Vasilis Koulolias. Photo: Eva Dalin.
Vasilis Koulolias. Photo: Eva Dalin.

The EU project e-Skills Match will help improve the matching of skills demand and training, thus improving competitiveness in the labour market. Using assessment and examination tools, individuals will be able to identify their skills profile and find exactly the training they need for a particular service or profession. Much of it is about developing smart technology, and it is perhaps not so surprising that it fell on the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV) at Stockholm University and eGovlab to manage this strategically important EU project. In its brief existence, eGovlab has made an impression internationally and attracted curiosity.   

Here, in the futuristic NOD building in Kista, new types of governance, so-called e-governance, are being developed. Researchers, politicians, businesses and citizens meet here to create the democracy of the future.

“It is about developing democracy and improving government efficiency,” says eGovlab Director Vasilis Koulolias.

eGovlab conducts research and development, but it is “hands on” and should result in new processes or new gadgets. Vasilis Koulolias describes himself as a combination of researcher and social innovator. He has a long experience of working with the EU and the governments of several countries, and he brought this experience with him he came to the University five years ago.

Other countries are copying eGovlab

eGovlab started as a centre within the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences in 2014 and has received significant research funding from the EU, Vinnova and other financiers. Many of the apps they have helped develop are already being sold to other countries, and the development at eGovlab is followed curiously from around the world. Similar enterprises are now opening in Portugal, Japan and Moldova.

Somya Joshi is project manager at eGovlab. She is standing in front of a computer, showing videos made together with students in the building. She tells us that Moldova, while not without its major problems, has developed its fragile democracy with the help of its collaboration with eGovlab.

Gunnar Wettergren is deputy director at eGovlab. He explains:

“The government wants to allow private actors to create new services by using open government data. Here eGovlab becomes a facilitator, a politically safe place where innovation has room to manoeuvre.”

It is very much about clever ways to analyse large amounts of data, what in research contexts is called Big Data, but it is also based on a principle of citizen participation in political processes and social commitment, the so-called “bottom-up” approach.

App that facilitates integration

eGovlab organises so-called “innovation jump sessions” that bring together students, engineers, anthropologists and other social actors to focus on a specific problem which they then try to solve.

One such jump session dealt with the problem of integration and resulted in an app that collects public information from a number of authorities and translates the information to the migrant’s home language.

“This helps those who flee here to enter the labour market more quickly and thus integrate into society,” says Vasilis Koulolias.

This particular app is now being sold to municipalities in Sweden as well as governments in a number of other countries, including Great Britain.

“We helped create the app, but the enormously talented engineers are the ones who did the real work,” says Gunnar Wettergren.

He goes on to tell us that eGovlab provides technical expertise for the work on the EU’s internal digital market, an integration process that is currently in full swing. For example, it has contributed expertise for the development of so-called e-IDs.

The centre also conducts teaching, and is planning to start a training programme in e-governance for public servants. The centre has about a dozen employees and another 20 or so affiliated researchers.