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Is Government Welfare Able to Change? Analysing Efforts to Co-create an Improved Social Welfare System through Taking Advantage of a Collaborative Economy

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Abstract

Welfare sectors across the world are facing the need to balance the contrast between economic pressures due to demographic changes and peoples’ rising expectations of receiving services that are transparent; timely and tailored to citizens’ habits and needs. This means that governments are pressured to look for new ways to deliver public services. This article looks at two cocreated peer-to-peer platforms that are engaged in delivering public services in the welfare sector, Helpific and Caremate, and their development and role in the Estonian welfare sector. These platforms appear to hold substantial potential for changing the current system of delivering public services, however they have not yet managed to acquire the anticipated level of success. By examining these two cases, it is proposed that the room and support for developing new solutions, using experience in the field and overcoming the digital divide must be assured in order to make changes in government welfare possible.
Is Government Welfare Able to Change? Analysing Efforts to Co-create an
Improved Social Welfare System through Taking Advantage of a
Collaborative Economy
Gerli Aavik, Anna Mayer, Keegan McBride, Robert Krimmer
Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia
{Gerli.Aavik | Anna.Mayer | Keegan.McBride | Robert.Krimmer@taltech.ee}
Abstract
Welfare sectors across the world are facing the need to
balance the contrast between economic pressures due to
demographic changes and peoples’ rising expectations
of receiving services that are transparent; timely and
tailored to citizens’ habits and needs. This means that
governments are pressured to look for new ways to
deliver public services. This article looks at two co-
created peer-to-peer platforms that are engaged in
delivering public services in the welfare sector, Helpific
and Caremate, and their development and role in the
Estonian welfare sector. These platforms appear to hold
substantial potential for changing the current system of
delivering public services, however they have not yet
managed to acquire the anticipated level of success. By
examining these two cases, it is proposed that the room
and support for developing new solutions, using
experience in the field and overcoming the digital divide
must be assured in order to make changes in
government welfare possible.
1. Introduction
In the current age of AirBnB, Uber, and Amazon,
society’s expectations for services are rapidly changing
due to the influence of new technologies. Citizens
expect government to be transparent, public services to
be fast and effective, in-tune with their wants and needs,
and there is now an increased effort to ‘co-create’, or
involve many stakeholders in the design, delivery, and
implementation of new public services [1]. Many
governments are starting to acknowledge that
demographics are changing, populations are aging, and
there is increased economic pressure on governments to
deliver services in an optimized fashion [2].
Governments are now experimenting with co-creating
new public services in order to become more innovative,
cost effective, and engaged with their citizens [3].
Additionally, today’s society is becoming
increasingly digitalized and governments are beginning
to open up access to their data, whilst hoping that open
data will lead to added public value and newly co-
created public services [4]. Citizens can use open
government data to see whether the government is
actually delivering services to them in a way that they
feel is fair and are beginning to demand more user-
centered services that are easy and efficient to use [5].
However, there is a clash between citizens’ expectations
of services government provided and the current reality
for services. Thus, we must understand how welfare
service providers can begin to empower rather than
inhibit users of their services.
Collaborative approaches, such as co-creation and
the peer-to-peer economy are one way of overcoming
the ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions public administrations
are so accustomed to, and of customizing services in a
more innovative way [6]. These collaborative practices
can give citizens a voice concerning issues that are most
important to them, for example welfare policies [7] and
it can also be an opportunity to increase the public
sector’s legitimacy and to access society’s resources
[8;9]. Collaborative approaches allow a wide variety of
experiences and expertise to be brought together and
thus these can provide a platform for presenting many
new ideas [10]; this may lead to services that are more
efficient and more in-tune with user’s needs while also
allowing the service provider to ask questions and
understand other perspectives [6]. Co-creation also
appears capable of strengthening social cohesion in the
context of a highly fragmented society [8], of benefiting
from innovations in the tertiary and in the private sector
[9], of helping bureaucracies overcome the thinking in
departmental silos [2], of creating synergy between
what governments do and what citizens do [11] and of
strengthening local democracy [12]. Although co-
creation appears to be beneficial, it should not be taken
for granted and there must be a debate about when and
where co-creation is acceptable and likely to provide a
better outcome than other alternatives; this is not a one-
size-fits all solution.
It seems to be the case that a collaborative, peer-to-
peer and co-creation based approach for delivering
public services in the welfare sector may provide
benefits for users of the services and those responsible
for delivering welfare services. However, there is only
limited empirical work on the use of the peer-to-peer
economy and co-creation combined for delivering
public services. This paper aims to address this current
lack of empirical work by conducting a multiple case
study of two different peer-to-peer platforms, Helpific
and Caremate, which are committed to the co-creation
of public services in the Estonian social welfare system
and by addressing the following research questions:
- Why have Helpific and Caremate not been more
successful, despite the potential they seem to
hold?
