Podcast 🎧 & blog: Setting the digital agenda in Western Balkan countries
In the Western Balkans, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and governments are on a quest to increase civic engagement in the digital agenda. Take all the initials of this task, ICEDA, and you have the ongoing project that e-Governance Academy is currently involved in within the region.
Recently, stakeholders took the chance to visit Tallinn for a study visit. We caught up with two representatives from both sides, government and CSOs, to talk about the state of digitalization in the five subject countries: North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania.
Hear it from Snežana Nikčević, National Project Coordinator for NGO 35mm from Montenegro, and Admirim Aliti, Minister of Information Society and Administration from North Macedonia, in the latest episode of the Digital Government Podcast.
State of digitalization in the Western Balkans
The past years have seen a growing commitment to digital transformation in the area. With some differences between countries, the general situation sees many development projects well under way, but still a lot of work to do.
“I can say that in our country, but I suppose there is a similar situation in others too, a lot of projects have been started [on the topic]. But there are also a lot of missing elements still. So, I think the responsibility and the duty of decision makers like us is to find out how to connect these dots, and how to encourage all institutions to go digital,” Aliti begins with.
There is a degree of readiness to go digital in society, particularly among citizens. “It is countries or government institutions that should do more to digitalize and make services easier to access for citizens. To move in this direction, we are trying to involve more stakeholders to join forces in order to reach the level of digitalization that we need,” Aliti continues. In this case, such are CSOs, the private sector, and government institutions.
CSOs to bridge expectations with policy responses
In this line of thought, Nikčević points out how recent events – the pandemic, above all – have definitely increased people’s readiness towards using online and digital tools. But the fact that this happened by means of using apps like social media or e-banking, obviously raises citizens’ expectations towards efficient service delivery from governments.
“We all expect that government services too should be, as the Minister [Aliti] already said, easily accessible. But governments are missing on a lot in this sense, when it comes to the design of services provided in the Western Balkans,” Nikčević says.
A salient issue in the region is that “People do not have trust in institutions. They lack trust in their work. And I do believe that digital transformation can be a cornerstone to work on that. It can prove a really beneficial thing to strengthen accountability and transparency,” Nikčević highlights. Aliti agrees, as “Fighting bribery and corruption that still exist in some parts of our institutions is our responsibility. When making an administrative process digital, we raise accountability, and we raise transparency.”
Five countries in one, to learn and exchange best practices
The purpose of the ICEDA project activities in Estonia aimed at just that – knowing more about Estonia’s experience on the topic, and reciprocate lessons learnt and best practices between the countries involved.
“Since my first day in office, when discussing digitalization, one of the first examples everybody mentions is Estonia. Also, because there are a lot of similarities with countries like North Macedonia or Montenegro, in demographics, territory, and so on,” Alati says. A visit to Tallinn, then, is a great opportunity to address more thoroughly all the topics already previously discussed with Estonian experts. “And get more ideas to realize back home,” with choices to make both in terms of regulation and technological uptake.
Moreover, from the CSOs side, “This kind of trips are a good opportunity to discuss things in a more informal manner too, gather input. And I do think that these are precious moments when we can actually exchange ideas and think of how we can push through certain things [on the agenda] and how we can help ministries,” Nikčević adds.
Listen to all episodes of the Digital Government Podcast here!
New episodes will be launched every Wednesday.