In Ukraine, e-governance and democracy are two sides of the same coin

25.11.2019 | Federico Plantera

| The project is responsive to the following SDGs of the United Nations:
5 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 11 – 16 – 17 |

 

There seems to be shared consensus over the necessity for governments to keep up the pace with digital transformation. It is one of the positive, external pressures triggered by living in the age of the information society. Citizens’ expectations for efficient service delivery increase, and public authorities must answer the call.

Right at the European Union’s doorstep, for some years already, Ukraine has made e-governance and democracy two indivisible synonyms. With the help of Estonia, represented by e-Governance Academy (eGA) and other EU Member States, the country’s administrative structure is now blooming into pilot projects, reorganizations, and promising levels of digital maturity.

Mari Pedak, Team Leader of the U-LEAD with Europe support project EGOV4UKRAINE guides us through what has been done so far, and the advantages that such effort is set to bring to Ukrainian public agencies and citizens.

 

EGOV4UKRAINE team, Mari Pedak the fourth from left
The commitment towards digital transformation

Any serious attempt to create a digital state starts from an essential precondition – political will, to inspire the pursuit of distributed benefits. In this respect, e-Governance Academy has assisted Ukraine’s commitment to e-governance development since 2012, increasing the institutional capacity of the country’s State Agency for e-Governance (now the Ministry of Digital Transformation, as of September 2019). It is in this favourable framework that the U-LEAD programme of the European Union took its first steps, of which EGOV4UKRAINE is the ICT-focused support project.

U-LEAD with Europe is an initiative of the EU External Action lasting over four years, with a total funding of EUR 102 MLN. The international cooperation programme is supported by public stakeholders from Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland, and Sweden. In this context, e-Governance Academy has been taking care of the EGOV4UKRAINE action plan. With a funding of over EUR 9 MLN, in a country with over 40 million people, this support project is eGA’s most ambitious endeavour to date.

The main goal of the U-LEAD with Europe programme is to actively contribute to Ukraine’s plan for a more decentralised multilevel governance. It was only a few months ago that Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy PM and Minister of Digital Transformation in Ukraine, reaffirmed the country’s determination to achieve these goals.

 

We still need to expand the digital culture of our public servants and citizens.

Mykhailo Fedorov

 

“We still need to expand the digital culture of our public servants and citizens, and to reach full cooperation between state and local authorities in the implementation of e-governance. But given the support of both government representatives and international partners, we are confident that we are up to the task,” Fedorov said.

The implementation of a well-designed digital infrastructure plays a key role in this, by enhancing transparency, accountability, responsiveness to the needs of the population.

Trembita and Vulyk for data exchange and service delivery

For the purpose, eGA took on the implementation of two key components of any efficient public administration. First, the data exchange platform Trembita enables interoperability across state agencies and registries. Secondly, the creation of information system Vulyk allows local Administrative Service Centres (ASCs) to increase tenfold their performance in public service delivery for citizens.

16 state administrative agencies are currently connected to Trembita, with two of them already engaging in the data exchange. As for Vulyk, it has been successfully implemented in 26 ASCs to date, but it is set for roll out to more than 400 ASCs in the next year.

The process, of course, was not a walk in the park. “We had to ensure a level of compatibility between organisation processes that would enforce cross-agency electronic interactions. But interoperability can be achieved only through the coordinated effort of different actors – executives processing information, lawyers resolving regulatory issues, technical experts developing the right solutions,” Mari Pedak warns.

 

The name Trembita comes from a national music instrument that was used to gather people together.

 

Trembita, indeed, provides a unified response to these problems. Developed by Estonian company Cybernetica and based on its UXP technology, Trembita is an improved version of the Estonian X-Road. Government organisations and databases can communicate there under the same rules, and exchange data and information in a truly interoperable and secure environment.

With the two solutions in place, Ukraine moves a step closer the next e-governance success story.

 

A second necessity was to automate the activities performed by local ASCs. In many respects, these offices are the outposts of the state on the territory, from large cities to smaller villages. They are the face of the government on a smaller scale, the point of interaction between the state and the citizen for the provision of public services. “The information system Vulyk was deployed for the purpose, dramatically simplifying and automating core processes of ASCs for service delivery,” Pedak says.

The reinforcing effects of e-governance and democracy

Words of hope and excitement came recently from Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. “I see here a story arising for Ukraine for the future: it was the country that believed in human rights and democratic values, while everybody else was doubting you would succeed,” she said in September in Kyiv. And digital governance can have a strong reinforcing effect on the state of democracy in a country.

One of the most exciting responsibilities that come from mature democratic values is accountability. “Where digital solutions are in place, there are no back doors and significantly less space for corruption. The transparency provided by Trembita and Vulyk has a direct impact on citizens’ social trust in state institutions,” Pedak explains.

 

It’s data that should run, not people, and that’s what our two products enable.

Mari Pedak

 

“We must note also the better performance of public administrations in terms of providing citizens with various services. After all, this is one of the major functions of a democratic state – to serve its citizens efficiently. It’s data that should run, not people, and that’s what our two products enable. A lot has been done so far, but we’re inspired by the determination demonstrated by Ukrainians in making digital transformation a reality. Ukraine has all the means to make it happen,” Pedak concludes.

The Ukrainian government has seen in e-governance a valuable resource. Yes, by increasing administrative capabilities in service delivery, but also as a tool to reinforce its democracy and the relationship between the state and the citizen. Based on experience, in Estonia and beyond, we can only confirm – it definitely seems the right way to go.