#DigiGovSpotlight Experimentation and co-creation key to Lithuania’s digital government

By Yong Shu Chiang

Arune Matelyte, Manager and Co-founder of GovTech Lab Lithuania, tells GovInsider that an openness to explore ideas, form partnerships and collaborate has led to the country’s success in transforming the public sector with digital government solutions.

Lithuania's GovTech Lab helps the public sector co-create solutions with startups and SMEs and build a GovTech ecosystem. Image: GovTech Lab Lithuania

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Scotland and Lithuania are about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) apart, but they share a close connection in the latter’s digital government story. 

 

Arune Matelyte, Manager and Co-founder of GovTech Lab Lithuania tells GovInsider that a trip to Edinburgh’s CivTech office in 2020 – just before Covid-induced lockdown – set her team on its current trajectory. 

 

“International collaboration has played a pivotal role in our journey. We are avid learners from other countries, embracing best practices and innovative solutions from around the world,” she says. 

 

The fateful visit to Scotland has “inspired and informed the structure of our GovTech Lab,” she adds, and led to the launch of The CivTech Alliance, a global network of like-minded GovTech and Civic Tech programmes comprising governments, enterprise agencies, academic and not-for-profit institutions across 17 countries. 

 

“This openness to global insights has enriched our projects and positioned GovTech Lab as a hub for cutting-edge digital government practices,” says Matelyte. 

A platform to experiment  

 

In 2019, at a time when the public-private initiative, Connected Lithuania, provided digital skills training to local communities in Lithuania, the authorities observed a rapid evolution of technologies and shifting expectations of public services. 

 

“What qualifies as a strong digital toolkit today may quickly become obsolete,” says Matelyte. “In light of this, we pondered the question: ‘How can we establish a platform for the public sector to test the most cutting-edge innovations?’” 

 
Arune Matelyte, Manager and Co-founder of GovTech Lab Lithuania. Image: GovTech Lab Lithuania

A commitment to explore digital public sector innovation, an openness to experiment with unexpected ideas, a willingness to form unconventional partnerships, as well as a proactive approach to emerging opportunities, all culminated in the inception of GovTech Lab. 

 

GovTech Lab helps the public sector to identify challenges that can be solved by emerging technologies, and engages startups and SMEs to co-create solutions. In other words, it helps to solve GovTech challenges, build a GovTech ecosystem and improve public sector innovation skills. 

 

“In essence, [we aim] to bring more experimentation and innovation, primarily in a form of digital solutions, to Lithuania’s government,” says Matelyte. 

 

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Recent digitalisation success has decades-old origins  

 

Since its establishment, GovTech Lab has won multiple public-sector innovation awards, and was named among the best Top 3 GovTech initiatives in the world by Public in 2022.  

 

Its flagship programme is the GovTech Challenge Series, which connects public-sector challenges with private innovation teams and their ideas.  

 

Solutions are then piloted before going on to full-scale implementation, with participating innovation companies receiving monetary prizes and contracts of up to EUR53,000 to develop each pilot. 

 

GovTech Lab also serves as an accelerator to help other GovTech teams in Lithuania and abroad, by offering free expert consultations and assisting startups to find clients in the public sector. 

 

Matelyte highlights Lithuania’s historical commitment to business and government collaborations as a key factor in its recent success. 

 

“In the 14th century, [Grand Duke of Lithuania] Gediminas invited global entrepreneurs to Lithuania, setting a precedent for openness to business. Fast forward to the digital age, 30 years ago, Lithuania put forward a ‘Lithuania 2000’ request for proposal, calling on tech giants to help shape its digital state.” 

 

According to Matelyte, this early co-creation laid the groundwork for the country’s IT infrastructure and public-sector services. This has led to “a structured space for government agency and company collaboration,” she says, adding that Lithuania also takes a balanced view in strengthening its own digital foundations while pushing innovation boundaries. 

 

“This involves a meticulous focus on enhancing the existing infrastructure, increasing digital skills, and ensuring accessibility and the reliability of core digital services… It is not always easy to find this kind of balance in the bureaucratic structures, but our set-up allows us to work towards both goals simultaneously.” 

Changing the public sector, with nearly 100 projects 

 

In the last four years, nearly 100 projects have been implemented through the GovTech Challenge Series. Today, all of them are changing the public sector in one way or another. 

 

“They are, for instance, making our operations more efficient, improving collaboration with citizens or increasing data-driven policy making capacity,” says Matelyte. 

 

These include projects such as: 

  • an AI-based web-crawler to detect children abuse material online 

  • the Open Seimas platform, a new digital tool designed to fully involve citizens in the legislation process 

  • an integrated forest cover monitoring system using AI-based algorithms and satellite images  

  • a tool to automate the school admissions process 

Empowering others to lead, sandboxing new tech innovations 

  

Looking ahead, Matelyte and her team are not looking to expand, but rather at scaling their approach. 

 

They aim to empower others to lead innovation projects and have introduced the GovTech Innovation Academy, a four-day bootcamp for public-sector personnel to – on topics such as innovation potential, strategy, searching for innovations, and implementation. 

 

Over the next five to 10 years, Matelyte says that GovTech Lab team would look at ways to improve the public sector’s knowledge about AI. 

 

“Our primary goal… is to strike a harmonious balance between cutting-edge technology and navigating bureaucratic landscapes. Our focus will be on establishing platforms and sandboxes, spaces to test technologies, even if the tech solutions themselves don't align with existing processes and procedures.” 

 

Such sandboxes would instigate essential regulatory, procedural, and behavioral changes that facilitate the integration of new technologies, she adds. 

 

By adapting regulations to support these innovations, GovTech Lab is prioritising the efficacy of technology over conforming to outdated processes – and bringing ideas and implementation closer together in the process. 

 

Also read: Alicante, Spain: Building an agile e-government network