From Policy to Practice to Policy
In 2012 Estonia established its first design policy after a decade of advocacy and engagement including the establishment of the Estonian Design Centre in 2008. The National Action Plan for Design focused on increasing the use of design in both the private and public sectors with an emphasis on design as a source of competitive advantage.
Activities of the State in supporting design are targeted at:
• Improvement of quality, competitiveness and demand for Estonian products and services
on the world market;
• Development of design entrepreneurship;
• Growth of the reliability and quality of the support systems in the design field;
• Improvement of the welfare of citizens through more user-friendly and personalised
products and services.’
National Action Plan for Design 2012-2013 part of Estonian Enterprise Policy 2007-2013
“Design Bulldozer has demonstrated what design can do for business and we now have specific examples from across a number of different industries. This has given us very practical insights we didn’t have before – today we are able to evaluate organisations better and show how design can help them.
Moving from design policy to implementation and practice occurred in quick succession with the Estonian Design Centre, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication and Enterprise Estonia launching the first design support programme: Design Bulldozer. The Design Bulldozer, at an investment of €400,000, connected ten design managers with ten companies providing strategic intervention over 20 months.
“Design Bulldozer has demonstrated what design can do for business and we now have specific examples from across a number of different industries. This has given us very practical insights we didn’t have before – today we are able to evaluate organisations better and show how design can help them.”
Jane Oblikas, CEO, Estonian Design Centre
However, both Design Bulldozer and the National Action Plan for Design were linked to the EU Structural Funds budget concluding in 2013. Therefore, the participation of the Estonian Design Centre in Design for Europe provided the impetus to ensure design remained firmly on the agenda.
How Design for Europe helped
Over 60 representatives from 25 different ministries and government agencies gathered in Tallinn for the two-day seminar Innovating Public Services: the example of e-residency in March 2015. Estonia is the first country to offer e-Residency: a transnational digital identity available to anyone in the world interested in an online business that is not dependent on location. Estonia has a very advanced policy on digital services and the e-Estonia platform provides more than 500 online services to citizens with an estimated saving of 2% of GDP for the government by going paperless.
At the event Estonian government officials had the opportunity to discover tools that can be used to implement design thinking from the very beginning of the online service development process.
"The fact that right now we have services that the citizens actually don’t know how to use is a very big issue and also a big waste of money. I think this was one of the most useful seminars I have ever been to!"
In such a new domain as e-Residency, design thinking principles are as relevant as ever in getting citizens in Estonia and around the world on board with such an innovative idea.
In November 2015 the Estonian Design Centre hosted a service design workshop for the team organising the Estonian Presidency of the EU in 2018. Currently, the EDC are working with the Presidency team on procurement issues and the next step is to help them to prepare a brief and find designers for all the welcoming presents for the guests during the Presidency.
It is expected that by 2025 there will a total of 10 million e-Estonians. There are already 5-6 key services that e-residents can use and that is just a starting point. The e-Residency concept is the first of its kind in the world and there is a unique opportunity, through Design for Europe, to bring in design and the user perspective.
Prototyping and testing are core to the design process but departments sometimes say they don’t have the time or resources for prototyping and this is what we are changing. Online prototyping is the best way to manage risk.
“We think always about our users – the government departments developing online services and citizens. What tools can government departments use? How can we help them to make their services better for the public? Prototyping and testing are core to the design process but departments sometimes say they don’t have the time or resources for prototyping and this is what we are changing. Online prototyping is the best way to manage risk.
Tiina Rekand, Analyst, Estonian Information System Authority
Design for Europe has provided major exposure to the activities and ambitions of the Estonian Design Centre. Senior public officials who have spoken internationally at Design for Europe events have become champions and spokespeople for design thinking back home.
“The Estonian Design Centre is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Design for Europe through contacts, information and knowledge received. The Design for Europe Summit in October will have strong impact for the public sector as many policy-makers have shown their interest in participating. In September, the call for Design Bulldozer volume 3 will be open. Design for Europe has been very good in promoting the results of Design Bulldozer volume 1. We are also preparing a new national design policy for Estonia.”
Jane Oblikas, CEO, Estonian Design Centre
The next phase of the Design Bulldozer programme will soon be launched and the Estonian Design Centre is spearheading a new approach to developing the next national design policy.
Using design thinking, we want to try a new approach to policy development and implementation by enabling design stakeholders to develop a policy led by the grassroots.
“When the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications developed the previous design policy it was very much linked to state funding and therefore government owned. Using design thinking, we want to try a new approach to policy development and implementation by enabling design stakeholders to develop a policy led by the grassroots. The Ministry, of course, is one of the stakeholders in the process but this policy will be jointly owned and therefore the responsibility for its success will also be shared.”
Piret Potissepp, Counsellor at Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications
Design thinking itself can transform the way policy is made and like e-government, Estonia is ahead of the curve in Europe.