Assessments and Recommendations

Slovenia is a parliamentary republic benefiting from a stable geopolitical situation and good cross-border relations with its neighbouring countries. Yet, policy continuity across political cycles is a critical concern in the public sector given the frequent change in government experience in recent years. In the OECD fact-finding mission to Ljubljana in October 2019, several public sector organisations highlighted that new governments have discontinued ongoing projects and initiatives, with negative consequences for the sustainability of mid- and long-term policy actions.

The territory is administratively divided into more than 200 municipalities. Although the sub-national administration benefits from considerable autonomy, the central government based in the capital, Ljubljana, is responsible for a wide policy portfolio, qualifying the country as administratively centralised when compared with the overall experience of OECD member countries.

The fact that Slovenia has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004 represents a key contextual factor deeply influencing its digital government policy. In pursuit of establishing a European digital single market, the EU has concentrated efforts on developing e-government and digital government policies across its member states. European co-operation in this area has been fruitful not only in the exchange of knowledge but through the joint development of standards and investment in technical building blocks for digital government (e.g. digital identity, interoperability) that can allow public sectors to provide citizens and businesses with mature digital services.

Slovenia is deeply involved in EU co-operation in the areas of digital government and information society, benefiting from this strong external stimulus created across these policy work streams. The country’s active participation in Union-wide strategies, initiatives and projects positively shapes the national digital government policy and is consensually considered an asset by the stakeholders interviewed during the OECD fact-finding mission in October 2019. Additionally, the fact that Slovenia is a relatively administratively centralised country, and considered small in population when compared with European and OECD peers, can prove to be a policy asset. Since Slovenia has the capacity to “move fast and be agile” on digital government policy design and implementation, the country’s government and its public sector should progressively consider embracing and implementing more proactive leadership around these policies that uses the country’s size as a comparative advantage.

When observed from a perspective of social-economic indicators, such as the level of household income and wealth, Slovenia performs below the OECD average (OECD, 2017[1]; OECD, 2020[2]). Nevertheless, like the vast majority of OECD member countries and EU member states, Slovenia has an unquestionable developed country status, ranking 22nd on the United Nations Human Development Index (UNDP, 2020[3]). This social-economic wealth of the country is reflected in the level of digitalisation. Although Slovenia is below the OECD average in several digitalisation indicators (e.g. fixed and mobile broadband penetration, senior and low-income Internet users, information and communications technology [ICT] investment intensity, ICT patents), the country presents a typical developed economy digitalisation profile (OECD, 2020[4]).

The same assessment can be applied when considering more specifically the level of digital interactions of the Slovenian population with public services. In 2019, 53% of Slovenians aged 16-74 used the Internet to interact with public authorities, from simply obtaining information from government websites to completing and sending interactive forms. But looking specifically at the percentage of individuals using the Internet to send completed forms via public authorities’ websites, the Slovenian percentage drops to 21%, compared to the 38% EU average (OECD, 2020[4]).

The socio-economic and digitalisation context of Slovenia provides substantial room for improvement of the country’s performance when compared with OECD and EU peers. Building on the consensus for change that exists among the ecosystem of stakeholders, a political momentum can be created for a wide and ambitious digital development agenda for the country. In order to enhance the benefits of the digital transformation of the public sector, the Slovenian government should build on this social and economic digital eagerness and create a sense of urgency, leveraging the current digital disruptiveness to strengthen the country’s economic development and social well-being.

In Slovenia, the Ministry of Public Administration (MPA) is responsible for the national digital government policy and holds a co-ordinating leadership function between the different levels and sectors of government. The Ministry develops this co-ordination in line with the State Governmental Council of Informatics Development in Public Administration (see section Co-ordination and compliance). Within the Ministry, the Directorate of Informatics, led by a director general, is responsible for the wide executive co-ordination and implementation of public sector digital transformation policy. The Directorate also takes lead responsibility for important digital government initiatives such as digital identity, interoperability and digital service delivery (see Chapters 4 and 5). There is wide recognition of MPA’s mandate across the digital government ecosystem of stakeholders observed during the OECD fact-finding mission in October 2019 and evidenced by the OECD Digital Government Survey of Slovenia (OECD, 2020[5]).

Nevertheless, a lack of policy continuity across political cycles was identified as a critical concern by the public sector institutions interviewed during the OECD fact-finding mission. Several stakeholders highlighted that new governments tend to discontinue ongoing projects and initiatives, with clear negative consequences for the sustainability of policy action and results.

Developments in July 2021 saw the creation of the Government Office for Digital Transformation and the appointment of a new Minister of Digital Transformation. The emphasis and priority placed on this appointment indicates a renewed commitment at the political centre for the digital agenda. As the roles and responsibilities of this organisation and the relationship with the MPA become clear it will be important to ensure that the digital economy and digital government agendas are working in concert with one another.

