Prime Minister Rõivas' Key-note Speech at the Danish Design Centre
On the 14th of october, The Estonian Design Center, the Embassy of Estonia in Copenhagen, Danish Design Centre and Design for Europe hosted a panel debate about the influence design has on happiness in a society. The design panel was part of the Prime minister's official visit Denmark. The keynote speak was given by the Prime minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas.
There is no doubt that “design” has become the new buzzword for policy makers everywhere. Being cast aside from policy arena for too long, it has now almost become total. We “design” everything, from policies and strategies to places, processes and experiences. Whether good or bad, conscious or unconscious, design gets us everywhere not only in the form of objects and what lies between them, but also in the form of great and not so great policies. Today, when people talk about innovation, they mainly refer to design.
Introducing design principles into policies has made policy design more intelligent. Hereby, I don´t mean pseudoscientific “intelligent design”, but design in the very Danish sense of the word.
Denmark is being looked up for when experience is needed from all the major innovation centres of the world. Today, policy makers around the globe miss books by Jan Gehl and Christian Bason at their own peril. We have become aware, as designers have known for a long period of time, that even small changes and nudges can make a huge difference.
From Arne Jacobsen to MindLab today, you have inspired lots of followers and organisations all around the world, including us in Estonia. I´m quite sure it´s not that because the weather is better in Denmark that you rank first in the Happiness and DESI index. It surely has something to do with the ingenuity of you engineers and the fact that much of it is supported by your creative, skilled and hard-working designers.
Perhaps this is why we also in Tallinn want to be more Danish than just the name of the capital town suggests. After regaining independence, Estonia quickly learned that “the dwarf sees farther than the giant, when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on“. The ground zero of Estonia´s design policy and action was laid by the knowhow and vision of Per Mollerup, whose ideas and work made the Estonian public administration design-aware. We discovered the utility and relevance of design for policy far too late, only at the beginning “noughties”. But I hope that we will nevertheless be able to catch-up quickly, with the help of passionate people like Jane Oblikas, Martin Pärn and Yoko Alender present here today.
Being latecomers in scaling design-thinking across the board does not mean, however, that we´ve sat on our hands all the time. Having been forced into the Soviet communist experiment, we learned it the hard way, by becoming fully aware of what really-really-really (rõhutatult) bad design is. The notion “never again” and our full dedication to become the freest country in the world has since driven the dynamism of Estonia. Being down to earth and believing in a “hassle-free country” has made us, together with Denmark, one of the most advanced countries in digital-by-default public services in Europe and also in the world. We had the advantage to be reborn into the age of internet and be able to go digital the day one.
As a result and uniquely in the world, a third of the population votes online and 98% of users are currently using the digital recipes. Perhaps for different reasons, but in both our countries people like paying taxes. In Estonia, almost all the taxes are done online in five minutes, if you are slow. Furthermore, we intend to bring that to nanoscale by eliminating all reporting by providing further digital opportunities to make that seamless. It´s more by being agile and striving for efficiency than technological superiority or design-consciousness, that we have been able to pioneer some of the solutions, especially the backbone of the whole digital society.
First we built digital services, now we are building a virtual copy of a country. First we digitised a country and now we go cross-border and are building shared services together with Finland as we speak. Others are welcomed to join in. We´ve built having our citizens in mind, but now in responding to the need of our foreign investors, to the startup community and a growing body of digital nomads, we have also launched virtual residence, which we call e-residency. This means that anybody gets our digital identity and can safely identify and sign documents, open a company, declare her taxes and use all the other convenient e-services that were previously available for Estonians.
Since two years of its launch there have been about 14 000 applicants and about 900 new companies formed by new e-residents of Estonia. We hope it scales and no country will be the same.
By doing all this, we have gained a lot of valuable experience, but for the next stage – the country as a service - I hope that there is room for us doing that together and using all the right tools available. By combining talent with efficiency and with technology and design. As you have rightly spotted, this means utilizing the talent of designers, behavioural scientists and nudging professionals from the very beginning of policy development processes.
From diagnosis to policy selection and then on to testing it, we will concentrate more on how people actually behave, not on how we’d really like them to behave. As the digital economy has evolved worldwide, the expectations of users have radically changed - our users, clients and citizens today expect intuitive user experience. Being intuitive means seamlessness, pro-activeness and a mind-set where less is more. Users don’t want rules – they expect solutions and this is where we also need professional designers to assist us, because the future services will be user-centric and customised for both our citizens and also our netizens.
Design will surely not substitute visions, strategies, policies and laws, but design is an important tool to improve the making of those and the experiences. As famous public strategist and a good friend of Estonia Geoff Mulgan has said: “Governments can be brutal and stupid. But the best have helped their citizens to live stronger, safer, richer, freer lives”. At the end of the day, there is no higher purpose and design principles will help us to achieve that. I really hope we all will be in this together, both universities and countries. If we will stand together on the shoulders of our giants we will surely see and co-create even further.
This would be a great way of celebrating the 800 years of shared story of Dannebrog and design something as great as that once again.