FPX had the opportunity to chat with Anna Eriksson, Head of department at the Swedish Digital Agency, DIGG. She told us, among other things, why Sweden is so far behind other OECD countries in the digitization, and where you will find the data you didn’t know you were looking for.

 

Sweden’s youngest government authority is called DIGG and has the task of coordinating and supporting the administration’s common digitalization in order to make the public administration more efficient and effective. We met with Director-General Anna Eriksson to ask what that really means in practice.

Why is a government authority like DIGG needed?

– Sweden has long been seen as a prominent nation when it comes to seizing the opportunities provided by digitalization. At the same time, we lack certain parts. Several reports and investigations have concluded that the digital management is complex and that it has been far too fragmented. DIGG will therefore take overall responsibility for the issues, creating a clearer direction towards the goals set by the government. We see that there is both ability and need to increase the pace of digitalization of the public sector in order to deliver tomorrow’s public service in a way that individuals and companies expect.

What are the important aspects of digitalization?

– When we talk about digitization we talk about data, which is why the quality of data is an important aspect. It is often not until you start to combine data that you realize that quality is lacking in different ways. I think we are far too poorly aware of the quality of data we have. The issues of security and integrity are also extremely important. Above all, there must be a trust in the digital in order for digitization to work. It must be perceived as secure, accessible, and that the privacy rules that exist are complied with. It is all about increasing the digital maturity in society from several aspects.

What responsibility do you have when it comes to digitalization literacy?

– DIGG has no direct responsibility for the digital reception of the nation’s citizens, but it is a hugely important prerequisite for us. If we are to be able to digitize public administration in order to facilitate, then trust and maturity must exist in the society. We conduct dialogues in

on these issues with many actors, including the Data Protection Authority, which has a very prominent role to play in this.

What is DIGG:s view on development and use of Open Data?

– We have a clearly stated mission to promote public administration, so to make data available and use it in different ways is extremely important to us. We believe that as much data as possible should be open and accessible without any other restrictions or that it should cost money. Then of course there are some exceptions.

New data portal for everyone

DIGG is currently completing the website Dataportalen.se. Here you can find datasets of everything from the position of all public bicycle pumps in the municipality of Södertälje, or employed in agriculture and fishing by region, category and gender from 1937, to collected household waste per inhabitant number in Umeå municipality in 2019. Anna Eriksson believes that DIGG has an important task to increase the amount of data.

– All data contained in the portal does not need to be open though. It is better that the asset is there, even if it is not open, than it not being there at all. We have a government mission that extends throughout this year, where we specifically look at how we can promote the opportunities for public actors to make open data accessible and how to use data-driven innovation linked to AI in different ways.

DIGG has prepared an action plan that was submitted to the government in March, which proposes a number of activities that need to be done.

– We will, among other things, set up an Intervention team that can help authorities who want to make their data available in different ways. Prior to our hackathon Hack the Crisis, we had contact with the Public Health Authority and were able to help them make their data available so that it could be used.

The fact that the authorities do not have the capacity to make information available technically and in terms of resources  – is it a big problem?

– Absolutely. There are huge amounts of data that could be open directly and that is precisely for the reasons you mention.

In the OECD report OURdata Index for 2019 [länka till: http://www.oecd.org/gov/digital-government/ourdata-index-policy-paper-2020.pdf] Sweden is second to last in terms of how good we are when it comes to Open Data. We are far behind Korea, France, Ireland and Japan who top the world league.

– It may seem strange, because we have always seen ourselves as very open in Sweden. Many believe that an explanation for our jumbo position is just that. Our Principles of transparency implies that if you contact the authorities with a question, the information must be disclosed by law. This may be one reason why we have not previously put so much effort and time into creating systems that proactively make the information available. That is: the information is available, but it cannot be accessed directly through, for example, a data portal today. This is something we must address. We are also currently looking at what is to be classified as Open Data, what data we have and how we can make it available.

Should everything that is classified as Open Data be free of charge according to DIGG?

– Open Data is, by definition, free as we have defined it on the Data portal. But data does not necessarily have to be free in all situations and it depends in part on what type it is. For example, the National Mapping Agency’s data is not fully open, you have to pay for some information.

DIGG’s government assignment also includes promoting the public administration’s ability to use AI. What is your take on that?  

– In the report we looked at the situation today, how far all the authorities has come and what problems public actor experiences in using AI. Then we proposed a number of different activities. As it seems now, everybody is working relatively shielded with AI issues within the respective authorities and municipalities. It definitely creates learning in every place, but it is not so effective on the basis that everyone has to start from scratch. An important suggestion in our report was therefore to establish a national competence center around AI from which resources can be allocated. It is very important to get started with AI, and a competence center could facilitate that.

Is there any authority that is in an advanced state in the development of AI-based services?

– It looks a little different in each place. In the report we highlight the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, which has come very far from a technical perspective, when it comes to getting an architecture in place. The Swedish Tax Agency and the National Mapping Agency for example have done a lot of tests and implementations of chatbots etcetera. But nobody really has come so far that they are really in production and are getting the full benefit of their AI ​​solutions.

How will you collaborate between the municipality and the authorities in the future?

– The data infrastructure is developed over time in the same way that all infrastructure systems have done. Take for example the railroad: From the beginning it consisted of local rail systems that often had different track widths. In Gävle for example there was a station north of the river that went to Dalarna and one south of the river that went to Uppsala. It was only when you seamlessly linked the various rail systems that you really got the full benefit of a national railway. As regards data exchange, it consists in the same way of separate islands from the beginning, partly in organizations but also in different sectors. The important thing is to connect these. To achieve this, good collaboration requires good conversation and dialogue and work with promotion and increased maturity.

Do you think that you will extend collaborations between you and other organizations other than authorities, going forward?

– Absolutely, we definitely think so. After all, it is not us at DIGG who will implement everything, our mission is to make things happen to get the full benefit out of it. Then the digital innovation hubs like Future Position X for example become extremely important. We already have dialogues with several of them.

What is next for you?

– Recently, we arranged the Hack the Crisis hackathon at a very short notice. It was held digitally due to the risk of infection with the new corona virus. I found it very interesting to see how many people wanted to join. Right now, we are practically working to make the ideas and results from the hack become reality. This is often where the great work lies when working with innovation contests. Apart from that we focus a lot on collaboration, dialogues and meetings. One concrete subject in the near future is the EU directive on the Single Digital Gateway, where we are national coordinators. Through a common digital input, everyone should be able to reach the different public services and systems of all countries In the EU, which facilitates when, for example, working or starting companies in another EU country. We work in collaboration on technical architecture and important issues such as law and adaptations. But just like everything else, we cannot build that infrastructure alone, everyone must help to reach the objective!

 

Anna Eriksson

Title: Director-General of DIGG, The Digital Management Authority

Age: 55 years

Previous work in selection: Development Director Lantmäteriet, Head of the Geodata Lantmäteriet collection unit, Operations Manager ICA IT, Technical Manager e2Home

Favorite pastime: Skiing in the winter and sailing in the summer

Favorite app: Swish

 

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