The Digital-ready Legislation

Read Julius Lyk-Jensen’s text based on his participation in LegisTech Series

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📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event


I’m representing the agency of digitisation, under the Ministry of Finance in Denmark. It’s my ambition to give you a brief introduction to our daily work to ensure that Danish legislation is digital-ready. I will touchdown upon three main parts: 


  1. I) firstly, I will talk about why it is necessary to consider digital concerns, when we legislate; II) secondly, I will describe our approach to ensuring that legislation is digital-ready and I will also bring a couple of examples on how legislation can be digital-ready; and then, thirdly, I will discuss what have been some of the lessons learned in Denmark and present some of our current initiatives regarding digital-ready legislation in the future. 

Why should legislation be digital-ready after all?


The question of why legislation needs to be digital-ready is probably best answered by asking what happens when it isn’t. 

Digital-ready legislation was a response to cases, in which complex and imprecise rules made it difficult to implement and administer digital regulation. 


This was the case due to many exceptions and difficult terms in the legislation, unnecessary and manual decisions, which made it difficult to make processes and digital decisions, and then inconsistent use of terms across different pieces of legislation in different authorities that made it difficult for these authorities to collaborate and exchange data. 


Earlier implementations of digital solutions were not generally given much attention at the stage of drafting new legislation. This included considerations, such as consistent use of terms, risk profiles impact on users, administrative costs and procedures. That made it really difficult to implement digital systems, and it also made it hard for citizens and companies to see through complex rules and it also fostered a slow and bureaucratic management of rules in the public authorities. 


Digital-ready legislation is the ambition to make simple regulation, where possible, which is easy to administrate for authorities in a digital way. 


Let’s talk about where the digital-ready legislation agreement started in Denmark. In 2018 a political agreement was reached in the Danish Parliament and it required all legislation proposed from July, 2018 and onwards to be digital-ready. 


The focus was on creating clear and simple legislation that was easy to implement and to administrate digitally. The aim of the agreement was to foster a better public service through higher levels of transparency and better access to services for all citizens and companies. 


It was also to create simpler processes and therefore a more effective public sector, which eliminated unnecessary bureaucracy and to create a minimum of unexpected pitfalls in digital implementation, as new legislation can result in cost overruns, delays and incomplete digital solutions, if the potential pitfalls were not addressed from the start. Also, it was decided to create a secretariat or a small unit that collaborated with ministries in the public authorities on an ongoing basis regarding guidance and support on how to ensure that new legislation was becoming digital-ready. The main part of this task is screening and delivering feedback on draft legislation and giving recommendations on how to create digital-legislation. 


When new legislation has to be digital-ready, it has to fulfill two criteria. First, the rules must have been drafted with seven key principles in mind. The principles ensure that legislation supports the use of digital solutions and they concern a broad variety of parameters needed to create a digital-ready legislation. The first principle, new legislation has to be clear in its use of terms and has to have unambiguous rules if possible. This makes it more clear and more simple.


Second, all communication between citizens and companies and the public authorities has to be digital, so it has to go through digital means. Every time new legislation makes it mandatory to use digital communication between citizens and the authorities, there always has to be a thought on the people that cannot use digital means of communicating and they have to have a possibility to communicate in another way. 


Third, if possible, decisions made by authorities have to be made on objective criteria, which means that the decision by time can be automated. Fourth principle, the reuse of data across all sectors. We value that different parts of legislation across different sectors in the public sector use the same terms and refer to the same registers with the same information so the authorities can share data instead of picking up the same data twice from the citizens. This makes a more effective public sector and it makes better service for the citizens and the companies. Fifth principle, secure data management. Digital legislation is not all about effective service and administration, it’s also about making it transparent and safe for citizens to share their data with the public sector. Sixth principle, use public infrastructure. Use the already made public infrastructure for communication, instead of inventing something new. The seventh principle is about preventing errors and fraud by digital means. That’s also about using digital systems to check if data is right and that the information given by citizens and companies are true. 


