Public Sector Future Podcast | Episode 46: Ukraine’s digital identity approach

Episode 46 guest speaker Gulsanna Mamediieva

Becoming a Digital Government: Lessons from Ukraine

with Gulsanna Mamediieva

Host Olivia Neal speaks to Gulsanna Mamediieva, of the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. She shares how the government has embraced digital transformation and digital identity, and how this has supported citizens during the war.

Episode 46: Ukraine’s digital identity approach

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

On this episode, host Olivia Neal speaks to Gulsanna Mamediieva, of the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. She shares how the government has embraced digital transformation and digital identity, and how this has supported citizens during the war.

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How Ukraine has embraced digital government

On this episode, host Olivia Neal speaks to Gulsanna Mamediieva, of the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. She shares how the government has embraced digital transformation and digital identity, and how this has supported citizens during the war.

Acceleration of digital government

When President Zelenskyy became President in 2019, accelerating digital government was a priority for him: “He wanted to be able to fit the state into a smartphone.”

Mamediieva recognizes that the work didn’t start from scratch in 2019, “in Ukraine at that time, the functioning agency, e-government, they were actually doing work. And they did a lot of great stuff on public e-services.”

“But what President’s Zelenskyy did, he really boosted on the highest political level, the digital agenda, created the Minister of Digital Transformation. We were granted a lot of necessary capability and capacity and powers to perform really meaningful reforms.” 

“And the Minister of Digital Transformation was granted status with the Prime Minister, it’s basically like Deputy Prime Minister, which means in practice that he has in every ministry, the Deputy Minister on Digital Transformation.

For example, Minister of Education has the Deputy Minister on Digital Transformation, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Infrastructure, and so on.”

Core to the approach on digital transformation was the creation of ‘Diia’.

Mamediieva explained that Diia is “our flagship product, mobile application and web portal. It’s a brand of digital government and it means from Ukrainian action…  it’s kind of reconsideration of how citizens and governments should interact.”

Mamediieva shared that the political support played a key role in implementing new digital approaches and moving past reluctance to change “I think it’s inevitably and absolutely necessary to have a political support for doing what we’re doing on the ground.”

Building trust with citizens

Mamediieva explained that they had to build trust to make citizens and businesses comfortable with new approaches. Clear communication was key.

“This is our bible, I would say, to communicate really simple, in a humane way that everyone would understand what we are doing, and what is important for us. And one measurement of our work, is the level of trust with citizens, because if you create something but people don’t try this or are afraid to use, then it’s absolutely not necessary.”

Mamediieva added, “And speaking about trust, what is important is we usually have like different practices, how to involve citizens and how to make them feel actually like they participate in creation of services. For example, when we prepare working on introducing new public services, we have several design types, and we just show and make a pool and the citizen is able to vote what they like more. And then this engagement and participation helps us to build trust.”

The testing process for new services also aims to build transparency and trust between citizens and government. Mamediieva continued “every time when we’re piloting or testing new services, we make an open call, and everyone can actually come and help and test and communicate with the developers’ team directly. This is also very important, to show the hard feedback, but also people and citizens see that who is working on this… The minister and the government have human faces, which work to make their lives better.”

Finding good foundations to build upon

In 2019 the Ministry grew, and new staff, like Mamediieva, joined from outside government. With new people and structure in place, the digital team focused on “creating a brand, a recognizable brand of digital state. Diia was created.”

“Diia means action. It’s also state and me. And it’s a name of mobile application, flagship product, and also of our portal, which is mainly about public services, online services.”

Diia provided the basis for the introduction of an ecosystem of other projects, Mamediieva outlined “Diia education, it’s actually a platform for teaching Ukrainians digital literacy and digital skills; Diia business, that help SMEs to become more effective and competitive in digital era. We have the Diia City. It’s a legal and tax regime for IT companies, which creates a proper condition to establish and run IT business in Ukraine.”

Mamediieva continued, “And coming back to what was foundation, we started from a digital driver license. And also with registration of business. Now, in Ukraine, for example, this is actually the fastest registration of business in the world. One of the first services was e-baby. It’s a registration of baby, yes, but actually a combination of nine services in one.”

The digital identity approach

Ukraine’s digital identity approach allows citizens to be able to authenticate who they are, digitally, when applying for government benefits or accessing services, as well as with other sectors such as opening a bank account or for travel.

