December 16, 2019

Prerequisites for the introduction of a Civictech solution by means of an electronic identity in the canton of Schaffhausen

Summary of the Master Thesis of Sandro Scalco, written in collaboration with the Procivis Think Tank and submitted to University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich. The views expressed belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Procivis AG.

From the beginning…

Digitalization challenges us in all situations. It affects areas such as public administration and governments more and more. Citizens are increasingly demanding government services and no longer see themselves as puppets, but rather as customers. At the same time, they want to interact with the state in the same simple way as they know it from their private lives, with the numerous smartphone apps. This is also the case in eGovernment, where they want to use electronic services to do their business on the move. This requires an infrastructure with an electronic identity that, for example, meets the high security requirements of a state and the requirements of user friendliness and availability of the citizen. When it comes to services that enable citizens to participate electronically in elections or to sign a popular initiative via the Internet, Switzerland lacks not only the available services but also a state electronic identity.

Since 2018, the canton of Schaffhausen has been offering its citizens an electronic identity, like the model of electronic identity from Estonia, on a smartphone. Citizens now can access various administrative services more quickly and efficiently at any time. This makes Schaffhausen the first canton in Switzerland with an electronic identity and known throughout Europe for its pioneering role in the field of the electronic identity.

Schaffhausen has played a special role in democracy for years. It is the only canton with a law on compulsory voting (1892) and usually has the highest percentage of all cantons in national votes. Citizens who fail to comply with their electoral duty have also been fined since 1973.

What’s the question?

The interaction between the Confederation, cantons, municipalities and business will determine how successfully Switzerland is digitized at the administrative level. The question of who will finally digitize Switzerland will soon have to be answered. A city, or the canton of Schaffhausen alone, cannot solve this problem, but can set a good example.

Due to the problems in the eGovernment environment, the research question arises as to how a Civictech solution with an integration of cantonal services must be developed in order to improve the participation of citizens and thus better integrate them into political decision-making:

What are the prerequisites for the introduction of a Civictech solution using an electronic identity in the canton of Schaffhausen?

The following further research questions in the four areas are derived from this:

  • What does Civictech mean and what does the Swiss Civictech landscape look like?
  • Where is Schaffhausen in the national comparison of Civictech?
  • What are the requirements for using the eID+ in a Civictech project?
  • What does a prototype for an e-collecting solution look like?

The aim of the work is to identify the prerequisites for the introduction of an e-collecting solution using the electronic identity in the canton of Schaffhausen. The Civictech and eGovernment landscapes of Switzerland and Schaffhausen will be investigated. Expert interviews and the development of an e-collecting prototype will provide further insights.

What does the theory tell us?

Civictech is used to improve the political participation of the population by technological means. The aim is to better involve citizens in the political decision-making and planning process.

E-government deals with the transformation of service delivery and the fundamental relationship between government and citizens. Most governments have recognized the importance of ICT and are therefore moving away from traditional means of providing services for the use of e-government.

Using a prototype, functional requirements of a software development project can be mapped via a visual model. This is intended to promote communication between the stakeholders involved.  A prototype is described in detail as follows:

  • Works with minimal effort
  • A means of providing users of a proposed application with a physical representation of the main parts of the system prior to system implementation
  • Flexible modifications require only minimal effort
  • Not necessarily representative of a complete system.

What was the methodology?

In order to identify the prerequisites, a Civictech prototype is created which integrates the electronic identity as it is used in Schaffhausen. The Procivis demo system will be used for the integration and will later be converted to the productive system of the canton of Schaffhausen. The prerequisites are to be identified by means of research, the development of a concrete use case and expert interviews.

The evaluation of the data is interpretative and delivers results in depth and breadth as insight. A holistic understanding of the case is to be developed. In contrast to quantitative research, where results are obtained with a high degree of standardization and a high representative basis.

For better results in qualitative data collection, a real e-collecting case was developed so that the interviewees do not have to rely on theoretical examples.

The results

“Try and learn how to digitize administration.”

What does Civictech mean and what does the Swiss Civictech landscape look like?

The meaning of Civictech has been defined by the privacy policy and therefore the responsibility. In contrast to eGovernment, where the state is responsible for the misuse of data, Civictech Private or non-governmental actors are responsible in the event of misuse. This also makes it clear that Civictech solutions must be operated by private, non-state actors and, if necessary, have an interface via a state electronic identity to the state. But the infrastructure of Civictech projects is provided by private individuals. Civictech also refers to solutions that enable the population to participate in the political process by means of digital technologies and are thus better integrated into the political decision-making process.

