02 August 2023

DT: You work as an expert for the Center for Innovations Development. Can you tell us about your current project? 

Anna Iemelianova: Our current project is developing the e-democracy module for a system called DREAM (Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management), which will display the status of Ukraine’s reconstruction projects. With so many rebuilding projects going on, our developers will build it to showcase each step of the reconstruction process, from accounting for the losses to the general supervision of the process. DREAM will be open to everyone – donors, and citizens – to stay informed on the reconstruction.

We are working on constructing e-democracy modules that ensure people will participate in these rebuilding projects. People will want to take part in discussions, comment on the projects, and check the contracting system. Depending on how they want to be involved, the system should enable them to do so. Not many people are contractors or constructors, so it is normally not easy to find out what is happening in the building stage. 

And our goal is to provide a mechanism that is interesting and easy to use for all those who want to join the process.

DT: So, it’s both about transparency and about participation?

Anna Iemelianova: Basically, yes. But it is impossible to ensure participation without transparency, so that is the first stage, I would say.

DT: How was this project set up? Did the government contract you to set up the project?

Anna Iemelianova: We were contracted by a donor at the request of the government.

DT: What are the biggest challenges in implementing the project? What stage are you currently at? 

Anna Iemelianova: We have recently completed a research period in which we gathered suggestions from citizens, NGOs and local authorities on how to set up the platform, which tools they would like to use, and in which stage of reconstruction they wish to be involved. We are now analysing the results of the research to understand how to design our process, and in the coming weeks, we will collect and present these results. 

This public presentation of all the projects and results will be the basis for our IT departments and specialists to do the technical work. So, we are currently in a complex phase of evidence-based decision-making.  

DT: Does this mean that your IT Department will develop the participation software? Or will you build on already existing tools?

Anna Iemelianova: We are newly developing the e-democracy module for the DREAM system specifically for the construction and rebuilding of Ukraine, so the research was really important to understand how we need to construct the development process.

DT:  What findings can you share with us about how people want to participate? 

Anna Iemelianova: Preliminary results show that our target audience really values transparency and access to information about each stage of the reconstruction efforts.

They also would like the opportunity to participate, to submit any request or application according to a concern they are having. In the reconstruction efforts, that can be questions about construction workers, about discussing the nature of a specific project. It is also vital to our target group to participate in the evaluation of the project, to be able to give feedback about the general process and to be involved in defining future projects.

DT: The reconstruction effort involves a lot of stakeholders. Who are the biggest players, and how do you imagine them working together on this? Is it mostly the national or local governments?

Anna Iemelianova: The national government is the main stakeholder of this system, and those working on the system are its owners. But the projects come from the local authorities. They will have to discuss issues, questions, and projects with citizens and submit the final project after it has been evaluated by citizens.

Some projects will not be easy to implement because the war causes issues like heavily damaged infrastructure that will make the reconstruction efforts harder.

DT: How do you see the interest in participation in this time of war? Do you think it has changed?

Anna Iemelianova: I would say that due to the war, people have become more united, and they have started to take more risks and more responsibility for the things that are going on. So many people want to help. They become volunteers and organise crowdfunding campaigns to support the military, and the IDPs.

It is also part of taking responsibility for future victory. Citizens understood that if they do not participate, we could lose. They understood they are essential and need to join in some way. And this is helping us right now.

DT: Would you say they see this kind of participation as part of the war effort? 

Anna Iemelianova: The war has certainly opened up possibilities for citizens to participate compared to the period before the war. There is volunteer work, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding. If we are talking about being involved in the rebuilding process, I would say that there is a ripple effect. You start being more active and proactive, taking responsibility for some parts of the process, and then people start to understand that they’re valuable and their work makes a difference. And of course, people know that the rebuilding process is also for them. It is their cities, houses, yards, their safety and comfort that are being rebuilt.

DT: How do you see this as part of the general democratic development of the country?

Anna Iemelianova: We have definitely become more united than ever. Maybe it was similar 100 years ago, but with this joint enemy, it is easy to unite. 

DT: How do you see the overall willingness to digitalise in Ukraine?

Anna Iemelianova: Digitalisation became part of Ukrainian life several years ago. In 2019, Ukraine launched Diia, which is a digital appliance we use for many government procedures.

Diia uses our banking system to verify citizens’ identity and their residency in the city, which gives us many opportunities to digitally sign documents, even tax declarations. Probably its best function is that it has allowed citizens to participate through voting in things like participatory budgets.

And for now, the construction sector also goes through Diia. People who need to apply for financial aid from the state can do so on Diia, they can change their residency and generate certificates.

We are all grateful that we digitalised a lot of government procedures before the war. Now, if a territory is under wiretap and you’ve escaped from there, you can’t use the government services there in person, and you might continue moving around. In that situation, digitalised government services are very useful. So, many digital companies are always trying to create new services.

DT: Does that help with digital participation? Because people are already used to using the service for other daily tasks, do they know how to authenticate themselves through the system, etc.?

Anna Iemelianova: Yes, for sure.

DT: What do you think is the most critical thing other countries could learn from Ukraine, especially in digital participation?

Anna Iemelianova: To not be afraid. Digitalisation is the first step. Of course, we always tend to think: “The way things are has worked well for the last 20 years, why should we change anything?” But digitalisation helps so much with the participation and involvement of citizens. This benefit is hard to understand before you do it.

DT: Are there any big sceptics about digitalising these processes in Ukraine? Is there any opposition to this?

Anna Iemelianova: I haven’t heard of anyone because it’s easy and comfortable for everybody. There is the issue of data protection of course, which we had many challenging discussions about. But that is a matter of security that we have taken many additional measures for.  

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