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Estonia is widely cited for its exceptional progress at incorporating digital technologies into government. Indeed, the government of Estonia is at the leading edge and is the subject of many case studies and best practices for digital technologies. Yet Estonia’s progress is often brushed-aside by policy practitioners and intellectuals alike as being a function of exceptional circumstances in Estonia, that are ultimately not replicable in other jurisdictions. With Estonia being a small country (1.3m people) with a recent political independence (from the USSR in 1991), many are tempted to dismiss Estonian progress in e-government as a function of the country’s relatively uncommon structural conditions, and likewise deem this type of progress as impossible for their own governments.
This work addresses the circumstances often credited for Estonia’s digital leadership. It determines that the relationship between these circumstances and Estonia’s success with e-government is a popular, yet unsubstantiated myth with little real evidence. In comparative perspective, country size or legal history have no deterministic impact on the success of government transformation for the digital era. Instead, a shared sense of motivation for reform and widespread support for this mission from an engaged citizenry are much more likely to aid in digital transformation than any structural factor.
The paper concludes that future best practices and success stories in digital transformation are likely to come from existentially significant changes to state and society that require a full marshalling of resources, regardless of the country’s population or legal tradition.