Lesson 2, Topic 5
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Tell Us Once – Design Pattern

CBPN Editor September 16, 2019
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‘Tell Us Once’ – Provide your data to one government agency, and never be asked for it again from another, defined explicitly through legislation.

In contrast countries like Estonia operate a single, interconnected system. As New Yorker magazine highlights describing Estonia as the Digital Republic:

“They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories.”


The universality of the problem and this solution is highlighted through the fact Canada too is also now exploring and in the early stages of implementing their own Tell Me Once policy.

This includes a first project for online direct deposits. Their future looking Canada150 site explores the idea this represents the future of their online government, and as the feature video shows they’re seeking to socialize the idea across the Canadian public sector to encourage further adoption.

There is one particular design feature of their digital government systems that has enabled Estonia to achieve their world leading, wholly integrated digital society, their ‘Tell Me Once’ policy.

As the EUObserver writes with the title defining the critical aspect, ‘You can’t use 18th century law for a digital world’ – in 2007, the Estonian government introduced the “once-only” principle – that the state is not allowed to ask citizens for the same information twice. It is explored in technical detail in this presentation.

Since it has been growing in adoption across Europe, with other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal each implementing their own version. The EU has published research reports and explanatory videos to encourage widespread take up.