In some countries they can only ask for your information once

Office Worker with Mountain of PaperworkIn some countries the government can’t keep asking you for the same information again and again. Well to be more precise that’s in one country: Estonia. Estonia has had a law since 2007 that implements the “once-only” principle – that the state is not allowed to ask citizens for the same information twice.

If you’ve flown into Australia from overseas recently you’ll remember having to fill in two pieces of paper that ask for nearly identical information, information that mirrors what was on your exit papers and, presumably, on the airline’s passenger manifest. It’s a great example, but only one of many, of an underlying inefficiency in the way we do things. As an easy indicator of that inefficiency, Estonia says that by forcing its government agencies to communicate efficiently it has saved two percent of its GDP annually.

Of course there are many reasons that this sort of thing is hard to do. But a country like Australia is well-placed to make the same moves simply because we are technologically advanced and also not very big. What we lack is vision and will.

The obvious response is: Why would I trust the government? But the point here is not about giving the government more information, it’s about not giving them the same information multiple times on multiple forms. We already give them this information, we just have to do it in a fiddly and repetitive way.

In some ways the most interesting thing about the Estonian approach is the starting point. They didn’t start by getting IT people to bid on complex systems. They started by changing the law.

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