Networked State – A Road Not Taken
Concerning the state reforms and the related debates in Estonia, it is important to take note not only of the choices made, or the choices that the political powers and interest groups mainly wish to make, but also the choices that have not been discussed.
Estonia’s public sector has been reformed from the point of view of centralisation and consolidation principles. The goal is to save on public spending. The predominant ideas for the future of the state reform are based on the same principles.
This shows the path dependence of the state reform on earlier decisions and the prevailing mind set. This is remarkable in a context where the international academic and political literature has seen a rise in the popularity of the “networked governance” concept, which presumes the decentralisation of governance and a more diverse involvement of parties than has been common in Estonia over the recent decades, or than is desirable under the prevailing mind set. This is also extraordinary in the context of Estonia itself, where important developments in state governance – such as e-state developments – have often been the result of bottom-up initiatives, not forced through from the above.
This is why we must analyse the potential of the networked state in the Estonian context, in order to understand the pros and cons of that governance model. The alternative of the networked state is important because public sector governance and reform concerns the popular participation in decision making processes and democracies, and not just the provision of services to citizens. The balance between efficiency, on the one hand, and involving citizens and ensuring participation in decision making processes, on the other, can be lost when the main goal is to cut costs, centralise governance, and consolidate services. Over-centralised governance can become less citizen-centred and lead to an increased alienation.
The reforms that are currently being implemented and planned in Estonia focus on the executive power and on providing services, and are carried out as campaigns. An important task of the Riigikogu is to set specific long-term objectives to public sector governance reforms, and to promote democracy and inclusiveness. However, the principles of the state reform and good administration of the Riigikogu focus on services, efficiency and simplicity of governance, not on popular participation in decision making processes and inclusiveness.
Both at the Riigikogu and the government level, we need a broader strategic understanding that would focus on systematic changes next to cutting costs. From the organisational point of view, this means simulation tests of different governance models. The litmus test concerns insufficient capsule-scale coordination, which could suggest that the advantages of a networked, dispersed view should be considered first and foremost.
Networked governance would help to increase the strategic sensitivity of the state. Strategic sensitivity is the ability to solve problems in a flexible and complex way, using innovative technologies and cooperation among the participants.