Listen to our Groundbreakers

Learn about innovative projects, new technologies and collaboration opportunities in the GovTech community from government leaders, experts, investors, and other key players!

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Leading the GovTech community in Lithuania

We invited Arune Matelyte, a leading figure among our Top 5 GovTech Groundbreakers, to share his insights into Lithuania's GovTech ecosystem.

📌 About Arune Matelyte 
Arune holds the role of Manager and Co-Founder at the GovTech Lab within the Innovation Agency Lithuania. She is dedicated to fostering the development and utilization of innovative solutions within the public sector. In recognition of her outstanding work, she was honored with the European Innovation in Politics Award in 2019 and received acclaim as the creator of the best public sector project in Lithuania in the same year, as recognized by the PMO. Furthermore, Arune achieved a remarkable achievement by ranking in the top 3 at the GovTech Awards hosted by PUBLIC in 2022. She has pioneered the GovTech Challenge Series, successfully addressing nearly 100 challenges, and established the GovTech Innovation Academy tailored for Public Sector Officials. In addition to her domestic contributions, Arune has served as a national expert at the OECD, where she has actively worked on enhancing our understanding of GovTech ecosystems and their management, both within and across borders.

📌 Could you share a pivotal moment or experience that inspired your dedication to GovTech in Lithuania? 
"I had a desire to work with the public sector and its social challenges for some time. However, after university, I found myself engaged more in consulting and startups, working in Madrid and London. Eventually, a compelling opportunity arose to return to Lithuania through a talent program called 'Craigslist Media.' This program required a one-year commitment, during which I led two distinct projects within the public sector. The initiative aimed not only to attract new talent to the public sector but also to encourage the diaspora living abroad to return to Lithuania. Recognizing the potential impact, I seized this opportunity, returned to the city, and embraced a role in the public sector."

“At first, I primarily engaged in digital economy projects. However, while working on these, my colleagues and I consistently observed intriguing technological challenges within the public sector. The intersection of social and technological issues presented unique and compelling opportunities. Simultaneously, a wave of new startups emerged, particularly driven by younger generations eager to address challenges with significant social impact. Despite this, there seemed to be a disconnect between these two realms, with sporadic initiatives like hackathons attempting to bridge the gap.”

“This realization led to the conceptualization of a dedicated team within the public sector, with a specific focus on fostering connections between the public sector and innovative startups. The goal was to collaboratively develop new tech solutions or test existing ones in the market. While various initiatives like hackathons existed, we aspired to create a more systematic and sustained approach. This vision materialized into the GovTech Lab in Lithuania. Although our emphasis on digital government dates back to 2012, it wasn't until 2019 that we explicitly introduced the term GovTech. While a relatively new concept at the time, it has become more widely accepted and embraced over the past 4 or 5 years."

📌 Could you tell us about a specific challenge that stood out for you and the specific solution that sticks to you in your mind?
"Let me introduce you to the GovTech Challenges Series, an open innovation program that provides a structured approach to connecting public sector challenges with practical solutions. We begin by identifying problems within the public sector and then transform them into challenges for the market. Subsequently, we seek out companies and startups with innovative ideas, bringing both the private and public sectors together to form a collaborative team. This team enters a small accelerator, where prototypes and minimum viable products (MVPs) are developed to assess the feasibility of solving these challenges through technology.”

“To ensure sustainability and systematic implementation, we have established procurement methods. Unlike pro bono or grant-based approaches, our model involves running procurement processes to actively purchase innovation and support the innovation process.” 

“Since the pilot launch in 2019, we have tackled nearly 100 different challenges. We began without initial funding or procurement but adapted our approach to align with legal requirements. The evolution of the challenge series reflects our commitment to addressing not only economic challenges but also issues that deeply resonate with societal concerns.”

“In one notable iteration, a challenge from our communications regulatory authority highlighted the responsibility to combat child abuse material online. Traditional methods involved a hotline and manual review, posing challenges for both citizens and employees. Partnering with the Latina startup OxyLabs, we developed an AI-based web solution that automatically identifies illicit content. This case presented both social and technological complexities, including the need to work around the illegality of certain materials. Despite the initial challenges, this collaboration has proven to be a successful and impactful outcome from our inaugural challenge series, showcasing the growth and ongoing collaboration between the public sector and innovative companies.”

📌 What other projects can you think about? 
"We encountered a challenge with one of the municipalities involving large animals that frequently damage farmers' crops. These farmers receive government insurance, and, if the claim is valid, they are compensated. Traditionally, a person is dispatched to the location to measure and verify the damage, identifying the specific animal responsible. However, this process can be streamlined using satellites and algorithms. Although we successfully built a prototype that functioned well, a legal obstacle surfaced—the law mandated an on-site inspection by a person. This underscores the importance of addressing not only the technological aspects but also navigating the legal and procedural requirements. While we attempt to foresee such challenges in advance, experimentation and piloting play a crucial role in uncovering unforeseen legal intricacies. This iterative process allows us to enhance not only our technology but also refine organizational processes, demonstrating the value of pursuing ambitious projects and innovations."

📌 What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities for GovTech innovation, not only in Lithuania, but also on an international scale?
"The conventional answer might be procurement, but I won't delve into that. GovTech transcends mere government technology; it's not solely about startups or innovative companies developing GovTech. We aim to transform the traditional contractor-supplier dynamic prevalent in technology projects. Instead of a confrontational approach, GovTech emphasizes co-creation and genuine collaboration between the public sector and startups. However, altering deeply ingrained cultural norms that foster a 'we versus them' mentality and prioritize short-term gains over long-term partnerships remains a challenge. Another hurdle is steering clear of the traditional outsourcing trap, where the public sector outsources problems to the market without cultivating internal skills and knowledge. It's a challenge when public sector organizations lack digital expertise, relying solely on collaboration with startups. This dynamic can lead to mistrust or limited learning. We strive for equal partnerships, where both sides possess similar skills and contribute to the success of the public sector-startup collaboration. Despite these challenges, numerous opportunities arise from addressing diverse and intriguing problems. Governments globally invest significant funds in procurement annually, presenting a recurring set of challenges. This consistent pattern opens doors for scalable products. It's crucial for governments to recognize that purchasing a scalable product from a startup is not just a one-time transaction. It's a long-term investment that contributes to continuous improvement over 5-10 years, benefiting both parties. While public sector organizations may seek highly tailored solutions, recognizing the potential in scalable products is vital for seizing opportunities."

📌 Would you say there are some particularities or some uniqueness about the GovTech ecosystem in Lithuania that other countries could learn from? 
"On one hand, we adhere to one of the strictest interpretations of EU procurement law, so if we can implement it, other countries should be able to as well. Lithuania's case, as a representative of newer democracies or smaller countries, benefits from having fewer entrenched systems and organizational traditions. This makes it easier to introduce new teams and initiatives. In contrast, my experience in the UK highlighted the challenges of proposing a GovTech Lab. In larger countries like the UK, diverse ideas and complex processes can impede such endeavors. Smaller countries offer a more conducive environment for testing ideas with relatively easier access to funding. However, the trade-off is the limitation in resources compared to larger countries like the UK. Every country faces a balancing act, considering its resources and level of maturity. Before initiating similar programs, understanding the local context is crucial. In Lithuania, for example, public sector organizations were hesitant to invest their own funds in experimentation. Unlike Scotland, where organizations contributed their funding, we opted to fund the challenges ourselves. It might take more time initially to convince organizations of the benefits of open innovation, but the principle remains adaptable in various situations. The key lies in finding the right balance and maturity level within the specific country context."