The path towards e-governance in Ukraine
By Federico Plantera
To what extent the digital transformation journey of one country can be replicated in another? Certain external factors can definitely contribute to the success of innovation sprees – such as international support and funding. However, every story has its own particular characteristics, and the path towards e-governance in Ukraine makes no exception in this sense.
Within the EGOV4UKRAINE project, since 2016, e-Governance Academy has been helping the Ukrainian government improve public service provision using digital tools. Today, the country has an original data exchange platform called Trembita, and local service centres benefit from the creation of a dedicated information system named Vulyk. Capitalizing on the existing Estonian experience, assisted by the EU and its member states Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Slovenia, Ukraine too has become now a place that makes data run, not people. Below we analyse the foundations of digital government in the country, and what success factors enabled it.
A decade of digitalization efforts in Ukraine
The roots of Ukraine’s commitment to digital transformation are deep-seated. Since 2012, e-Governance Academy has been present in the country, collaborating with its State Agency for E-governance in preparing e-government development. In 2016, innovation in the public sector picked up steam more decisively thanks to a large European programme in support of the nation’s efforts – U-LEAD with Europe. Within this framework, EGOV4UKRAINE was deemed to be the ICT-centred branch of the initiative, with Mari Pedak at its helm.
In 2019, with the change of government and the victory of Volodymyr Zelensky, the intention to pursue digitalisation became stronger and clearer, to the status of priority. E-government development was empowered by the commitment to increase transparency, accountability, and responsiveness in the public administration. And as a proof of such political will and support, the former State Agency for E-governance was turned into a full-fledged Ministry of Digital Transformation, with increased institutional capacity and responsibilities.
Tools to enhance digital governance in just four years
To date, Ukraine is the largest country where eGA and our technology partners have successfully developed, tested, and rolled out digital transformation projects. The points in common with Estonia’s own path are several – some core enablers of digital governance. But the scope and scale of this endeavour is drastically different. Some claim that digitalisation is easier to accomplish in smaller states, but Ukraine’s experience indicates that size truly shouldn’t be an obstacle (44 million people is no modest number) and interoperability is scalable.
Trembita is the data exchange layer that facilitates interoperability between authorities and local governments. Over 80 different organisations participate in the ecosystem, providing the backbone for more efficient and comprehensive public service delivery. It was developed on the basis of the proprietary Unified Exchange Platform (UXP) of Estonian IT company Cybernetica, which took part in the making of many of the Estonia’s key digital services, among which figures X-Road.
Since then, progress has been very quick. The first data exchange through the system took place in spring 2019 and, as of today (March 2021), 180 different channels of electronic interaction have been established, building up to a reported amount of over one million transactions taking place every month. There are even “most popular” e-services already, such as eBaby for newborns registration and childcare benefits, and ID-14 for young people to get their first unique taxpayer identity number digitally.
In addition to Trembita, Vulyk was the information system being designed to support the digitisation of activities within local Administrative Service Centres (ASCs). The goal is to roll it out in up to 600 different centres across the country created by the U-LEAD with Europe project partners.
Three factors that inspired Ukraine’s success
After four years being based and operative in Kyiv, Ukrainian Team Leader for eGA Mari Pedak has a clear view of which elements provided the basis for the success of digital transformation in Ukraine. The achievements reached are the result of strong political will and collaboration, tools that meet specific needs of the country’s public sector, and citizens ready to embark on a journey that has been, indeed, fully transformative.
- Political will and collaboration
A classic, but also a must-have. “Political will is key to making innovation in the public administration happen – not only in the initial phases, with a vision, but also throughout the various stages of the process. Even more so when digital transformation brings, on par, a reorganisation of roles and responsibilities across state agencies and personnel,” Pedak states.
This implies a high degree of cooperation in the first place between the Ministry of Digital Transformation and all others the stakeholders involved. If at the international level this was never in doubt, considering how much the EU supported digitalisation in Ukraine, collaboration across all levels of governance is a prerequisite to the success of large-scale reforms of decentralisation.
- Solutions that fit the needs
Digital tools are not designed to be one-size-fits-all. Or, at least, that certainly does not apply to countries’ public sector. The work of our technology partners Cybernetica and SoftXpansion revolved around adapting Cybernetica’s UXP interoperability platform to the specific needs of the Ukrainian administration. For example, by harmonising it with Ukrainian cryptography standards, which the national government wanted to stick to. Moreover, data quality and availability issues had to be resolved, to allow for the correct and smooth functioning of interactions on Trembita.
- Human capital and awareness
Finally, a rather human element completes the picture. Awareness of the benefits of technological change plays a role. “Fortunately, we did not see any big resistance towards digital tools in Ukraine. But it was important in the beginning to explain what is Trembita, why it is necessary, how to use it. There is a huge difference between now and when we began. Officials used to ask why do we need this? while now, instead, they demand when will it be ready?,” Pedak says.
The second aspect, instead, pertains digital skills. “Ukraine has also given priority to training employees’ and citizens’ digital skills. This is very important for two reasons. First, it is not a good approach to develop services that people are not interested in, or unable to consume. Second, I believe that Ukraine has one of the most capable private IT sectors in the world. Four years ago, I would have said that the state and the IT sector were living parallel lives. But now I’m glad to see the first signs of real collaboration,” Pedak concludes.