- What role can a co-created peer-to-peer
economy based platform play in delivering
public services?
- What are the factors influencing the
development and implementation of public
services based on a co-created peer-to-peer
platform?
Both services being studied as part of this case study
function in the social welfare sector, provide support for
people who need it due to some sort of inhibiting factor,
and both have emerged from work done by groups of
citizens at government-initiated hackathon ideas events.
These services have received notable public attention,
including activating discussions on whether some of the
government resources dedicated to offering similar
services should be directed towards such peer-to-peer
platforms. However, the development of these solutions
has not been as rapid as many of the stakeholders
anticipated. This exploratory paper can provide initial
insights into this emerging topic.
2. Framework
The content, context and process (CCP) framework
is used in order to understand links between content,
context and process and to properly structure and
analyzed data. The CCP framework allows breaking
processes into different elements purpose (why),
subject (what), timeframe (when), methodologies (how)
and people (who) [13]. In the current article, the CCP
framework enables us to structure the case by looking at
the content that is being changed (delivery of social
welfare services in Estonia), the content of the change
(operating on co-created peer-to-peer platforms, such as
Helpific and Caremate), the context surrounding the
change (sustainability of the social welfare system, the
current organization of the social welfare system,
including the main stakeholders in play, and the overall
context of innovation in Estonia) and the process of
change (focusing on how content changes, how these
changes are communicated and whether the timing was
right for the change).
The underlying assumption for this paper is that
most organizations cannot be changed easily and
elements of path-dependency tend to emerge when
transformative changes are attempted [14]. Path-
dependency theories must be viewed critically, since
continuity and change occur simultaneously in real life
situations [15]. Still, they can help us understand why
transformative changes in organisations, especially in
the public sector are scarce. The principal arguments
used in this paper are that changes are most likely to be
accepted when the core values of organizations are not
impacted [16], when there are little or no substantial
mismatches between contextual dimensions [17], when
acceptance is gained amongst stakeholders, when there
is thorough communication [18] and when the timing is
right [19]. Another assumption is that when the content
of change is co-created, it is more likely to be
compatible with expectations of stakeholders involved
and to be successful. For the purpose of this paper,
public services are understood to be any service that is
provided by any stakeholder if it adds public value [20].
Public value is seen as public good, which in this case is
regarded as help provided to those in need. The paper
will examine whether using the elements of co-creation
and peer-to-peer platforms will help overcome the
resistance to change prevalent in the public sector.
Following the CCP framework, the principal arguments
are tested and developed further and the research
questions answered.
3. Methodology
A qualitative research approach is followed for this
paper; research designed on this matter allows for links
between causally relevant factors to be analyzed in the
light of the theoretical framework chosen [21]. When
analysing contemporary phenomena, in-vivo case
studies are often viewed as an appropriate methodology,
as they allow researchers to understand the dynamics
within a specific context [22]. Case studies are often
criticized for their external validity, but in situations
where there is little previous empirical work, they can
provide new beneficial insights [23]. This paper aims to
follow a multiple case study research approach to help
improve external validity by studying two different
examples of peer-to-peer platforms in Estonia: Helpific
and Caremate. Since there are only limited examples of
such co-created peer-to-peer platforms in the social
welfare sector and even those limited examples are
relatively new, the explorative approach is chosen to
examine any possible causal relationships and consider
contextual factors surrounding these developments. To
make conclusions applicable to other contexts, all the
findings must be validated in the next phases of research
by including other examples from different contexts.
13 semi-structured interviews were carried out
with 14 local experts, in order to understand the factors
in play here properly. Interviews lasted from 30 to 90
minutes and were carried out either in person (11
interviews), via Skype (one interview) or on the
telephone (one interview). All interviews were
transcribed, translated into English, analysed and coded.
The interviewees included stakeholders from the
following organizations: Estonian Ministry of Social
Affairs (EMSA), Estonian Ministry of Economic
Affairs and Communication, the Government Office of
Estonia, Estonian Parliament, local municipalities in
Estonia, Estonian Sharing Economy Alliance, Estonian
Chamber of Disabled People, representatives of
Estonian civil society and social service providers, and
members of both Helpific and Caremate. The
viewpoints provided by these stakeholders, together
with documentary analysis, allowed deeper insights to
be gained into how peer-to-peer solutions could be used
to assist in the delivery of public services. Additionally,
the interviews shed light on how the Estonian public
sector interacts and how it views the Estonian social
welfare sector and how local communities and civil
society seek new ways to play a role in the process of
creating public services.