In Slovenia, the Governmental Council of Informatics Development in Public Administration, led by the MPA, is responsible for the strategic leadership of digital government policy (OECD, 2019[6]). The formal co-ordination and compliance structure for the digital government policy of Slovenia is effective and allows for co-ordination at different levels with the distribution of responsibilities clear and generally well defined. Nevertheless, despite offering effective horizontal co-operation, recent years have identified critical weaknesses. The absence of Strategic Council meetings from April 2018 until the writing of this paper compromises the necessary co-ordination that can secure the coherence and sustainability of the digital government policy. In fact, the majority of Slovenian public sector organisations that answered the OECD Digital Government Survey confirmed that there is no regular co-ordination with MPA on digital government policies and initiatives. During the drafting of the present report, the OECD peer review team was informed that the Government of Slovenia plans to resume the Strategic Council meetings in the upcoming months.

The Government of Slovenia has critical mechanisms of co-ordination that can improve policy implementation and compliance in the country. For example, in addition to the Council mentioned above, a Strategic Council for Digitalisation in the Office of the Prime Minister was launched to mobilise public, private and civil society stakeholders. This council has the purpose of discussing and preparing proposals that can boost the country’s performance in the current digital transformation context.

In Slovenia, the digital government policy is covered in the Public Administration 2020, Public Administration Development Strategy 2015-2020 and in the Digital Slovenia 2020 Development Strategy for the Information Society until 2020 (Republic of Slovenia, 2015[7]; Republic of Slovenia, 2016[8]). The two strategies are complementary, defining action-oriented priorities and securing financial resources for their implementation. The ecosystem of stakeholders interviewed during the OECD fact-finding mission to Slovenia in October 2019 and that responded to the OECD Digital Government Survey showed great awareness of both these strategies. They also confirmed that the strategies were developed through collaboration with other public sector institutions. Nevertheless, when questioned about the relevance of the strategies for their public sector organisation (e.g. mandates, alignment with institution’s goals), the vast majority of the respondents considered it “moderate” or “weak” (OECD, 2020[5]).

As both strategies are now reaching the end of their terms and Slovenia is producing a new digital strategy, an opportunity exists to renew the involvement of the stakeholder ecosystem and make use of strategic foresight work already undertaken to support future strategy and anticipatory innovation work within the Ministry of Public Administration. The new Strategic Council for Digitalisation, established during the drafting of this report, brings together public, private and civil society representatives and is an important policy step towards broad multi-stakeholder involvement. Furthermore, the newly created Government Office for Digital Transformation offers an important focal point for the conversation about digital transformation across the Slovenian public sector in ways that will inform both the public and private sectors. As such, the current context also seems to present an opportunity to better connect policy with concrete priorities, needs and worries of Slovenian public sector institutions, and uncertain potential future disruptions. An open and collaborative approach to the design and implementation of the new strategy and its proper link with other policy work streams, such as social well-being, sustainable economic development or green transition, is essential if Slovenia aims to fully seize the digital transformation of the public sector.

In Slovenia, policy levers such as business cases, project management models, procurement of digital technologies, and their positive impact for a coherent and sustainable digital government in the country, are commonly recognised and supported by the ecosystem of digital government stakeholders. The Project Management Methodology in the Public Administration – Information Technology Projects (Republic of Slovenia, 2016[9]) and the information technology investments approval process overseen by the Council of Informatics Development in Public Administration demonstrate efforts for coherently managing digital activity. Nevertheless, the existence and current applicability of these tools is not clear to the majority of public sector organisations that answered the Digital Government Survey of Slovenia, namely when referring to standardised business cases and project management models (OECD, 2020[5]).

The most relevant example of budgetary levers in Slovenia refers to the existing threshold of EUR 20 000 (without tax) for digital government investments. The Strategic Board of the Council of Informatics Development in Public Administration is responsible for evaluating ICT expenses above that amount, thus promoting integrated and cohesive policy efforts for the digital transformation of the public sector. Regarding the procurement of digital technologies, the centralised formal process for the approval of investments by the Council supports efficiency and coherence across the administration. But considering the identified lack of Council meetings since April 2018 (see section Co-ordination and compliance), guaranteeing strategic and coherent procurement of digital technologies in the Slovenian public sector is a recognised challenge within the MPA and the broader ecosystem of digital government stakeholders.

