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Small is beautiful: Denmark as a source of inspiration internationally

03-12-2013 Column

“Small is beautiful …” this is what we Danes say ourselves when we are to explain Denmark’s position in the world at large. But we are not all that small when it comes to public sector digitisation. In actual fact, the surrounding world finds that there is much to learn from what we do in Denmark with respect to digitisation, e.g. Digital Post and NemID.

In its report Government at a Glance 2013, which has just been published, the OECD underlines that 83 per cent of Danes aged between 16 and 74 have used the Internet to contact public authorities. By contrast, the average for OECD countries is only 50 per cent. This confirms the impression I have gained from travels abroad where I have presented the Danish leadership position in this field.

We are at the cutting edge, and our experience from the last 15 years’ joint public efforts on digitising the Danish public sector is in demand in other countries, both in Europe and globally. This year alone, we have received 14 foreign delegations here at the Danish Agency for Digitisation.

The fact that digitisation also figures now on the agenda of government leaders in the EU is only natural considering the huge significance of digitisation for society in general. In this way, we contribute to creating the preconditions for increased economic growth through a Single European Digital Market.

At the recent Lithuanian EU Presidency Conference, attention was drawn to the importance of addressing cross-border use of public digital services in the EU, including the need to generally  “think big and start small” with respect to public sector digitisation. For example, we benefit a great deal from trying out things in joint European projects regarding e-commerce and standardisation – an area in which our contributions have made international impact.

Increasing interest in digital welfare
Denmark is also a source of inspiration outside Europe. In several contexts, Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have shown a great interest in our welfare system, our welfare mind-set and our way of opening up the public sector. Like Denmark, these countries as well as others are under pressure due to demographic developments, as in the coming years there will be fewer economically active persons to provide for an increasing number of elderly persons. Therefore, the recently published Danish Strategy for Digital Welfare has attracted much attention abroad and will unquestionably be much discussed in the years ahead.

The Agency for Digitisation is deeply involved internationally in selected areas of significance to digitisation in the public sector. We invest much time and effort in following and impacting on EU legislation. But we also learn from other countries when they are further ahead than we are. Our international involvement means that we need not reinvent the wheel but are able to build on the good ideas and practices of others, where it is relevant and sensible.

Lars Frelle-Petersen