4. The Case of Estonia
Two peer-to-peer web-based platforms offering
public services in the welfare sector form the scope of
this article. This section provides a short overview of the
Estonian welfare sector and current delivery of services,
the concepts of Helpific and Caremate are explained, the
context surrounding attempts to transform the delivery
of social services and the process of initiating the two
platforms in focus here is explained.
4.1. Current delivery of welfare services in
Estonia and attempts to transform the sector
The provision of traditional social services in
Estonia is divided between central government and local
municipalities central government being responsible
for special care and social rehabilitation services and
technical aid, and local municipalities for all other social
services, including services mediated through Helpific
and Caremate, such as social transportation, domestic
services and personal support services. It is important to
note that even though the local municipalities must
organise the services, they are also permitted to charge
fees for them (the financial situation of the person
receiving the service and his or her family must be taken
into consideration) [24]. This means that peer-to-peer
platforms offering social services at a community level
in Estonia have two potential target groups who could
finance their activities people who need the support
(including their families) and who organize the services
and pay for these themselves and the local
municipalities who struggle finding service providers to
fulfil their obligation to help people in need who must
rely on municipalities.
The Estonian social welfare sector currently faces
many difficulties. According to the World Bank report
[25], the Estonian population is ageing rapidly, is less
healthy than the EU average and requires more
assistance with activities of daily living. The Shadow
Report on fulfilling the Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities in Estonia [26] states that the
availability of support services for people with
disabilities is inadequate and is highly dependent on the
municipality where the person in need lives. This very
fact was confirmed by several interviewees. The current
state of the Estonian social welfare sector was discussed
with 10 people interviewed. Most interviewees thought
that the current organization of the sector is not
sustainable and that significant changes are required.
The principal critical aspects highlighted were the lack
of flexibility in service provision, lack of resources
(both monetary and in terms of support persons), the
slow speed in developing new solutions and the poor
reputation of the sector. A few people also mentioned
that Estonia has tried to copy welfare models that have
already proven not to be sustainable and that the state
should strive to develop new models, not copy other
models. Several interviewees mentioned that efforts
must be made to attract private stakeholders to the sector
and better use must be made of volunteers and to involve
communities. In different engagement events for the
users of services, the target group representatives also
highlighted that the current organisation of services is
too rigid and does not match the actual needs of the
people. Co-creating new solutions together with users of
the potential services could help overcome some of
these issues.
The use of a peer-to-peer economy in welfare sector
has been regarded as one solution for addressing some
of these issues. Two such examples, Helpific and
Caremate, are examined in this paper. The basic idea
behind Helpific was the fact that a professional care
provider is not needed to help someone complete their
shopping or to accompany a person with a disability to
a concert community resources could be used for this.
With Caremate, the focus was on creating flexibility for
both professional care providers and for the people who
need care for example, instead of care providers
spending one third of the day driving from one client to
another, they could choose clients nearby and could
reach more people. While Helpific focuses mainly on
working with volunteers found in communities and
paid-for services make up a smaller proportion of the
platform, Caremate focuses exclusively on mediating
professional paid-for services. Another important
difference is that the Caremate platform includes
training courses for care providers. Previous training
(either professional training or courses and exams taken
through the platform) is a prerequisite to offering any
services through the Caremate platform. These courses
can also be used separately, for example when unofficial
informal caregivers (usually family members) want to
extend their knowledge on the correct methods of
providing care. While these solutions are private
initiatives and currently have no government
participation, both solutions arose from government-
initiated hackathons and both platforms concentrate on
services usually organized by local municipalities.
Therefore, we regard the solutions as alternative routes
for providing public services. The main similarities and
differences between the two platforms are highlighted in
Table 1. A more detailed overview on how these
platforms were initiated and developed is given in
section 4.3.
Table 1. Similarities and differences between
Helpific and Caremate.
Platform Characteristics
Helpific
Caremate
Connects volunteers to
those who need help
X
Connects paid workers to
those who need help
X
X
Requires platform users to
have previous training
X
Offers training needed to
provide care
X
Services are directed
towards people with special
needs
X
X
Focuses on simpler
services, such as providing
transportation, help with
household tasks or acting as
a personal assistant)
X
Focuses on care services
(including services that need
special training)
X
Operates on a peer-to-peer
platform
X
X
Are co-created together with
potential service users
X
X
It is important to note that while both platforms have
received relatively high public attention and are often
referred to as having potential to transform the
traditional delivery of public services, they have not yet
managed to achieve the anticipated level of success. By
the time of interviews, 4500 people had registered to use
the Helpific platform and around 250 people had
received help through it. However, there are around
150,000 people with disabilities in Estonia, meaning
that the number of people using the platform is a fraction
of potential user numbers. By the time of conducting the
interviews, Caremate had not yet opened the platform to
the public and this was still in the test phase, however
they had already started negotiations with possible
public sector partners, such as local municipalities.
