Feb. 22, 2023
After a year of Russian bombings and terror, the Ukrainian people continue to mobilize in great displays of extraordinary strength, innovation, and grit. Similarly remarkable, though not as visible, is the advancement of Ukraine’s digital government initiatives. The urgency and ambition that sparked Ukraine’s implementation of digital public infrastructure (DPI) and the modern provision of public services may resonate well beyond the region and this moment in time.
Ukraine’s digital transformation is widely regarded as a model of resilience and adaptability in the public sector. Both complicated and expedited by war, this work is powered by large collaborative networks of technologists and civic innovators — in and out of the country — as well as extraordinary cross-sector partnerships.
Developing a Trusted Digital Civic Engagement System
The groundwork necessary to develop Ukraine’s DPI took off long before the Russian invasion, when President Zelensky overhauled the State Agency for Digital Administration in 2019. He tasked the renamed agency, the Ministry for Digital Transformation of Ukraine, with implementing his campaign promise of a “smartphone state.”
The solution, now known as Diia, which translates to “action” in English, is a mobile application and web portal. It is a one-stop-shop for government documents and public services. Diia’s core function is to allow Ukrainians to use digital documents, instead of physical ones, with their smartphones (or online) for identification and sharing purposes. Ukraine’s goal is to provide a user-centered experience while making 100% of public services available online.
Diia runs on Trembita, an interoperability framework launched in 2018 with backing from the EU, the e-Governance Academy, and others, and is based on the X-Road system from Estonia. Trembita powers frictionless data exchange between dozens of state authorities in Ukraine.
More than 18 million Ukrainians use Diia to access more than 80 public services, which are critical to keeping the government running during this time of war. The app has been key to ensuring connectivity between the government and its people, facilitating applications for permits or services, completing registrations (like birth certificates, vehicle registration, or creating an LLC), and enabling online tax payments.
In the months after the invasion, Diia quickly added more digital services designed to ensure Ukrainians had access to social benefits, information on Russia’s war, and education programs. Identity verification and certification through Diia safeguards Ukrainians in the country and those displaced by the war, facilitating digital passports and official taxpayer information. Other services include a process to report damage or destruction of personal property, certification of internally displaced persons, public benefits for those impacted by the invasion, and more than 15 other special war-time programs.
Scaling Solutions for the Public Good
Ukraine is not the only country working on strengthening their capacity to deliver e-government services. Other examples of government portals include the United Kingdom’s GOV.UK, South Korea’s e-government portal, and Australia’s myGov, among others.
For as much as Ukraine reimagined and revamped government technology, they wouldn’t have succeeded to the same degree without support and collaboration with other countries, technology companies, and civil society organizations. International cooperation and pooled funding continue to be essential.
In addition, the implementation of public digital innovation programs requires vision, bureaucratic change, a skilled workforce, political will, and ultimately, public trust. Once a country has those elements in place, scaling and replicating digital transformation tools becomes faster and easier.
For example, before the invasion, Ukraine’s Data Protection Law prohibited authorities from using cloud services for public data, forcing it to be stored on local servers, vulnerable digitally to hacking or physically to bombing. Recognizing this risk, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, leveraged political capital and opportunity based on the high probability of invasion to reform the law and allow government cloud services. He later partnered with Microsoft and Amazon, which enabled critical government data to be safely transferred to the cloud and supported by data centers outside of Ukraine in just 10 weeks. This ensured continuity for the government and the Diia platform.
Accelerating Digital Solutions to Improve Government Service Delivery
Just as the disruption of the pandemic accelerated the digitalization of government services for many countries, Ukraine’s digital strategy has indisputably advanced because of the invasion. It also accelerated the implementation of robust e-government solutions and digital public infrastructure. For Ukraine, this tough work, complicated by the crisis, will hopefully lead to a future with societal foundations and public services that will be easier to strengthen and rebuild when they are at peace.
These innovations in Ukraine’s DPI offer a platform that other countries might replicate and improve upon. It also offers an opportunity for collaboration and learning. Every democratic government should invest time and resources to explore a more resilient, rights-respecting digital future while delivering for their people, whether they are in crisis mode or not.
This trajectory represents a larger, emerging movement — and offers hope for a future where government services are considered essential and trustworthy, and can be safely accessed anywhere, anytime, by anyone who needs them.
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