To implement a digital identity and give it equal weight to a paper identity, Mamediieva explains “we really needed to actually change a lot of policy and regulations”, but rather than tackling these individually “we chose another way.”

“We went through the parliament and adopted the law, which actually introduced a digital ID [with] equal rights to the plastic or paper one, and it’s illegal not to accept a digital ID.”

But how does it work? Mamediieva says it’s actually quite simple.

“You just show a QR code, and the other person who has the Diia, scan QR code and receive a copy of your digital ID. And then that person can request to receive digital copy of your digital ID and you from your phone just accept and like confirm that you agree. And in this way, you share your digital copy of digital ID and it’s also like verified digital ID.”

“This is really convenient, and the purpose is to simplify life for citizens and business, and how they interact between each other and with the government. So, this is really like how to optimize and make processes simpler for businesses as well, and for the person.”

Making government services available online

Ukraine’s goal has been to offer 100 government services online.

“This sounds really ambitious, 100 public services online, but generally going from the most priority public services, they all might be online. And it’s not just digitalize the process that’s already there. It’s also reengineering, reconsideration, eliminating human when it’s possible to make it automatic, and reduce the actual levels and the scope of information that we take from citizen as possible, like where we can retrieve information ourselves from registries, yes, we do, which we have access. It’s also possible, so it’s kind of pre-filled application and person just check if it’s correct, and press the button, submit.”

Mamediieva continued, “So speaking about what is possible, the war actually gives us – it’s a horrible thing itself, but, you know, it gives us an opportunity to move even faster, because it’s easier to find a consensus inside the government and introduce really revolutionary things. So, this goal is possible to reach, we estimate, by the end of 2024 to have all the services, priority one, priority services online.”

When the war started, the government needed to provide financial assistance to people who were internally displaced, who lost their jobs from the areas where the combat actions are happening. In order to deliver quickly, they were able to re-purpose a service for benefits payments created during the pandemic.

“We transformed what had been done before, the basis was already there. So it took several days, weeks to deploy this new service, and we receive 1 million application the first day of the service deploying, on the payment of financial assistance for those who are in need because of the war.”

“Also it’s possible to submit an application for compensation for damage property. We have a registry for damaged property.”

“They also have TV and radio with access to new smartphones, so that the Ukrainians can get accurate information, because what first things Russians do when they invaded Ukraine, they really targeted digital infrastructure, TV towers, internet cables destroyed, and it’s really important for us to now have the connection with our people.”

“E-document for identification for those who left home without any document. And pension certificate, this is currently on beta testing. So, this is, as you see, much more. What we do, we react really quickly and flexibly on what is going on and what is our citizens’ need?”

New technologies and new approaches

Mamediieva sees artificial intelligence as an important technology to support their future digital transformation.

“We announced the Digital Future Initiative by the President of Ukraine, and initially the core, the idea of this is Ukraine is open for any bold ideas, and invites tech company startups to pilot their solutions in Ukraine. We actually offer as the sandbox to try the solution. So what is going in Ukraine now in terms of digital is we’re trying really pretty much everything that we can do, and that can help us win the war.”

“We have a great network of our friends, I would say, of the digital ministries across Europe and UK. We are, I would say what is important in this sphere is always you have what to share and you have what to learn. For example, it’s a great, like showcase what was done with Estonia. They shared the x-road solution with Ukraine. They teach us and helped us to move in this interoperability sector. And now we are sharing the code of Diia application with Estonia and help them to build their mobile government applications. So it’s actually, you know, the student become a teacher and vice versa.”

“And of course, Ukraine now, I would say, on creating top-notch products, we’re eager and want to share this because what is happening in Ukraine, it’s, you know, we’re responding. We’re forming how to respond to the crisis, and there’s so many lessons to learn.  We learn much and we always kind of try to follow up what is going on the new developments. But now we are creating really great things, and we definitely want to share them and to bring them to make our input.”

Mamediieva concluded, “Because Ukraine, it’s not only a country in the war; it’s also kind of European digital tiger, and our expertise and reforms that we are doing really can make changes not only in Ukraine.”

To find out more:

Learn more about how Microsoft can support digital transformation in Government

Learn how Microsoft is providing technology support for Ukraine

About the Center of Expertise

Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise brings together thought leadership and research relating to digital transformation in the public sector. The Center of Expertise highlights the efforts and success stories of public servants around the globe, while fostering a community of decision makers with a variety of resources from podcasts and webinars to white papers and new research. Join us as we discover and share the learnings and achievements of public sector communities.

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