Slovenia has made broad efforts to progressively adapt its legal and regulatory framework to support digital transformation. Benefiting from EU regulations, important steps have been taken, for instance, in the areas of digital identity, access to public sector information, privacy and data protection, digital security, and sharing of government data within and across the public sector. Nevertheless, weaknesses in legal and regulatory approaches were highlighted as obstacles to government digital maturity. Public stakeholders that answered the OECD Digital Government Survey of Slovenia identified the need to simplify the legislation, update areas such as digital identity or trust services and improve communication to reinforce its cohesive application (OECD, 2019[6]). Given the increased role of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence in the Slovenian public sector and the ambition for data-driven approaches, a third generation of digital rights, considering consent, the ethical use of data and algorithm transparency, are not yet embedded into Slovenia’s regulatory and legal frameworks (OECD, 2019[10]; Ubaldi et al., 2019[11]; OECD, 2019[12]).

Digital transformation and digital skills were given high priority by Slovenian leaders in the digital policy agenda for 2020 through great initiatives such as unifying services on a single platform and offering digital skills training. However, despite a hierarchical organisational structure, strategy and priorities have not always been effectively communicated throughout public institutions while the rigidity of the structure has seen decisions vied as representing a top-down approach that prevents collaboration and efficient communication between institutions. Indeed, despite the central priority, a majority of surveyed organisations indicated a weak to moderate awareness of digital skills being a priority. Although the MPA has established the Administration Academy to offer digital skills training, the level of enrolment remains low. In addition, when questioned about the learning culture in institutions, half of the stakeholders reported that their organisations do not nurture an experimental culture.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Slovenia did not have teleworking practices. The pandemic has forced the public sector to convert itself into being fully digital overnight, which was a challenge for most institutions. Creating a flexible and agile work environment is fundamental to a digital government that can address constantly changing needs.

In Slovenia, the MPA through the Administration Academy took the initiative of addressing the digital skills and competencies gap by providing training to public servants. By collaborating with university experts to develop training programmes with different modules targeted at different groups of public servants for the development of digital skills, the Academy aspires to build a digital workforce to lead its digital transformation and provide user-driven services. To achieve this, it needs a data-driven public administration that understands and reflects on the value of data throughout a citizen’s service journey. Responses from the Digital Government Survey of Slovenia suggested that not much has been done to increase digital literacy within society. In addition, it is not clear whether the Administration Academy offers initial training to new employees or has courses covering the areas emphasised by the OECD’s Five Skills for Digital Government (OECD, 2021[13]).

Although many institutions in Slovenia have recognised the benefits of working with multidisciplinary teams, it has been reported that some institutions found formalising and matching digital government professional skills with project needs while balancing digital government socio-emotional skills to be challenging. In addition to this, public stakeholders who participated in the capacity building workshop on digital talent and skills identified low motivation of leaders to take part in digital skills training, which affects the perception of public servants on the abilities leaders may have to successfully head a digital transformation.

The Government of Slovenia’s public sector talent management system is not only limited in terms of funding but also limited in the number of staff they can hire every year, which is constrained by the number of vacancies created by retiring senior staff. The ecosystem of stakeholders also expressed their fear of losing digital talents to the private sector, as companies can offer both higher financial rewards for the same roles and skills as well as more attractive career paths with more benefits. Attraction and retention of digital talents is thus a challenge for the public sector of Slovenia.

In terms of development and allocation of skills, the Administration Academy has successfully introduced formal training programmes at the centre while other institutions have established informal learning facilities to help digital talents apply and exchange skills. However, certain courses do not seem to be always available, and the learning culture has not yet matured in the majority of public entities. Besides this, the public sector talent management system of the Government of Slovenia does not seem to offer sufficient mobility between sectors to enhance learning, given the rigidity of the current organisational structure. This may also explain the fear in public sector organisations of losing talents to not only more attractive career paths and benefits but also the greater promise of job flexibility and learning opportunities in the private sector.

To build and sustain a digital workforce, the country needs to attract the best digital talents, and this loops back into the efforts in building a work environment designed to support the digital workforce and enable digital transformation.

The design and delivery of public services in the digital age should be approached with the ambition to embrace a digital-by-design culture that releases the potential of digital technologies and data to transform government and the lives of citizens. Rather than a technical exercise of making paper processes available online, or dealing with individual transactions, digital government is about re-engineering and re-imagining the possibilities for meeting citizen needs across all the elements that are involved. This means developing a service design and delivery culture built on multi-disciplinary teams enabled with an ecosystem of resources and tools that help them to deliver at scale, and with pace, while retaining quality and trust.

The OECD’s analysis of service design and delivery of services in Slovenia is structured around three areas that inform and shape their quality: context, philosophy, and enabling resources and tools. In all three cases, there is much to commend about the approach in Slovenia and clear indications of progress and evidence of the suitable foundations that can support an ambitious and far-sighted focus on better meeting the needs of users. However, there are also areas for improvement, with some critical elements where renewed energy could pay significant dividends.

