How Denmark made it to the top in e-Government

Written by Danish Ambassador Lars Thuesen, Embassy of Denmark in United Kingdom

Danes are well-known for their hygge, but there’s a national trait that defines us even more: a love of efficiency and a focus on cost-effective solutions. This pragmatic approach combined with an ambitious digital agenda for the public sector and a very high degree of trust in authorities has made Denmark gain the top spot in the UN e-Government rankings.

That Denmark has become the most digitalised country in the world is also due to a high-level of public sector involvement in the lives of citizens. For example, it is made mandatory to use digital tools in the communication between citizens and government, and several digital self-service applications have experienced near universal take-up. An additional benefit is that it is much cheaper for taxpayers, if citizens and businesses can operate digitally plus it frees up front line staff to better serve citizens, who struggle to help themselves. A development that has resulted in big efficiency gains.

A high degree of internet penetration has furthered the digital transformation of the Danish society:94% have internet at home, 89% use the internet daily, and over a 12-month period 88% of citizens interact digitally with public authorities.

The push to go digital has to large extent been driven by a cost agenda. Like many western societies, Denmark has a demographic challenge, which leads to increased demands on the public sector. We need to be efficient where we can, so that there are sufficient resources for the public sector to support those that need it the most.

One of the cornerstones of the Danish model was laid in 1968, when Denmark introduced the so-called CPR-register, a central database of every person residing in Denmark. The more recent push for digitalisation of the public sector started about 20 years ago. There have been four major stages in the period:

In 2001, a digital signature was created; all public sector bodies were obliged to be open to receiving emails, and authorities started communicating digitally internally.

In 2004, “Easy Account” was created, and the public sector required eInvoicing from their suppliers. Cross-government portals were developed for the healthcare sector and for company interaction with the public sector.

In 2007, the cornerstones of the digital infrastructure were launched with a cross-government identity verification system, “EasyID”.  A cross-government secure mailbox for every citizen was also launched to be used for communication between the public sector and the citizen.

In 2011, there was a significant channel shift, in which “Digital Post” for citizens and businesses was made mandatory. It provides everyone in Denmark with a secure email – so all messages from government to citizen or from business to government are sent digitally. Similarly, online self-service became mandatory for both citizens and business.

Of course, not everyone can use digital services. Being efficient where we can also means that we have the right resources to make assisted, digital services available in council buildings and libraries, etc. for those who struggle with digital services. The result is that Denmark now has the highest take-up of digital public services in the OECD – around 70%.

Interestingly, this is not only applying to the highly educated. They may be more likely to use digital services, but in Denmark even people with no or low education have a take-up rate of 60%. This compares to a figure of 10% in the UK.

There are a number of statistics on take-up, and notably the application for maternity benefits has a digital take-up rate of 100%, registration for primary and lower-secondary education has a take-up rate of 97%, and even application for state pension has a rate of 95%, proving that digital is not only for the younger generation.

Our best estimate is that this push for digital in the public sector in the last 20 years has freed up £300m per year in efficiency gains.

To sum up, the key to Danish digitalisation has been to focus on delivering the basic infrastructure centrally, so agencies and municipalities can re-use common services most cost-efficiently to the benefit of all Danes.

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