Furthermore, new legislation also has to carry out an assessment of what implementation consequences the legislation is expected to have. This is about trying to look forward and say what will happen when we implement this new legislation and what impact can it actually have on IT systems, on organisations, on protecting data, on influence of civil life and how can we make sure, when drafting the legislation, that we prevent some of the risks that come with implementing the legislation. 


Every time a diesel car drives into an environmental city zone, it has to have a certain type of filter, so the question is how do the authorities carry out control of which vehicles can enter the zones and which cannot and how can control be carried out in an economic, smart and digital way. One way to do it would be in a manual way with personnel like the police keeping track of vehicles entering the environmental zones, besides the fact that it would be pretty difficult to control a constantly moving crowd of vehicles manually, it would also demand a significant amount of personnel. Instead the solution is an automatic control system, which scans the license number of every vehicle entering the zones. The scanning technology then connects to central vehicle registers as a way to check if the vehicle meets the required environmental filter standards. 


Which principles are met in this legislation or in this solution? It’s principle three, which is all about using objective criteria. The registration number on a car is an objective criteria, and it can be a binary combined with different standards of the car with the registration number, so that can actually be checked without personnel in an automatic way. 


Another example that I would like to share with you is an example of how data sharing between the private and the public sector can lead to increased value for users. The field of mobility service is undergoing a rapid technological change, and it is not an unusual sight for people to travel using a shared electrical scooter, bicycle or even in another person’s car. It is becoming a challenge to research all the different modes of transportation accessible in a given area, so new legislation in Denmark attempts to tackle this problem by allowing mobility providers to supply data about the availability of their services to existing public sector travel planners. This could potentially mean that when a user visits the travel planner, they are suddenly reminded that the ride sharing or electric scooters is an option of transportation nearby, in a given area. 


This legislation is an example of how data sharing between the private and public sector can lead to a better experience for users of mobility solutions and I presented examples on how we work to make legislation fit for the digital age. 


The work is not finished, but we have already learned a few lessons that I would like to share with you: 


First, improvement can actually be gained by small changes in existing legislation and I hope that was made clear from my examples by just changing a minor part of an existing legislation, you can actually open up for digital possibilities and digital ways of managing the existing legislation. Second, it takes time to build up awareness and compliance about digital-ready legislation, so our process can be divided into some different phases, but it all starts from the bottom, by creating awareness and making digital readiness a priority and a known element for both ministries, politicians, private institutions and NGOs. You have to meet the demands and the stories about digital-ready legislation a couple of times before it becomes a rolling snowball, it doesn’t happen overnight and it’s difficult to implement and it takes time. 


Our efforts with making digital-ready legislation has to follow the swift advances being made in the technological field. We have to follow technological development in order to be able to make legislation, which actually fits the technological environment available. 


The next steps for the Danish government in regards to making legislation digital-ready:


First, we prioritise reaching out to policy officers to support the digital-ready legislation as a priority throughout the early stages of legislative preparation. What does this mean? It means that we often look through draft legislation, but the material or the rules drafted in legislation actually gets created a long time before in political agreements and initiatives, long before the drafting of the legislation, and we want to get in early in that process and actually make an influence, when the members draft on initiatives or political agreements becoming legislation. Second, we are continuously supporting drafters in incorporating digital-ready legislation. In order to do it, we offer online guidance for drafters through digital checklists. It’s all about creating awareness, especially in ministries drafting the legislation, about digital-ready legislation, and we do that by having training sessions and formal activities. Third, that’s just a systematic targeted revision of legacy legislation that would enable us to reap the benefits of digital solutions on a wider scale. 


The last aspect of our actions, we also prioritise dialogue with the EU and member-states in the European Union in order to play a part in making European legislation more digital fit, because it often affects the Danish possibilities of making digital-ready legislation.


It’s amongst our tasks and part of our mandate to look through existing legislation and not only new drafts. We also look for new digital possibilities in drafting, since it depends on existing legacy legislation, which may not always have digital-ready rules, so you want to look at the old legislation as well. 

[header image source: unsplash] 

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