Digital Communities. How the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the transformation of public services – the case of the Kherson Oblast
Pavlo Kulyk, Deputy Head of the Kherson Regional State Administration on Digital Development, Digital Transformation and Digitalization
All public services are shifting online to make our lives easier and more comfortable. The communities who have made the jump to digital service provision have seen a wide variety of benefits from it. This switch is more than a trend towards digitalization. It is about the access to high-quality administrative, healthcare, educational, and other public services – socio-economic development, the quality of life of a population, and, ultimately, about trust in the authorities at both the local and national level.
At this time, some hiccups with the acceleration of digitalization have arisen in large part due to some territorial communities’ registries being incompatible with their software. Naturally these incompatibilities are not conducive to a quick transition and will require more work to enact. Moreover, only part of the digital registries are maintained by their territorial communities. Not all of them are connected with the state’s electronic information resources system. Despite these challenges, important attention must be given to the significant potential benefits of future data-driven resource management.
Various e-management tools aimed to improve the efficiency of management and service provision are already being used at the local level. This process is being supported by international organizations promoting the overarching development of Ukraine. In particular, in the Kherson Oblast, the second phase of the “Strengthening community resilience in the Kherson region” project is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine and financed by the UK Government via the British Embassy in Ukraine. It focuses on improving access to quality public services for a majority of the communities in the Oblast. Local initiatives that have already been supported are explicitly aimed at improving access to public services for all population groups, with a focus on vulnerable people. The project focuses on various administrative activities – from implementing a geographic information system to the transformation of libraries into educational centres where people can gain skills for the digital world.
Most popular services
Registration of a place of residence is one of the most popular administrative services among Ukrainians and, particularly among residents of the Kherson Oblast. For comparison, in 2016, in Kherson, this service was ordered 27,000 times, and during 2021 it has already scored 61,000 requests. This service was used more than a million times nationally during the same period.
Soon, it will be possible to change registration without leaving home in Kherson and other municipalities and local settlements. The Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on the implementation of public electronic services for registration and declaration of place of residence in Ukraine recently. According to this document, the service will be provided online. No papers, no visits to government institutions. It will take 10 minutes to enter the Diia portal and fill out the form to indicate a new address. Just a few more minutes for the homeowner to confirm the request and permission to register it. The data on the new place of residence will automatically appear in the registry and the homeowner will also be automatically removed from the previous place of registration.
Other popular services are related to migration and the issuance of national and international passports. In October 2021, almost 9, 000 biometric documents were issued in the Kherson Oblast. Of them, 4,000 were international passports for Ukrainian citizens, and more than 4, 800 national ID cards.
No less popular are subsidies and other social services. About 1,4 million people annually apply for subsidies in Ukraine.
The eMalyatko (eBaby) is also gaining popularity. As a matter of fact, I had had an opportunity to test this service out myself recently. In the maternity ward of the hospital where my daughter was born, my wife and I were offered to receive five state services via one app. That includes registration of the childbirth, determining the newborn’s Ukrainian citizenship, birth benefits, registration in the State Registry of Individual Taxpayers and assigning the child a taxpayer number, as well as entering information about the child in the Unified State Demographic Registry with the assignment of a unique record number.
Since the beginning of 2021, 4,254 babies in the Kherson Oblast have received their first documents this way.
Healthcare services during the pandemic
With the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the significance of telemedicine technologies has evolved significantly. These technologies have ensured that patients can grow closer to their doctors, and that the population has access to health services. For the elderly, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups, quick diagnostics and health care is available. Now, it means safe communication and safe access to services.
World practice has proven that telemedicine service is a very effective tool in preventing, diagnosing, and treating patients. Improving access to these services in the oblast will lead to rapid diagnoses without lengthy travel times to the health centres. It also offers sick leave e-certificates, and all healthcare institutions have already introduced this service in the Kherson Oblast. The first sick leave e-certificates were sent out on 1 October 2021. Since that time, almost 95,000 documents have been issued in the Kherson Oblast and more than 4,2 million documents across Ukraine.