Slovenia’s performance in the Digital Government Index shows that there are solid foundations for the service design and delivery agenda with important and valuable achievements reflecting a long-term commitment. However, the country has suffered from uncertainty around leadership at both national and organisational levels, as highlighted earlier. The next iteration of the country’s digital strategies (for both the public sector, and society more broadly) are critical opportunities to reinvigorate the overall leadership, direction and ambition to realise the benefits that digital can offer to Slovenia.

In this respect, it is encouraging that the prime minister has recently established a new council for digitalisation to influence strategy and help co-ordination across the Slovenian public sector. The council can act as a new reference to the work of digital government, and support the existing governance structures in the development and execution of the new digital government strategy. This new strategy is an opportunity to build on the positive achievements of the strategy from 2015-2020 and address some of the lessons that have been learnt over this last period, especially for the service design and delivery agenda. One of the most important commitments that needs to support this new document is for the funding, authority and personnel at the centre to give the service design and delivery agenda the long-term stability, mandate and resources to succeed.

Slovenia is not a large country and as a result, the centre of government can wield significant influence. This leadership will be amplified if it can find ways to tap into the strengths of leaders within government organisations and across the public sector rather than attempting to enforce particular ideas top-down via legislation. Although legislation has enjoyed some success in normalising certain practices, particularly around the role of Open Government Data and access to information, organisational level leadership is a critical resource for the success of the digital government agenda. The Slovenian public sector should ramp up its initial efforts to invest in the specific leadership skills and capabilities required for digital government transformation to help embed this change of culture throughout the public sector. Furthermore, it is welcome to start seeing municipal government invited in to start using some of the resources from the centre but this should be encouraged and reflected in an ambition to equip and collaborate across all those, whether in the public sector or not, involved in designing and delivering services to support the needs of the public.

The previous strategy secured an important shift in the way that the Slovenian government communicates with the public and signposts them to the services that can meet their needs through GOV.SI. By replacing different corporate identities and websites this website has made a dramatic difference to the quality of the experience for citizens wanting to engage with the government. The channel strategy is clearly defined in terms of having GOV.SI at the centre for corporate information and then complemented by eUprava for citizens, SPOT for businesses and OPSI for Open Government Data. These four sites, and their associated teams, are the future direction for the Slovenian government but there is a legacy challenge reflected in the continued proliferation of other websites and routes to accessing services (such as local administrative centres). It is imperative that Slovenia commits to understanding an omnichannel approach that can make sense of all channels that citizens must negotiate, including face-to-face and telephone-based routes to support. Fully addressing the legacy of institutional or sectoral channels will need Slovenia to continue investing in both technical and strategic consolidation.

One of the biggest contextual challenges facing the Slovenian government is its talent and skills for digital government. This challenge is discussed in its own dedicated chapter but there is a critical need for Slovenia to revisit its relationship with suppliers as well as build internal skills to mitigate some of the risks of outsourcing and the lack of internal capability. These issues have shaped the internal mentality and approach to responding to the needs of users and are a significant barrier to wholesale transformation of government.

Overall, the contextual piece for service design and delivery in Slovenia needs to reflect and acknowledge that the perceived benefits of transforming public service design and delivery do not automatically apply to everyone. A collective focus on the needs for connectivity, digital literacy, and accessibility can help ensure “digital divides” are not exacerbated and that these efforts encourage the digital transformation of the country as a whole. Further investment is being sought to provide high-speed Internet infrastructure throughout the country and supporting citizens with the necessary training. This will necessitate continuing to work with the private sector, building relationships more directly with the public, involving academia and civil society such as through the excellent partnership with Simbioza, and investing in the collaboration between the centre of government, its institutions and the wider public sector.

Service design and delivery is the vehicle by which digital government maturity leads to transformation. The services provided for citizens or businesses can either simplify their lives and contribute to successful outcomes or lead to unnecessary delays and frustration. No matter how effective the internal governance or technical competence, if services are not easily understood, seamlessly proactive and trustworthy then it is all for nothing. There is no technological intervention that achieves this change. The root of effectively taking digital technology and data and putting it to the service of user needs is in changing the philosophy of how governments approach the design and delivery of services.

Effecting a change in mindset and embedding a different culture starts with leadership. It is therefore crucial that elected representatives, their appointees and senior government officials share a vision for transforming services to become proactive and user-driven while maximising the trustworthy use of data and modern technology. As has been commented, Slovenia has not lacked in ambition but has suffered from a degree of inconsistency in recent years. It could be valuable for non-government actors involved with the Digital Coalition and other advisory groups to embrace a service design and delivery philosophy in order to embed this narrative more widely in Slovenian political discourse.