4.2. The Estonian context and specifics of the
welfare sector
Estonia brands itself as the “trailblazer” and the
place where things happen first. It has also gained a
reputation for being a start-up country. Estonia ranks
third in Europe concerning the number of start-ups per
capita, behind Iceland and Ireland, which is often
explained by the fact that registering new enterprises in
Estonia is relatively easy and there is no corporate
income tax on undistributed (retained) profits [27].
Another consideration is that for a small state, Estonia
has created a remarkable image of an e-state the
country offers wide usage of e-services, charismatic
leaders in the field of e-governance and a drive to
achieve new levels of efficiency [28]. Still, the
interviews carried out showed that Estonia is not always
as open to new ideas as its external image shows and
that most of the success stories evolve around
digitalizing public services, meaning that the principles
of how services operate often remain unchanged.
A good example here is the process of legalising
transportation platforms like Uber. Estonia was set to
become the first country in Europe to legalise Uber and
it started off with an ambitious draft where a separate
category, distinct from the public transport category,
with more flexible regulations was created for
ridesharing. However, during the negotiations, the
proposal was changed significantly and the bill ended
up regulating the ridesharing service in the same way
the taxi service is regulated meaning that Uber drivers
must match the same criteria as taxi drivers. [29] While
the requirements for taxi drivers were also relaxed
during these negotiations and many stakeholders
interviewed regarded this as a good solution, we must
report that a rather traditional approach was chosen to
regulate a completely new concept of service delivery.
As one of the interviewees said “Basically, instead of
making the system just as easy for taxi drivers as it was
for platform drivers, the opposite occurred and the
platform drivers had to start matching up to the
standards.” Similar paradoxes of the reality not
matching the external image were also highlighted in a
recent article by Lember et al [30] they argued that
even though the country is seemingly technology-
friendly, the change in technological capacities is
uneven and for the most part is slow.
Interestingly, when discussing the question of
whether Estonia is a good place to start new innovative
ventures, half the interviewees regard the openness to
innovation as hype, while the others were more
optimistic and said that Estonia generally is an
innovation-friendly country, just not necessarily in all
areas of life. Some recurrent topics emerged when
looking at the aspects of what makes Estonia a good
place for new innovative solutions and what the barriers
are. On the positive side, the following aspects were
mentioned: the personal nature of relationships helps get
things done faster; digitalization of the public sector
creates a lot of the prerequisites for developing new
solutions; Estonians are generally open-minded; not
many legal obstacles are created by the state, a lack of
resources in most areas has made Estonians creative and
there is a lot of support available for new start-ups. The
barriers discussed were mostly as follows: lack of
support for innovation from many local municipalities;
the belief among decision-makers that they hold all the
answers themselves; risk aversion; the size of the market
makes it hard to scale-up new solutions; financing
mechanisms which hinder innovation; the lack of
sharing experiences and the government remaining in its
comfort zone. It was also mentioned that even though
there are not many legal restrictions, the legal system
does also not actively support innovation.
In the context of developing Helpific and Caremate,
we must consider that the lack of support for new
solutions from local municipalities was identified as one
of the main barriers to innovation. As many as nine
people identified local municipalities as “the weakest
link” in the Estonian system. Since local municipalities
play a crucial role in policymaking and implementation,
this reflects strongly on the phenomena that Estonia
tends to be more innovative in rhetoric than in practice
and that the success stories tend to be from centrally
digitalizing services.
It is also important to note that the social welfare
sector has its own specifics. The most important
stakeholders in the Estonian social welfare sector are
EMSA together with its agencies (such as the Social
Insurance Board), the local municipalities, private
service providers and civil society and the service users
themselves. These stakeholders must to be included in
order to successfully co-create new welfare services.
