Podcast 🎧 & blog: Data exchange makes things happen in Kyrgyzstan

22.11.2023 | Federico Plantera

Digital transformation of government in Central Asia, in this podcast episode, has the face of Kyrgyzstan. Almost a decade since the inception of the country’s first plans, public services are now available online for citizens, and data exchange is happening between government agencies.

Something Tõnis Mäe, Senior Expert of the Digital Architecture Competence Centre of e-Governance Academy, is rightfully proud of – and it shows. Fresh from his two-year tenure in Kyrgyzstan, we discuss with Mäe the country’s significant strides in digital transformation, and how digital evolution is progressing in the Central Asian nation.

Putting data exchange to work – a foundational shift

A few attempts, but the third time was a charm. One of the key moments in Kyrgyzstan’s digital transformation journey is represented by the introduction of a data exchange layer.  To favor the traffic of information from and to government agencies, the Estonian X-Road was identified as the fitting solution.

As Mäe recalls, this has pretty much always been part of the plan – an initiative that saw its beginnings in 2015. But despite initial setbacks, including political changes and funding challenges, persistent and collaborative efforts led to the successful implementation of X-Road. The national data exchange platform, as it often happens in the case of open-source technology, takes a local name – Tunduk. And Tunduk, so far, has already revolutionised the way data is shared and used within the government. There, as elsewhere, it is the backbone of digitalisation, enabling the provision of digital services and breaking down data silos.

The integration of 185 organisations into the system, supporting over 1000 e-services, signifies there a monumental step towards a cohesive digital ecosystem. A step that was made possible thanks to international support from the European Union and partner organisations, as well as from the US in overcoming the early challenges.

Citizen services available on mobile – a paradigm shift

If the story may sound familiar so far, like Estonia’s own, there is though a big difference in the last mile, so to say, of service delivery. One key difference in how people first access and use public services, sign anyway of the times.

In Kyrgyzstan, indeed, as in other countries currently making advancements in digital transformation in the developing world, there is a shift from computer-based to mobile-based citizen services. The change, as Mäe illustrates, affects significantly the way people interact with the government. This transition is supported by the widespread accessibility of mobile devices, compared to computers. But adopting a mobile-first approach from the beginning, allows for the further democratisation of access to government services, making them more accessible and convenient for the general populace.

The next step, with data exchange in place, is making governments let people alone. It is a blunt way to put it, as Mäe highlights too, but indicative of the effectiveness of data exchange. If government agencies already know information about people necessary to deliver services to users, why should they ask citizens again to provide data that is already available in their databases?

People see the difference, as Mäe chatted with a taxi driver about the advantages of increased digitalisation. Obviously, in very practical ways. But beyond tangible benefits and good public reception of mobile-based services, this approach aligns Kyrgyzstan with global digital trends, showcasing a commitment to user-centric design and accessibility in digital governance.

The challenges of data quality and collaboration

There is always room for improvement, however, as we all well know. Despite the strides made in digital transformation, indeed, Kyrgyzstan faces ongoing challenges, particularly in the realms of data quality and inter-organisational collaboration.

There is a critical need for reliable and trustworthy data sources, Mäe says, to support effective and efficient digital processes. The state of digital registers, indeed, needs constant maintenance and improvement. And the general, deep-seated reluctance to share data across organisations pose significant barriers to further advancements. This in Kyrgyzstan, but as well in other countries going through similar shifts.

Mäe’s perspective, indeed, highlights also how technical capabilities are not the only element to focus on. Digital transformation passes through cultural and organisational change, towards a more transparent and cooperative digital governance model. A feat we have come to be familiar with, one of the nuances of driving digital transformation in a bureaucratic landscape – in Central Asia and elsewhere.

Reflections from an Estonian, and the road ahead

Two years might be a short spell from a change management perspective. But they are no short time in the life of one person. And Mäe’s professional achievements are intertwined with his personal journey there. One where he managed to build a trusted network and contribute to societal transformation, as it stands out from our chat.

A journey, as well, that once more underscores the link between digitalisation and democratic values, as the broader impact of these projects and initiatives. In Mäe’s experience, digital government notably impacts the occurrence of corruption, making it more difficult to pursue, and enhances governmental transparency.

The path ahead for Kyrgyzstan involves continuing to build reliable data sources, redesigning service delivery, and ensuring that digital transformation aligns with the needs of its citizens.


Listen to all episodes of the Digital Government Podcast here!

New episodes will be launched on Wednesdays.