Away from the centre, it is encouraging to see that several organisations in Slovenia are making great progress in this respect and have developed their own local strategic plans for the design and delivery of services. Thus, while central leadership can be incredibly influential, it should not be forgotten that local leadership is equally important when it comes to taking a strategy off the paper and putting it into practice. This further underlines the need and priority for addressing some of the challenges previously discussed in terms of talent and skills. Furthermore, it would be helpful to establish a cross-sectoral digital government forum designed to bring together the key actors for digital services and digital government to encourage, inspire and unite those with the responsibility for services across the Slovenian public sector around a common vision and ambition.

Underpinning a philosophy of service design and delivery is user research. The review observed inconsistency with regards to how far this discipline and practice was prioritised in the design of services. The focus on providing a gateway to services through eUprava or SPOT is to be welcomed as a route to seeing the whole of a problem solved, regardless of which organisations might be involved in its administration; but there are limitations in the organisational capacity for user research and in the inter-organisational co-operation to solve “whole problems” that cross logistical and administrative boundaries. Nevertheless, Slovenia can point to the ongoing success of the Stop Bureaucracy initiative to demonstrate that it is possible to address what may seem to be intractable problems.

Many of the needs that users have are not going to be solved by taking a digital-by-default approach and simply moving a particular process online to the neglect of the offline and in-person steps inevitably involved in providing support for users. Slovenia needs an omnichannel strategy that challenges the proliferation of multiple web, and physical, locations. GOV.SI, eUprava, SPOT and OPSI are transforming the user experience of government but these sites are not the only entry to services in Slovenia as sectoral and institutional sites continue to exist and physical and telephone channels are not necessarily factored into these conversations. Therefore, while the current strategy begins to start rationalising user journeys it is a work in progress in terms of resolving the end-to-end process as there remain multiple routes for accessing government.

One of Slovenia’s great strengths is its organisational openness and transparency. In the OECD Digital Government Index, Slovenia ranked highly for the User-driven (8th) and Open by Default (7th) indicators and there is no resistance or objection to involving the public in the process of transformation but rather a capacity and operational gap in terms of achieving this in practice, and at scale, throughout the public sector as a whole. Despite the high scores in the Index, the review found that the majority of organisations were not actively engaging external stakeholders, and those that were, conceived of this in ways that were not always user-driven, such as organising common working groups with others in government, or seeking the input of private sector suppliers to build consensus.

Combining policy making, service design, contractual delivery and ongoing operational relationships is important for achieving the most effective public services but Slovenia’s emphasis on the relationship with private sector suppliers in preference to other sectors is making this harder to achieve. At the heart of this sits Slovenia’s limited scope for recruitment and developing its internal capabilities to replace the role of outsourced suppliers. This reliance by the majority of the Slovenian public sector on external suppliers for delivery makes siloed outcomes more likely unless changes are made to the way in which contracts are phrased and delivery is overseen – perhaps through the establishment of roles that can take ownership of the end-to-end user experience and wield the necessary political, administrative and financial authority. Without an effective strategy to minimise the gap between policy, delivery and operations, there will continue to be risks to the quality of services, the capacity for government to iterate and improve over time and the effectiveness of addressing the whole needs of users.

Across the philosophical underpinnings for service design and delivery in Slovenia, there is much to commend in terms of the efforts that have been made to introduce different ways of thinking to the government, and results are visible in those places where these ideas have taken root. However, overall, there is generally patchy progress when set against the overall ambition, with the challenge remaining how these ideas, culture and practice can be embraced across government as a whole so that they are the default rather than the exception.

Successful digital government efforts should create an enabling environment for all public sector organisations, even the smallest and least provisioned, to design and deliver transformed services at scale, and with pace. It is not sufficient for digital government to translate into the transformation of only the highest-profile services. Government as a Platform ecosystems of tools and resources help teams, at every level and in every sector of government, focus on the things that are unique to their users rather than devoting effort to challenges others have already addressed. The best examples of Government as a Platform ecosystems are not restricted only to public servants but are open to all those designing, implementing and operating policy and the services it produces, whether from the private sector, civil society or elsewhere.

As Slovenia considers its new digital strategy, there is a vital moment to consider short-, medium- and long-term ambitions for the existing resources that teams are able to use to better meets the needs of society. However, the single most important commitment for the strategy is to acknowledge and address its own needs in terms of securing the authority, mandate and resource for the MPA to develop an interconnected ecosystem that operates as a coherent toolkit, rather than a loose collection of discrete individual efforts.

Slovenia has a healthy range of guidance materials for its service delivery teams to draw on that are indexed under the National Interoperability Framework. This catalogue of over 100 different resources includes technical solutions, recommendations and mandatory guidance. While these reference materials can direct teams to the resources they need, they should be complemented by more active oversight and enforcement in order to assure the quality of design and delivery efforts. Such efforts need to be built around identifying clear decision-making and co-ordination responsibilities complemented by visibility and compliance controls covering spending and delivery activity.

