How Ukraine is Using Digital Government Technology to Plan for a Post-War Future
Ukraine has managed to implement an astonishingly comprehensive set of digital government services, with 70 key public services available, half the adult population participating, and a goal of digitizing all government services by 2024 – despite the fact that the country is fighting for its very existence in a war with Russia.
The intense commitment that President Zelenskyy has to this initiative shows in the name of the mobile application which is the centre and symbol of government service delivery. It’s called Diia which, in Ukrainian, means “action.” It is, fittingly, also an acronym, which, loosely translated, means “meet the state.”
Zelenskyy’s personal commitment provided the “political will” that has driven the success of this project even in the midst of a war.
Ukraine’s government has many ministries that could and did provide resistance to the massive change that this project represented. The team charged with the design and implementation were drawn largely from technology professionals who didn’t really understand politics. The world has come to see Zelenskky as a brilliant wartime tactician and also a master of government politics.
Zelenskky appointed a Chief Digital Transformation officer and ensured that every ministry had a similar position at what would be akin to the deputy minister level in other EU governments – an extremely powerful government position. That sent a message to the heads of all government departments.
Recently I sat down with this leader, Alex Bornyakov to discuss why their digital efforts have been key to helping combat Russian aggression and how their focus has evolved from before the Russian invasion to the present.
Bornyakov is the Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine and the Head of the Diia City project. We also talked about what it is like to live in Ukraine on a day-to-day basis, their success in partnering with the private sector so rapidly and lessons learned that can help other governments, why cryptocurrency has been so vital to their strategy, and how they see blockchain becoming a mainstream government technology.
We also talk about several other programs and successes, including how they identified the top companies that would have to adopt digital signatures and documents to provide critical mass. When the head of one of the large banks stated that his bank would not support this, they pointed out that potentially thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of customers who were successfully using the Diia app would have to give up the convenience or move to another bank. With half the adult population of Ukraine on board, the ability of one company to resist adoption was greatly reduced.
Ukraine also passed a law to make refusal to accept digital documents illegal. For any company that would still refuse or resist, social media was used to shame them, with videos of disgruntled customers going viral in Ukraine. The social media impact was enormous.
The support from the public was critical for the success of the implementation, but it was well earned. The team didn’t just design a portal and an app, they redesigned government services and simplified them to make them more convenient.
They didn’t just digitize the passport, they sought to “reinvent the concept of the passport.” Before development of the app was even started, they had substantial consultation and communication with all stakeholders. That communication did not end when the portal and app were created. There is a large video-based training component which offers support for anyone trying to learn to use any of the digital government services. It also provides for testing of trainees, and the training is so successful that prospective employers want the test results to prove that candidates are competent in terms of digital services.
To encourage usage, the Diia app also allowed for live streaming of television channels, including the big Eurovision contest that featured a Ukrainian music group.
To learn more about these programs and more listen to our conversation here.