Several interviewees mentioned that the welfare sector
has not seen a lot of innovation and even though there
have been some positive changes in recent years, the
routines for how things are done have for the most part
remained the same. We should also consider that due to
the vulnerability of the target groups, there tends to be
more caution to changing practises. However, the sector
has seen remarkable changes in recent years. EMSA has
been organizing co-creation workshops to gather new
ideas for solving issues in the welfare sector, there have
been hackathons dedicated to solving social issues and
in 2018 a new measure was launched to support the
development of innovative ideas: one million euros is
divided between supporting the development of ideas
into prototypes and four million euros to support
developing and piloting working solutions. A
representative from EMSA also reflected that, many
lessons were learned while preparing these measures
and flexible changes were made. Many stakeholders
mentioned that they are hopeful that these measures will
finally help bring more innovation in the welfare sector,
including solutions co-created with service users.
Another important aspect that must be looked at in
the context of developing peer-to-peer solutions like
Helpific and Caremate are attitudes towards community
involvement in the public sector and the delivery of
public services. Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid has
talked about the need to develop tailor-made services
and involve civil society. In one of her speeches she
discussed, whether a social worker should be able to pay
a neighbour to fetch winter wood for elderly, instead of
organising costly and complicated services [31]. This
speech, along with the rise of peer-to-peer platforms,
has accelerated the discussions on using peer-to-peer
solutions for providing public services in a more flexible
way. One possible solution was proposed by the Expert
Group on Self-Driving Vehicles created by the
Government Office the expert group proposed
creating the legal possibilities for crowdsourcing public
services from the communities, so called folk
procurements [32]. As described by a representative of
the Government Office, “The basic idea is that there
would be an environment for micro procurements where
every validated user could offer such services as they
can and are qualified for be it providing social
transportation for elderly persons or cleaning roads in
some local municipality. Any simple tasks that must be
completed on large scales could be procured through
that environment.” Whilst this proposition has not yet
become a reality, it has created some interesting
domestic discussions and must be tracked in future
research, since it has the potential to bring about
transformative changes in the delivery of public
services.
Strategic documents, such as the Welfare
Development Plan [33] in the social welfare sector also
demonstrate that new innovative solutions from the
private sector and local communities are expected.
However, expecting meaningful collaboration with
different stakeholders and actually enforcing
collaborative practices are not one and the same thing.
The interviews showed that co-creation practises tend to
be project-based and are often not being integrated into
day-to-day processes. Another important factor here is
that due to the sensitive nature of social welfare data and
the lack of efforts to systematically open up anonymized
data, it can be harder for active citizens to build good
evidence-based solutions. In a way this keeps the power
of information with public organisations and makes it
harder for good citizen-initiated solutions to grow into
scalable solutions. Several interviewees also highlighted
that Estonia tends to be a top-down country and there
are shortcomings in including citizens meaningfully.
However, most of the interviewees believed that local
communities and volunteers must be involved and co-
creation practices must be improved.
4.3. The process of initiating and developing
Helpific and Caremate
Helpific is the first peer-to-peer platform in the
Estonian social welfare sector to receive wide attention.
The idea was mainly based on looking at peer-to-peer
models from other sectors. These observed that a peer-
to-peer economy had already revolutionized some areas,
such as transportation and accommodation, but they
noticed that similar examples cannot really be found in
the social welfare sector. The initiators believed that in
the social welfare sector, using peer-to-peer solutions
could revolutionize the field in a similar way. Caremate
followed with their idea a few years later.
Both Helpific and Caremate were initiated in
hackathons, organised either by EMSA or in
cooperation with EMSA. Helpific was initiated in 2014
and Caremate in a hackathon in 2017. The basic idea of
these hackathons is that people from different
backgrounds (such as designers, developers, the welfare
experts, target group representatives etc.) come together
and work on ideas pitched by initiators. During these
hackathons, teams are supported by mentors and experts
working in different fields. In both cases the main
initiators had already worked on their ideas beforehand,
but they came to the hackathons to form teams and take
the next step. The initiator of Helpific ran an
organisation, representing women with disabilities and
she noticed that current public services do not cover all
the support needs people have. The initiator of Caremate
had worked as a caregiver and similarly regarded that
the current organisation of services needed changing.
During the hackathons people from different
backgrounds, including potential users of services and
people representing government organisations worked
together to develop their ideas further. Both initiatives
succeeded at their hackathons. Helpific received the
Audience’s Favourite award, while Caremate won its
event, received the Audience’s Favourite title and a
special prize from Mindtrak.
The teams continued to actively develop their ideas
further after the hackathons. Both solutions took part in
Ajujaht, the biggest business idea competition in
Estonia, and reached the TOP30 Helpific in the
2015/2016 competition and Caremate in the 2017/2018
competition. Ajujaht provided both solutions support
and advice from mentors and potential investors. In
addition, Caremate took part in another competition
called “Prototon” that provided additional support for
developing the idea into a working prototype. Both
platforms also managed to get support developing IT-
platforms from the crowdsourcing platform Hooandja
Helpific collected the money needed in July 2017 and
Caremate in April 2018.