Unfortunately, one of the important mechanisms for achieving this coherence, the Slovenian business case model, was observed to no longer be enforced. This model had set the expectation for information and communications technology projects with a budget in excess of EUR 20 000 to align with strategies concerning digital identity, interoperability, cloud computing, cybersecurity and other standards in service design and delivery. Moreover, few Slovenian organisations recognised the guidance materials available through the National Interoperability Framework as being relevant for assuring the quality and consistency of digital, data and technology projects during design and prior to launch. This indicates that greater authority is needed for the MPA to oversee and actively assess the quality of delivery against these guidelines. The review team heard the desire from several participants that the centre could exert more direct leadership in introducing a “Service Standard” against which services could be measured.

Such a standard would need to be complemented with a clear omnichannel strategy which Slovenia does not currently have. In the digital space, progress is being made with regards to GOV.SI, eUprava, SPOT and OPSI in terms of handling corporate information, citizen services, business services and open data with signposting between them. This has recently been complemented with efforts to extend co-operation to include local public services, which are to be welcomed. Nevertheless, although almost all corporate information has now migrated to GOV.SI there are legacy services, information and micro-sites served through older domains and infrastructure as well as those entities that continue to operate independently, even while being core to the activity of meeting the needs of either citizens or businesses. Multiple sites involve a greater overhead of co-ordination and challenges in terms of solving whole problems and designing end-to-end services as well as approaches to standards and quality because the starting point is already one of divergence and autonomy rather than federated collaboration.

The provision of building blocks to help teams deliver services is an established part of Slovenia’s strategy to simplify the integration effort for service teams and make the citizen’s user experience as proactive and seamless as possible. Initiatives in this respect cover secure hosting for services, access to data and support for interoperability, as well as the mechanism for taking payments, sending notifications or proving identity digitally. Finally, the Electronic Procedures Building Block (Jedro elektronskih postopkov, JEP) is providing a simple and effective route to assembling these elements into high quality services that allow teams to focus on understanding, and meeting, the needs of their users rather than developing new solutions. Such building blocks and resources are not mandatory and are showing successful signs of genuine adoption based on the value they provide with one in three organisations in the Slovenian public sector re-using technical solutions provided by another part of government and almost half identifying base registers as the primary source for the data they use to provide services.

The public sector produces, collects and uses data every day in a variety of ways. Some of those approaches are sophisticated, strategic and value-adding, others of them are rudimentary, disconnected and fragmented, leading to unnecessary overheads for public servants and raising questions of trustworthiness in the eyes of the public. Over recent years, there has been a discernible increase in the maturity of governments to unlock the value of Open Government Data (OGD), but this is not often the case with the treatment of all other types of data.

When the use of data reinforces existing siloes, ignores standards or duplicates data stored elsewhere, this may be a deliberate decision, informed by the challenges of access to data in a country, or it may simply be that those individuals are unaware of the consequences of their decisions and have a lack of strategic visibility of data flows or the applications to which data is being put. Equally, countries may find that they are constrained by their legal, regulatory or governance structures.

Where data is not recognised, valued or treated as a strategic asset, the implications on policy, services and ultimately citizens themselves can be significant. Likewise, the extent to which governments can achieve the proactive and seamless services that really demonstrate digital transformation will be compromised without effective data foundations. Data is a critical element in the context of “Government as a Platform” ecosystems discussed in Chapter 4 but, due to its scope and complexity warrants, its own dedicated focus and dimension within the Digital Government Policy Framework. This Framework provides the basis for the measurement of digital government maturity through the OECD’s Digital Government Index (OECD, 2020[14]) (2020[15]). The analysis of the data-driven public sector in Slovenia is structured around the three areas of the OECD’s Data-Driven Public Sector (DDPS) Framework: data governance, the application of data and the role of data in public trust (OECD, 2019[12]).

The OECD’s DDPS Framework advocates for a broad definition of data governance for government as a whole, and within organisations, that:

  • strategically covers leadership and vision

  • tactically addresses the capacities for coherent implementation and the necessary rules, laws, guidelines and standards

  • operationally ensures the necessary data architecture and infrastructure to support the generation, collection, storage, processing, publication, sharing and re-use of data.

In many ways, Slovenia has a very strong record in terms of data governance. The primary indicator of this is Slovenia’s success with regards to OGD and the impressive 10th place ranking in the 2019 OECD OURdata Index (2020[16]) which reflects a strong and co-ordinated approach to strategic, tactical and operational elements. However, this is not as evident in the wider treatment of data in Slovenia with the result that Slovenia ranks only 19th in the “Data-Driven Public Sector” dimension of the Digital Government Index (OECD, 2020[15]).

