Dec 04, 2019 / merit

Shaking up the public sector, one hack at-a-time

Already for the third time, Garage48 and Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications joined forces to change the mindset and current cooperation practices between public institutions and private companies. While we realise it is not a task for the faint of heart, we’ve already started to see some positive changes happening.

The initiative to shake up the public sector started back in 2018 when the representatives of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications wanted to bring new life to the outdated ways and habits of how private and public sector have been working together. It seemed only reasonable to collaborate with an organisation who is attracted to use methodologies that seem a bit crazy at first and who is focused on “let’s get things done” instead of “lets just talk” mindset.


The objective was to simulate a resource-constrained startup environment and what better way to produce new and creative solutions that would help our country to run smoother than to organize a hackathon on the topic of Digital State. It was clear from the beginning that in order to bring the utmost impact and change to the Digital Country of Estonia, tailor-made solutions and measures had to be taken. But it’s also important to trust the systems and techniques that have proven its strength and that’s why mixing new ways and Garage48’s bulletproof format made a perfect combination to adapt and change our country.


Like said before, Digital State Hackathon is not your regular 48-hour, over the weekend hackathon nor should it be. Representatives of state institutions and tech-entrepreneurs are brought together in the middle of the week to trigger further development of Estonia as an e-state, while also increasing the user-friendliness of our services. To do so, the most burning and challenging issues from different state institutions and ministries are collected and developed comprehensively prior to the event.


On the Digiriik 3.0, the challenges that were presented by the governmental institution representatives were more thought through and practical than on the previous events. It had become clear that big problems can’t be solved in 48 hours but a proper formation of ideas and arrangements can make a huge difference. This time we had 12 challenges and 12 companies that started to tackle these problems. One of the challenge providers, The Maritime Administration of Estonia had just opened a public tender to help more than 25000 Estonian seamen go paperless. Currently, all seamen need to report and fill their work-related logbook in an old fashioned paper way by walking into the Maritime office. At the same time, Maritime administration needs to analyze and fill out these paper documents one by one. This issue is clearly a huge waste resources and the fact that the Maritime Administration of Estonia had a clear vision to tackle this problem and offer the companies a chance to apply to the tender right after their hard work, sparked attention in two companies - Mooncascade and Cyberland. Both companies came up with creative and witty approaches about automatisation the manual processes that the seamen are currently facing.


The overall winners - CIVITTA powered by Singleton - had a sleepless night but also the full support of the Ministry of Justice while making the life of limited-liability companies easier by digitizing the processes of meetings and signing the documents. While talking with their client and validating the problem with other users of the e-Business Register, they also came up with a solution to automatically generate the documents with all the necessary requirements.



Since the discussions of the jury are always harder than we can imagine, the second and third place were shared by Proekspert and Cyber Command #3. Proekspert built an Estonian version of Grammarly, which on top of the spelling mistakes also replaced hard to understand sentences and phrases with the more simple ones. The challenge was provided by the Prosecutor’s Office, who deals with this problem daily. Cyber Command #3 on the other hand helped the Road Administration to automate the process of reading the technical details from the car registration documents. 


Some special prizes were awarded as well. Nortal in cooperation with Statistics Estonia got the best UX solution award for optimizing the work of all the questioners in Estonia. Cyber Command #1 got the best technical solution award for helping the Estonian Defence Forces to automate the way the way civilians and draftees can access the territory of defence organisations.


Through this event series, we have managed to create strong networking and partnership opportunities between the public and private sector. Valuable input from governmental bodies and remarkable effort from reputable IT specialists have started something momentous and because of that, impactful solutions have come to life over these three hackathons. We are still struggling with the public procurement law which complicates the purchase of the prototypes that have been built during the hackathon but at the same time, something quite exceptional has been set in motion. We believe that this event series has taught the public sector representatives on how to prepare the tenders better and at the same time, private sector companies now have the know-how on how to serve the public institution’s needs better. The work is not yet done and the system is far from perfect, but a kick from the grassroot level has been made, at least here in Estonia. We, at Garage48 are more than happy to test this format out and kickstart the digital state innovation in other countries as well.

Garage48 team (Mari Hanikat, Priit Salumaa, Merit Vislapu) with Deputy Secretary-General for IT and Telecom Siim Sikkut and Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology Kaimar Karu