Digital transformations require the involvement of international partners, their experts, consulting, and technical assistance. For instance, at the beginning of the year, one of the UNDP’s joint projects, our local urgent care services, received portable telemedicine diagnostic systems. As a result, residents in a range of communities, such as Zolota Balka, Novoaleksandrivka, Mikhaylivka, Semenivka, and others, will no longer need to conduct round trips for quick diagnoses. They can get medical services locally. Elderly people have the opportunity to monitor their health and receive personalized assistance at home, where the doctor comes with equipment—no contact with other patients in clinics, no unnecessary risks.
The pandemic also accelerated the roll-out of digital services and online appointments on the websites of government institutions so that people would not need to stand in lines, therefore reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading. Kherson residents and residents of the oblast can schedule a date and time convenient to them and set an appointment via the Kherson Regional State Administration website and the official websites of the city, communities, and settlement councils, where administrative service centres have been created. These tools can be applied, for instance, to receiving a subsidy or housing and communal services benefits or a child’s social assistance.
We also analysed the workload of the State Migration Service divisions that provide passport services and identified those divisions that should be “strengthened.” We will equip them with additional automated workstations for processing and issuing biometric documents. It will speed up the process of issuing passports.
In total, passport services are now provided by 11 Administrative Service Centers (ASCs), where workstations for issuing passports are installed. Soon, the residents of another seven communities will also be able to draw up documents at ASCs. We plan to purchase two stations with the help of the UNDP. A few units also have already been purchased respective of state budget subventions for local ASC development budgets. Thanks additionally to other international organizations and donor support, Kherson territorial communities will receive these stations by the end of this year.
As for inclusive and equal access for all, we have supplied some communities with mobile offices and “mobile cases” to better address the needs of vulnerable citizens who are unable to reach ASCs personally due to health conditions. Sets of modern portable equipment allow the ASC’s staff to do their work and provide administrative services for citizens at their own residences. For example, in Novotroitske. Special equipment was purchased for 28 regional ASCs, including at the Chongar and Kalanchak checkpoints that provide services for the residents of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
Unfortunately, there is still a significant gap in digital skills between older generations and youth, men and women, urban populations, and the population living outside of cities, who often do not have equal access to these digital services. Therefore, it is necessary to work on internet coverage, the introduction of e-services, and the development of user skills.
The first opportunity to study the level of digital skills of citizens was digital literacy tests for different groups of the population. They were launched on the online “Diia. Digital education” platform and systematized according to the areas of knowledge for civil servants, teachers, doctors, etc. In particular, testing involved computer literacy and media literacy checks and working with data, as well as creating digital content.
Upon successful complication of the courses and tests, a certificate is issued. People can use those certificates while looking for a job on online platforms, namely Robota.ua, Work.ua, and Jooble. It’s not only convenient, but of great value for those in the labour market to use this knowledge.
Simultaneously, the “Digital Kherson Region” initiative is being launched at the oblast level as part of the “Strengthening community resilience in the Kherson region” project implemented by the UNDP. It is an educational project that will help the local population master new technologies and learn how to use digital services. The training will take place based on regional libraries, in the regional centre for advanced training, and in close cooperation with civic servants.
Ukraine on the digital world map
At the state level, we have the strategic goal of reaching 100% of public services accessible online in three years, 95% of the population covered by high-speed internet, and 6 million Ukrainians involved in the digital skills enhancement programme. Not very much time is left, however, I believe Ukraine will be in a leading position in the EU and in the world by 2025. We are the first country in the world where e-passports have the same legal status as paper ones. Ten million Ukrainians are already using the Diia application for an ID card, an international passport, a taxpayer identification number, a car insurance policy, a driver’s license. Additionally, student cards, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) certificates, and a child’s birth certificate are available digitally too. As communities continue to become more actively involved in the process of implementing these services across Ukraine, the process will go even faster.
There is no doubt that the world of digital technologies which we are entering is a brand new economic, social and legal reality. Digitalization opens up new opportunities, and will have an extremely positive effect on the socio-economic development of communities and the development of our country as a whole.