Part of the reason for this can be found in the old digital government strategy for Slovenia, the Public Administration Development Strategy 2015-2020 (Republic of Slovenia, 2015[7]), which contained a specific commitment to transparency, re-use and the value of OGD built on many years of progress on this topic. While the strategy did set the expectation of achieving greater use of data for “effective informatics, increased use of e-services and interoperability of information solutions” to improve the quality of citizens’ lives, this has not enjoyed the same breadth of support in the Slovenian public sector.

As has been discussed as a recurring theme throughout this review, one of the biggest challenges for Slovenia has been consistent and stable visionary leadership for the digital government agenda to make sure that initiatives and ambitions deliver strategically towards a coherent outcome. When it comes to data, there is a lack of clarity around the vision and strategy that reflects the absence of national leadership and co-ordination for data: Slovenia is 1 of only 9 OECD countries without the role of Chief Data Officer (whether performed by an individual or reflected in the responsibility of one, or many, organisations). Although there is good data practice in Slovenia, the lack of leadership and of a clear vision and strategy is preventing a co-ordinated approach that can better unlock the potential of data for Slovenia.

Under the oversight of strong leadership, Slovenia can develop a new strategy for the public sector’s use of data (both open or closed) that cements its recognition as a political priority to secure funding, ensures central co-ordination for the success of its implementation and disseminates the expectation within individual organisations to value the role of data according to the OECD DDPS Framework. This final piece of the effort to embed data-driven public sector practices in Slovenia will rely on developing a greater sense of cross-government ownership of the data agenda at an institutional level to encourage local leadership but also to balance the national needs for the application of data with internal priorities for operationalising its use and role.

However, in order to use local data leadership as a foundation for a national data strategy, further investment will need to be made in the skills for digital government within organisations. Two of the five most significant barriers to the effective use of data in Slovenia are a deficit in the awareness and motivation of managers and senior officials while 40% of Slovenian organisations felt that they lacked the necessary technical capacities. It was encouraging to see that the MPA in collaboration with experts from Slovenian universities has developed data-related training courses, and some individual organisations were investing in underlying skills. Nevertheless, the chapter on the Skills and Talent for Digital Government in Slovenia reflects the first-order challenge of placing a responsibility on all public servants, but especially public servant leaders, to develop a grounding, appreciation and enthusiasm for the OECD’s Five Skills for Digital Government (OECD, 2021[13]), two of which focus on data.

Much of the success in terms of data in Slovenia is owed to a strong legal and regulatory basis that not only underpins data protection but supports and encourages the opening up and re-use of government data both internally and beyond government. In addition to legislation, Slovenia benefits from the National Interoperability Framework to showcase guidelines and standards to support the handling of data as well as the interoperability platform TRAY (ePladenj) and base registers that are used by 66% of institutions for retrieving identifiable data on citizens or businesses.

The combined impact of these enablers is a valuable foundation for the data agenda and for unlocking value throughout the Government Data Value Cycle (2019[17]). This is evidenced by the healthy eco-system of data sharing and re-use in Slovenia with a majority of organisations running services using data supplied from elsewhere in government, and almost half collecting data that provides the basis for services elsewhere in government. As noted, the previous digital government strategy acknowledged interoperability as an important focus for data and Slovenia benefits from an impressive data infrastructure that contributes to the ecosystem of enabling resources and tools. Nevertheless, while there is an enthusiasm for TRAY, the review learned that several influential organisations responsible for primary registers do not use TRAY to allow access to their data which results in a fragmented approach to interoperability and data sharing.

The second focus of the analysis on the data-driven public sector in Slovenia is on how public sector organisations are putting data to use and on the value being derived from these activities in three interconnected phases of government:

  • to look ahead (whether in designing policy, anticipating change, forecasting need or imagining futures);

  • to deliver in the present (in terms of implementing policy, delivering services or responding to change as it happens); and

  • to make a retrospective analysis of what has taken place (through measuring impact, auditing decisions and monitoring performance).

Overall, the Slovenian experience pointed to greater confidence and experience in the use of data for retrospective analysis and evaluation with 1 in 3 organisations identifying initiatives to strengthen the analysis of data for these purposes.

Nevertheless, almost 50% of institutions in Slovenia reported that they were using data to equip and prepare themselves for future developments and strengthen the basis for policymaking in the country. Through the Digital Government Survey, the review team heard about three specific areas of focus: from those organisations that were using data to inform the design of future policy, those that were using data for forecasting purposes, and those that derived value from data through modelling the outcome of proposed change. These examples largely reflected local concerns and organisational leadership rather than being indicative of a national, strategic, perspective on the value of data when applied to future planning and anticipation.