Disruptive technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence or virtual reality, which are already used in the private sector, are not yet finding their way into democracy. A trend that also entails risks and dangers. Abuses can also lead to mistrust among the population. However, I consider the possibility of a personalized democracy for the citizen to be very valuable.

“Use well-rehearsed processes to take a look inside the glass ball.”

Where does Schaffhausen stand in the national comparison of Civictech?

The Civictech landscape in Schaffhausen does not exist, so to speak. It can be said that Schaffhausen does a lot in the area of eGovernment and infrastructure. However, there are no projects that are not launched from the canton. With the eID+, Schaffhausen offers an optimal prerequisite for starting Civictech projects. The size of the canton is a factor that makes it unattractive for Civictech projects, as the number of inhabitants does not indicate the largest number of users. Nevertheless, I see this setup as an opportunity to try something out.

What are the requirements for using the eID+ in a Civictech project?

Please note that a Civictech project that uses the eID+ requires a smartphone with an Internet connection. In today’s age and with the omnipresence of the smartphone in almost all areas of life, I don’t consider this a disturbing factor. On the contrary, one has the chance to reach and inform citizens at any time. The spread of the eID+ among the population of Schaffhausen is massively limiting the number of users of a Civictech application. This would require greater dissemination of the eID+ in the canton to create a greater incentive for new applications. Technically, the Schaffhausen eID+ requires a connection via the Open ID Connect Standard. This widely used standard makes it easy to implement a Civictech solution. The application as such must clearly signal to the user when his data will be transmitted by the eID+ and what will happen to it. The transfer of data from the eID+ to another application has been designed in such a way that precautions have been taken by the eID+ side to make it clear to the user when his data will be transferred.

“Intellectual demands on tomorrow’s democracy instead of simply digitizing.”

What does a prototype for an e-collecting solution look like?

As an important component in connection with the eID+, the conscious action for the transmission of personal eID+ data to the Civictech app has proven to be an important one. The user should be aware, and at best become aware, that he is releasing his personal data to the application during the process. A certain relationship of trust must therefore also be established between the citizen and the application. In addition, the applications should be built in such a way that the data is not simply stored and reused. However, the canton has no influence on this and could become a critical factor for further projects.

Civictech solutions are characterized by the fact that they provide citizens with a simple digital channel to participate in the political decision-making process and support and promote political participation. The political decision-making process is still strongly influenced by the analogue world and for many Civictech solutions it is not possible to make the process simple and digital. However, the Schaffhausen eID+ offers, at least in the canton of Schaffhausen, the possibility to use signatures and proof of identity for Civictech solutions.

A possible outlook

One real phenomenon is the low level of digitization in the field of eGovernment in Switzerland, even though we are one of the richest countries. Switzerland, with its stable system, its unique democracy and its size, is definitely a very special place for Civictech. So special that projects and experiences from abroad can usually not be adapted 1:1 for Switzerland. In addition, the need or suffering in Switzerland is not as strong as abroad, where projects such as participatory budgeting are more popular. Nevertheless, it would be exciting to investigate which areas in Switzerland can be further developed by digitizing democracy. Many projects are commented on politically and among the population with a lot of “ifs and buts”. How can citizens use digital channels in the future to obtain trustworthy information, exchange views and form an opinion on a topic? How do you make sure that it is not fake news, that you are tracked by Dark’s ads and that your privacy is guaranteed?

In addition, new technologies would have to be tested in experiments and their effects specifically investigated. We Swiss are very proud of our political system and are afraid of destroying it with a digitization project.

Studies in the field of new technologies would provide information about the further development of our democracy. Where could we use artificial intelligence to simulate future scenarios that would require coordination? Or what influence would a yes vote have on a voter’s personal future? Equally exciting would be the study of a 27th digital canton, where citizens organize themselves autonomously and decentral.

There is a need for further cantonal experiments, which are an interaction of politics, citizens and science. In this way, Switzerland can make the best possible use of the federal structure to test individual experiments, gather experience and thus further develop democracy, culture and Switzerland.  Schaffhausen could make a start here. As the first canton in Switzerland with an electronic identity and a manageable size, it offers the ideal conditions for digitizing Switzerland as a Civictech experiment!