Making digitisation of government services successful: Five minutes with Iceland’s Vigdís Jóhannsdóttir

By on 17/04/2024 | Updated on 17/04/2024
Vigdís Jóhannsdóttir five minutes with graphic

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.

This is part of a ‘Five minutes’ series featuring speakers from this week’s Global Government Forum GovernmentDX event (Washington, D.C., April 18-19). During the conference, Jóhannsdóttir will participate in the session on the importance of partnerships and building trust to digitise government.

What are you most interested in discussing at GovernmentDX?

The secret recipe of making digitisation of government services successful. What are the ingredients? For us at Digital Iceland there are three key ingredients needed. Political backup, funding and mandate. The cherry on top is making sure that the user experience is not just good, but great. I am also very interested in hearing stories on successes and failures of digitisation, so we can all learn from each other.

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.

Read more: Experiments in generative AI: Five minutes with Christine Bellamy, director of GOV.UK

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.

Read more: How governments can make the digital transformation journey – from Barbados to Iceland

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 and 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.

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