Fifty percent of institutions were aware of the role of data in the delivery of services. Much of this value comes from Article 139 of the Administrative Procedure Act (Republic of Slovenia, 1999[18]) which obliges public officials to source data from existing records rather than requesting it from citizens. This support for the “once only principle” in Slovenia was evidenced by the institutions reporting that data directly requested from citizens is only the sixth most frequently cited data source behind data accessed via TRAY and the base registers. This underlying data infrastructure acts as a transformative enabler for user-driven proactiveness and means that data-driven services are fairly common in Slovenia; they range from improving public services that respond to citizen needs, to freeing up public servant capacity, through communicating and engaging with the public, as well as better responding to emergencies, crises and developing situations.

Finally, almost half of Slovenia’s institutions reported the use of data to evaluate and monitor their activities. This third area of applying data to generate public value produced the highest quantity and widest range of examples, reflecting other insights that indicated this area as being the best established within the Slovenian public sector’s understanding of a data-driven public sector. The first group of examples supplied related to measuring the performance of policy; the second to internal audit and external transparency; the third to establishing feedback loops between performance and follow up response in an active approach to evaluation and monitoring; and the fourth to performance data on transactional services.

However, the majority of examples in all three cases tended to be of arms-length quantitative or qualitative research and lacked a widespread appreciation for the importance of a service design approach that understands whole problems, designs the solution from end to end and actively involves the public on an ongoing basis to iterate towards better solutions. There is a philosophical gap in terms of how far teams are user-driven in their understanding or practice with one data specialist commenting that “we do data, we don’t do services”. This reflects the challenge of the Slovenian public sector often finding itself highly competent and professional in technical terms, but lacking multi-disciplinary responses to the needs of users that can deliver the best outcomes.

The final aspect of the DDPS Framework analyses the role of data for public trust in terms of ethics, privacy and consent, transparency and security. According to the Gallup World Poll (2018[19]), the level of confidence in the national government of Slovenia declined by 24 percentage points since 2007 making trust an important factor in the political narrative of the country. Despite this challenging data point, in the context of this review it was felt that there is much for Slovenia to be proud of in terms of the approach to openness and transparency for public trustworthiness. The high scores for the Digital Government Index’s “Open by default” dimension (OECD, 2020[15]) reflects the country’s strengths in OGD and efforts at transparency that include greater visibility of government spending and public sector salaries as well as exploring opportunities to give citizens influence over government decision-making.

Furthermore, Slovenia’s approach to handling data is generally robust in terms of data protection and data security. Although Slovenian’s membership in the EU means that the country falls under the provisions of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the steps that were being taken in the country were more than a simple reflection of this wider legislation. The country’s Information Commissioner is an important and influential actor and has developed over 30 guidelines and provided in excess of 3 000 opinions to which the Slovenian public sector can refer.

Meanwhile, digital security has been emphasised following the development of the country’s cyber security strategy in 2016 (Republic of Slovenia, 2016[20]), a process for which the Information Security Administration of the Republic of Slovenia (Uprava za informacijsko varnost) took a user-driven approach with design sessions and public consultation. This strategy was followed by two pieces of legislation in 2018: the Decree on Information Security in Public Administration (Republic of Slovenia, 2018[21]) and the Information Security Act (Republic of Slovenia, 2018[21]) which built on the earlier Personal Data Protection Act (Republic of Slovenia, 2004[22]). This legislation has successfully made digital security a strength of the Slovenian public sector with the majority of institutions having a strategy in place and a subject matter expert often joining the interviews carried out during the peer review mission to Ljubljana. Nevertheless, it is important to find a balance between mitigating risks and still being able to experiment and explore the transformational opportunities offered by a more ambitious use of digital technology and data.

However, there are important areas where any future digital government or data focused strategies could concentrate their energies to continue developing a trustworthy narrative in the context of how Slovenia handles citizen data. The first area relates to limited awareness of data ethics connected to the wider lack of centralised vision and strategy for data. Although 1 in 3 organisations felt that there was a strong basis for ethics in the use of data in Slovenia many of the responses cited legal instruments for data and less evidence of insight around the practices associated with an ethical approach to data as envisaged by the OECD Good Practice Principles for Data Ethics in the Public Sector (2021[23]).

A second area of concern relates to the practical means by which citizens and businesses can interrogate the use of their data by the Slovenian public sector. Although institutions were aware of their responsibilities under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, there was a limited understanding of how to treat data in a user-centred and citizen-driven way as well as a lag in enabling citizens and businesses to express their rights in practice and have visibility and control over their data. The ongoing adoption and roll-out of SI-PASS may provide an important route for empowering citizens to take control of their attributes and credentials.

The final consideration about the role of data for trust also relates to transparency but, rather than the treatment of data on an individual basis, it concerns the importance of governments being open and transparent about the role of automated decision-making and Artificial Intelligence. Several OECD countries have created a legal basis for transparency of algorithms, but no such central initiative exists in Slovenia. Only three organisations (the Information Commissioner, ZPIZ and the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning) implement initiatives to provide transparency and accountability on the algorithms they use for public decision-making.

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