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The Once Only Principle Project

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Cutting the bureaucratic red tape using the once-only principle

Using the once-only principle, a team of EU researchers is working to help the public sector transition into the digital realm.

Digital Economy icon Digital Economy
Society icon Society

Nobody likes red tape. For many, the hassle of having to repeatedly go to the local public administration office and provide one’s identity and such basic information as certifications and contact information makes doing business across EU Member States challenging. To reduce this administrative burden, the EU has funded a number of initiatives, including TOOP (The Once Only Principle Project). These projects aim to facilitate the digitalisation of the public sector by simplifying processes. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, making this transition has become essential. According to Robert Krimmer, a professor at the Tallinn University of Technology and TOOP project coordinator, the pandemic has clearly increased the need for digital public services. “COVID-19 is seen as a major driver for the digital transformation of our society,” he says. “Having fully-enabled digital societies will allow us to better cope with emergency situations in the future.”

The once-only principle

To create such digitally enabled societies, TOOP is applying the once-only principle (OOP). OOP focuses on reducing the administrative burden for individuals and businesses by reorganising public sector internal processes, as opposed to making citizens and businesses adjust to existing procedures. “Applied to the field of public sector digitalisation, citizens and businesses only have to provide public administrations with data once,” explains Krimmer. “The public administration then takes actions internally to share and reuse this data – even across borders – and always in compliance with relevant rules and regulations.”

Simplifying procedures

To help facilitate the sharing and reuse of data between public administrations, the TOOP project developed a federated technical architecture. “Using already existing systems and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) building blocks, we connected registries and e-government architectures in close to 20 countries across Europe,” adds Krimmer. Working in close collaboration with public administrations, researchers conducted several pilot programmes to demonstrate how the OOP can be used to simplify procedures for sharing business-related data in the areas of general business mobility (GBM), e-procurement and maritime. To test the TOOP cross-border connection, the pilot programmes used an innovative procedure called ‘connectathons’ – conference calls between data consumers and data providers. A total of 10 Member States participated in the successful GBM pilots. Following delays related to COVID-19, the e-procurement and maritime pilots began in the summer of 2020. “The lack of face-to-face meetings and slowdowns in administrative processes have had a negative impact on our research,” remarks Krimmer. “Thus, we have received a 4-month extension, with our work expected to conclude at the end of January 2021.”

Advancing the once-only principle

According to Krimmer, the project’s overall legacy will be the contribution of the TOOP technical architecture and components to the implementation of the EU’s new Single Digital Gateway. As a result, businesses and administrations alike will benefit from the solutions being developed by TOOP. “As we move into the project’s final stages, we are working to ensure the sustainability of our outcomes as well as provide a supporting environment that enables the piloting, enhancement and uptake of the new technologies developed by the project,” concludes Krimmer.


TOOP, once-only principle, OOP, digital public services, digitalisation, Connecting Europe Facility, CEF, general business mobility, GBM, e-government, Single Digital Gateway, COVID-19

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