It is important to note that both initiatives followed
the minimal viable product approach, where first tests
with clients were carried out, with analogue solutions
and the rapid gathering of feedback. Also, both solutions
undertook comprehensive market research whilst
developing their solutions. Helpific conducted a
questionnaire among potential target group members
and potential helpers and identified the peoples’ needs
(what kind of support they need, how often, how would
they like to receive it etc.) and willingness of helpers
(what kind of support and how often are they willing to
provide it, what is their previous experience etc.).
Caremate had three people who at the time were
working in the Social Insurance Board and they had the
experience and contacts to complete extensive market
research. Among other things it was identified that
whilst people expect more flexibility from services, they
do not often have the resources to buy services on the
open market. This means they must rely on help
organised by either local municipalities or by the state.
As both platforms identified the link with the public
sector and traditional public services, they also reached
out to local municipalities to co-operate. In 2016,
Helpific connected all 15 counties, but they only
managed to fix meetings with two municipalities. In
their business plan, Helpific was able to show that the
platform could provide twice as much support for the
same sum of money as they currently use for services
such as personal support services, by combining the
resources of voluntary helpers and paid professionals in
their municipality. During meetings with the
municipalities that they were able to arrange, the interest
and initiative from the municipalities was still low. With
one of these no cooperation followed, with the other a
different form of collaboration was formed within a
Horizon2020 project, aiming to increase community
involvement and develop a collaborative public sector.
This cooperation can potentially lead to co-created
public services, but has not yet become an example of a
local municipality directing its own resources into a
peer-to-peer platform. Caremate had a different
experience they also met with representatives of some
local municipalities and the feedback has been quite
positive. Some municipalities have already expressed an
interest to cooperate and there have been negotiations
with representatives at a central level to cooperate on
using the training platform. The differences might be
due to the differences in the organisation of the platform
(such as Caremate having higher requirements for the
caregivers and so for assuring higher accountability),
but several interviewees mentioned that another factor
influencing attitudes could be the timing during recent
years, the awareness of such solutions seems to have
increased and there is also more support available to
develop and test new solutions.
Both teams highlighted the need to have people in
the team who understand the customer’s needs – in both
teams there are welfare experts and people active in this
area. For Caremate, it is important to note that the initial
team had three members who at the time worked for the
Social Insurance Board meaning they had first-hand
access to data concerning the target group of the
platform and extensive knowledge on how the social
welfare sector works, including what are the strategic
aims of the state’s stakeholders and what the existing
gaps in the system are. One of the interviewees also
reflected on this issue stating that whilst people from the
private and NGO sectors often have good ideas, the
understanding of how government works is required to
implement really meaningful changes. With Helpific,
their strength was in having target group representatives
in the team.
5. Discussion
The initial assumption for this paper was that path-
dependency tends to emerge when attempts are made at
transformative changes. The co-created peer-to-peer
platforms Helpific and Caremate were regarded as
attempts to challenge the delivery of public services in
the Estonian welfare sector. The proposal was that
changes are most likely to be accepted when the core
values of organizations are not impacted, when there are
little or no substantial mismatches between contextual
dimensions, when acceptance is gained amongst
stakeholders, when there is thorough communication
and when the timing is right. It was also argued that co-
creating new solutions can help gain acceptance
amongst stakeholders and increase the probability of
success.
Despite the outward reputation of Estonia being
open to change, the existence of path-dependency in the
welfare sector appeared to be evident. However, it looks
like the Estonian government is increasingly creating
room for new solutions to be co-created. When co-
creating services, it is essential to assure that
government-stakeholders participating in the co-
creation process are the ones actually making the
decisions. In the two cases under observation, the state-
level stakeholders were included in the process, while
local municipalities who are actually responsible for the
services these platforms provide alternatives for, were
not included in these first steps. This means that in
addition to the question of the openness of local
municipalities, the compatibility of new solutions with
the needs of local municipalities may be questioned. The
initial interviews with local level representatives
showed that concerns such as issues relating to public
financing, legality, accountability, and security emerged
and that these factors must be examined further.
Assurance must also be given that the business model is
sustainable. For example, one representative at the local
municipality level mentioned with regard to Caremate,
that the platform services are currently not able to
compete with the cheap prices local municipalities are
able to arrange themselves. However, the same
interviewee said that despite higher prices, they might
be willing to cooperate in future due to workforce
shortages. Also, the interviewee could see the value in
adding coordinated volunteers to the mix of service
provision (in the example of Helpific), so that we should
question whether communication with local
municipalities was adequate during the negotiations.
