Author: Katrin Nyman-Metcalf
Front photo: Mariya Tuzyk