‘Great projects are being pushed out slowly and quietly’: five minutes with… Iceland’s Vigdís Jóhannsdóttir

By on 30/09/2022 | Updated on 30/09/2022

In this sister series to our ‘Five minutes with’ interviews, we share insights from the civil and public service leaders attending our free AccelerateGov conference on all things digital transformation, taking place in Ottawa, Canada, on 5 October.

In this interview, Vigdís Jóhannsdóttir, chief marketing officer at Digital Iceland, tells Global Government Forum about building trust in digital, her fear that negative PR is stifling government projects, and why other countries could learn from Iceland’s parental leave policy.

Register now: Top government transformation officials – including Canadian government CIO – to address AccelerateGov digital transformation conference in Ottawa

What are you most excited about sharing at the AccelerateGov conference?

I think it is safe to say that meeting and learning from peers within digital public service is what I am most excited about. I find all of the topics interesting. I am sure we are all facing the same, or at least similar, hindrances in our work and that we can learn a lot from each other.

I’m looking forward to growing our global network and getting inspiration from international experts.

What drew you to a career in the civil service?

There are two main reasons for me moving into civil service. One is that I believe that we can all contribute to making the world better and in my current position at Digital Iceland I can use my expertise to contribute to that. Secondly, much related to the first reason, it is an extraordinary opportunity to be part of forming Digital Iceland and contributing to making the lives of all that live and work in Iceland better by digitising public services.

What do you like most about working in the civil service?

Being able to push for changes that have real effects on people’s lives for the better. Civil service tends to get negative feedback and I do enjoy communicating all the great work constantly put forward.

And what do you dislike about it?

Connected to what I like most is the negative PR many institutions and public agents tend to get. There is often a lack of communication emphasising all the extraordinary work being done every day, and I find it likely that negative feedback is the key influencer. This negativity results in great projects being pushed out slowly and often quietly. There is no room nor tolerance for error – which creates a difficult space for innovation and growth.

What barriers or challenges have you overcome in your career?

Building trust and knowledge within government as well as with civilians on everything digital. It is an interesting and challenging task but so rewarding when you see the light come on.

Which countries’ governments are you most inspired by and why?

Many countries are doing great things but I think it is safe to say that Digital Iceland has looked to and built a lot on experiences from the UK, Estonia and Denmark.

Are there any projects or innovations in Iceland that might be valuable to your peers overseas?

Parental leave is very strong in Iceland and one of the foundations of equality. It is known for being very long, and it can be split equally between parents. Now parents don’t have to go through time-consuming paper applications but can apply online through a digital application that collects all of the data needed automatically.

What attributes do you most value in people?

Honesty, positivity, open mindedness

What’s your favourite thing to do at the weekends?

I love life so I’m ready to join in on just about anything from outdoor activities to dinner parties with friends.

What is your dream holiday destination?

I hope to travel as far and wide as I possibly can and explore all the different cultures, nature and food the world has to offer. Next on my list is Italy.

Find out more about the AccelerateGov conference organised by Global Government Forum and hosted by the Government of Canada – including the agenda and list of speakers – here. The event is free to attend.

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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