For both cases studied, the issue of acceptance
amongst stakeholder groups appeared to be the single
most critical part. While both cases received attention
from the public and are regarded as solutions that make
a positive impact, cooperation with stakeholders that
can ensure the sustainability and integration of the
services into day-to-day operations has not yet been
achieved. As previously mentioned, the potential target
groups are those in need who currently fund and arrange
services themselves, and local municipalities. In this
article, the main focus was on looking at the local
municipalities as the most likely partner. The initial
assumption here was that due to the digital divide
amongst the target group, the platforms are most likely
to reach the direct service users in cases where they are
mediated by local municipality social workers who
coordinate the rest of the support for the people. Also, it
was assumed (based on different surveys carried out
amongst target groups) that people needing high levels
of support do not often have the resources required to
pay for the services themselves, and so they must rely
on what the local municipality or the state provides.
When examining possible reasons why the service users
do not use the platforms directly, these assumptions
were confirmed the feedback from experts in this field
and target group representative organisation showed
that the main issues are a general lack of awareness, lack
of technological know-how, and lack of financial
resources. Several interviewees proposed that the lack
of awareness and the technological limitations could be
overcome by using contact points already working
within the system to disseminate knowledge of the new
services. For example, using local municipality social
workers as intermediaries or middle-men helping
people use these platforms. Financial aspects could be
solved when some of the public money intended for
services of a similar nature could be directed to these
platforms. The prerequisite here is that these platforms
are able to create added value for these municipalities,
including operating existing resources more efficiently
or increasing the satisfaction levels of service users. It is
also important to understand that within these
vulnerable target groups, innovations cannot rely
merely on digital tools. The capabilities of possible
service users must be taken into account. We can
assume that those currently using the Helpific platform
are the people possessing more advanced levels of
digital skills. The influence of timing also seemed to
have an impact. This is demonstrated by the difference
in feedback amongst local municipalities. Whilst the
platforms also provide different possible merits to
municipalities, it looks as if Caremate was more readily
accepted due to changes in context (such as opening
innovation measures by EMSA) and so with better
timing. We must note however that as the Caremate
platform is not yet open to service users (it is still in the
testing phase) it is too early to judge how the potential
service users will receive that platform.
It does appear to be the case that co-created peer-to-
peer based solutions are likely to be compatible with
contexts they are introduced into, and thus likely to gain
acceptance. The prerequisite here is that all relevant
stakeholders are included in the co-creation process.
Though collaborative and open approaches to public
service creation may be criticized, bringing together
different stakeholders does allow the creation of new
services that are more in-tune with users’ needs. Co-
creation can help address criticisms and inefficiencies of
traditional public services, by involving both service
users and government stakeholders in a meaningful
way. However, we should note that such processes may
not be suitable for all services and the question of ‘when
are co-created peer-to-peer services more likely to
benefit the service user as against the traditional
approach’ must be explored further. Whilst several
people interviewed stated that most public services
could possibly be provided by peer-to-peer platforms
like Helpific and Caremare, many others also believed
that the state should be in control of service delivery and
these peer-to-peer solutions should be viewed only as
supplementary organizations.
Reflecting back to the first research question of why
have Helpific and Caremate not been more successful,
there appear to be several issues in play. First, it appears
that in the welfare sector the support for new solutions
has not been as strong as in other fields, meaning that
the sector has behaved more in a path-dependent manner
than as a path-creator. Also, there appears to be several
barriers in play, hindering changes in the welfare sector.
When regarding service users, the main barriers seem to
be the lack of awareness, lack of resources and the
digital divide. Close cooperation with those currently
responsible for organizing traditional public services is
needed, in order to overcome these barriers. In the cases
under consideration, the most likely counterparts for this
cooperation would be local municipalities who however
were not participants in the co-creation of these
solutions. One the one hand, local municipalities were
identified by the interviewees as the stakeholders least
open to innovation. At the same time that local
municipalities were not part of the co-creation process,
compatibility was not assured within that process and
issues such as trust, accountability and security have not
yet been addressed and resolved. To overcome some or
all of these issues, the compatibility of these new service
platforms and the needs and values of local
municipalities must be met. Overcoming the barriers
relating to local municipalities may mean that local
municipality social workers could be used as mediators
for these platforms and some of the resources dedicated
to ‘traditional’ welfare service delivery could
potentially be directed to these platforms, which in turn
would help overcome the barriers relating to service
users. Further research is needed to fully understand
what local municipalities need and value.
