‘People don’t have to be perfect’: five minutes with Catalonia’s Àstrid Desset

By on 25/09/2022 | Updated on 25/09/2022
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In this sister series to our ‘Five minutes with’ interviews, we share insights from the civil and public service leaders that will be speaking at our free AccelerateGov conference on all things digital transformation, taking place in Ottawa, Canada, on 5 October.

In this interview, Àstrid Desset, director general, Open Administration Consortium, Open Government of Catalonia, tells Global Government Forum about a new digital identity pilot, her experiences as a woman in IT, and why she plans to write a book about her life.

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?

One of the functions of the Open Administration of Catalonia (AOC Consortium) is to develop digital identity and electronic signature solutions and offer them to citizens as well as to all Catalan administrations to promote digital public services that guarantee identity and the confidentiality of procedures.

We are very interested in hearing experiences and strategies from other countries in this area and, at the same time, sharing the results of some digital identity pilots we recently participated in with two European universities, within the EBSI framework.

These proofs of concept have served to confirm the viability of a new digital identity system that guarantees citizens full control over who they show their personal data to, which data they share and which they don’t and, in summary, be the unique owners of their data.

What drew you to a career in the civil service?

I have been passionate about technology and software development since I was a child. I saw in the public service an opportunity to transform society and help others by working on digital transformation, developing technologies to accelerate modernisation and improve public service processes.

What barriers or challenges have you overcome in your career?

Being a woman in the IT profession has been difficult at times, as in my early years I always had to prove that I could do difficult developments as well as my peers. Now that seems to have been overcome.

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

What I like most is working with a team and helping and learning from colleagues with a common goal that is not to obtain a financial benefit, but a benefit for the general public.

How might the public and civil service be different in 25 years’ time?

I hope that in 25 years the public service, and specifically digital services, will be really smart and proactive, bringing value to citizens by making procedures and life in general easier, saving them time, unnecessary travel and money thanks to data and document interoperability.

Which country’s government or civil service are you most inspired by and why?

Estonia is our inspiration, as this country has built a true digital society and is one of the most technologically advanced governments in the world.

We would like to take advantage of the fact that AOC Consortium works for administrations of all sizes and levels (municipal and regional) to place Catalonia in the best positions in Europe in terms of interoperability and the use of digital identity.

Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that’s helped you and your colleagues?

I’ve been researching what France and Argentina are doing, taking advantage of the fact that I have identity from those two countries as well. I like the ease of use of the France Connect app, and I found out that in Argentina they have a quite advanced document and file management system that they offer to other administrations.

What attributes do you most value in people?

Above all, I value transparency, openness and honesty, so that you can trust the people around you. People don’t have to be perfect; we must allow ourselves to make mistakes and learn from them. The most important thing is not the professional knowledge a person may have, but their ability to see how to combine their experience with their colleagues’ so that everything turns out as well as possible for everyone and for society.

If you weren’t a civil servant, what would you be?

If I wasn’t a civil servant, I’d be a software and data engineer. In fact, it’s what I am too. My passion for computer science will accompany me all my life.

Is there something about you that people find surprising?  

I have had a surprising life and one day I will make a book about it. A summary would be that I have three nationalities and that I fought for a fourth, the Catalan one; that when I was 36 I met my father, who is an icon of Argentine folklore music, and we started a satisfactory father-daughter relationship; and that I have lived some unique experiences, such as being the mayoress of the town where I live.

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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