With regard to the second research question, asking
what role a co-created peer-to-peer economy based
platform can play in delivering public services, it looks
as if co-created peer-to-peer platforms such as Helpific
and Caremate hold the potential to offer alternatives to
more traditional public services. Services that are co-
created and function in a peer-to-peer manner may also
create higher levels of public value than traditionally
delivered services due to the direct involvement of
stakeholders in their design and implementation. This
approach to public service delivery is both new and
innovative, however, it is not a one-size-fits all solution
and issues such as trust, accountability, and security
must be fully understood before moving forwards.
Whilst some interviewees thought that such solutions
have the potential to transform traditional public service
delivery, others believed that they should be viewed
rather as complementary services to public services
provided traditionally. Regardless of which opinion is
adopted, these services, if accepted by key stakeholders,
bring in additional resources to the welfare sector (and
potentially to other sectors) and encourage community
participation and openness that has potential to lead to a
higher level of public value and increases the
availability of services to those who need them most.
The third research question looked at factors
influencing the development and implementation of co-
created peer-to-peer economy based public services.
Based on the cases of Helpific and Caremate, it
appeared that being given a creative environment
(hackathons) to trial and launch new solutions was of
critical importance. Additionally, support appears to be
available for new and innovative services in the social
welfare sector in the Estonian context. For example, in
2018 grants totalling five million euros have been made
available. This support was not yet available when
Helpific and Caremate were initiated, however it can be
used to develop the solution further. Although there has
been assistance at a ministerial level, the bottle-neck
appears to be at the local municipal level. Assuring that
local municipalities would be included in these
development processes more, such as government
sponsored hackathons, may allow solutions to gain more
acceptance at the local municipal level. When looking
at what could be done additionally to support such
solutions, mention was made that central government
could take on a bigger role in promoting good examples
and raising overall awareness. As one of the
interviewees said, Local municipalities can become
very used to doing things the way they have always done
and they might need a little nudge or a gentle push in a
new direction.” Mention was also made that innovation
needs to become a more natural part of day-to-day
processes, and that this is something which does not
happen overnight. Interviewees also talked about the
need to create a pool of new ideas and solutions
support is needed to develop new ideas into prototypes
and to develop prototypes into working solutions.
Communities must be empowered for this. It seems that
this support is increasingly available in the system, but
there is still a long way to go.
Based on these two cases, three initial propositions
are put forward:
1) Whilst most public organisations cannot be
changed easily, and basic routines tend to remain
unaltered, new solutions are more likely to emerge
when the organisation allows room and a
supportive environment for solutions to be co-
created;
2) In order for co-created peer-to-peer solutions to be
integrated into routines in the public sector and for
these solutions to gain acceptance among decision-
makers, stakeholders that know the system and
have the ability to facilitate actual changes in the
system (e.g. through funding) must be included in
the co-creation process;
3) The specifics of the sector must be considered, for
example barriers such as lack of awareness and
technological know-how may be solved by using
contact points already working within the system to
disseminate awareness of the new services.
6. Conclusion
Innovative solutions like Helpific and Caremate appear
to hold substantial potential for changing the current
system of public service delivery. This article examined
the development of two co-created peer-to-peer
platforms, Helpific and Caremate, and the barriers and
enablers these solutions encountered. From these, we
learn of the need for room and for support, for
experience of use in the field and for overcoming the
digital divide. Based on these cases we argue that once
these required prerequisites have been established, co-
created peer-to-peer economy based platforms can hold
substantial potential to changing government welfare
and introducing new ways of delivering public services.
Whilst public money has not yet been directed to these
platforms to finance service delivery, there are currently
active discussions underway on this matter in Estonia.
Co-created peer-to-peer solutions can bring in
additional resources into the public sector, encourage
community participation and openness which lead to a
higher level of added public value and better availability
of the services. However, several aspects still require
further research, such as gaining a better understanding
of what the expectations of both service users and local
municipalities currently organizing ‘traditional’
services are; and how to overcome the barriers currently
in place. Also, this approach to public service delivery
is not a one-size-fits-all solution and issues such as trust,
accountability, security, public financing and legality
must be examined further. Other underlying question
that still requires further research is whether co-creation
is always feasible and do solutions like co-created peer-
to-peer platforms actually manage to create greater
added value for the end user and other stakeholders,
such as local municipalities.
Acknowledgements. This work is supported by Doctoral
School in Economics and Innovation, ASTRA project TTÜ’s
development plan for 2014-2022 code 2014-2020.4.01.16-
0032 (European Union, European Regional Development
Fund), the European Commission (OpenGovIntelligence
H2020 grant 693849), and TTÜ Digital Governance
Competency Center (SS483).
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