Ukraine’s Diia platform sets the global gold standard for e-government

Several thousand people gathered at the Warner Theater in Washington DC on May 23 for a special event dedicated to Ukraine’s award-winning e-governance platform Diia. “Ukrainians are not only fighting. For four years behind the scenes, they have been creating the future of democracy,” USAID Administrator Samantha Power commented at the event.

According to Power, users of Diia can digitally access the kinds of state services that US citizens can only dream of, including crossing the border using a smartphone application as a legal ID, obtaining a building permit, and starting a new business. The platform also reduces the potential for corruption by removing redundant bureaucracy, and helps the Ukrainian government respond to crises such as the Covid pandemic and the Russian invasion.

Since February 2022, the Diia platform has played a particularly important part in Ukraine’s response to Russia’s full-scale invasion. According to Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, in the first days of the invasion the platform made it possible to provide evacuation documents along with the ability to report property damage. Other features have since been added. The e-enemy function allows any resident of Ukraine to report the location and movement of Russian troops. Radio and TV functions help to inform people who find themselves cut off from traditional media in areas where broadcasting infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed.

Today, the Diia ecosystem offers the world’s first digital passport and access to 14 other digital documents along with 25 public services. It is used by more than half the Ukrainian adult population. In addition to consumer-oriented functions, the system collects information for the national statistical office and serves as a digital platform for officials. Diia is widely seen as the world’s first next-generation e-government platform, and is credited with implementing what many see as a more human-centric government service model.

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In today’s increasingly digital environment, governments may find that they have a lot of siloed systems in place, with each system based on its own separate data, infrastructure, and even principles. As a result, people typically suffer from additional bureaucracy and need to deal repeatedly with different official organizations. Most e-government initiatives are characterized by the same problems worldwide, such as technical disparity of state systems, inappropriate data security and data protection systems, absence of unified interoperability, and inefficient interaction between different elements. Ukraine is pioneering efforts to identify more human-centric solutions to these common problems.

One of the main challenges on the path to building sustainable e-government is to combine user friendliness with a high level of cyber security. If we look at the corresponding indices such as the Online Services Index and Baseline Cyber Security Index, we see that only a handful of European countries have so far managed to achieve the right balance: Estonia, Denmark, France, Spain, and Lithuania. Beyond Europe, only Singapore and Malaysia currently meet the necessary standards.

Ukraine has a strong record in terms of security. Since the onset of the Russian invasion, the Diia system has repeatedly been attacked by Russian cyber forces and has been able to successfully resist these attacks. This is an indication that the Ukrainian platform has the necessary reserve of cyber security along with a robust and secure digital public infrastructure.

The success of the IT industry in Ukraine over the past decade has already changed international perceptions of the country. Instead of being primarily seen as an exporter of metals and agricultural products, Ukraine is now increasingly viewed as a trusted provider of tech solutions. The Ministry of Digital Transformation is now working to make Diia the global role model for human-centric GovTech. According to Samantha Power, the Ukrainian authorities are interested in sharing their experience with the international community so that others can build digital infrastructure for their citizens based on the same human-centric principles.

USAID has announced a special program to support countries that, inspired by Diia, will develop their own e-government systems on its basis. This initiative will be launched initially in Colombia, Kosovo, and Zambia. Ukraine’s Diia system could soon be serving as a model throughout the transitional world.

As they develop their own e-government systems based on Ukraine’s experience and innovations, participating governments should be able to significantly reduce corruption tied to bureaucratic obstacles. By deploying local versions of Diia, transitional countries will also develop a large number of their own high-level IT specialists with expertise in e-government. This is an important initiative that other global development agencies may also see value in supporting.

Anatoly Motkin is president of the StrategEast Center for a New Economy, a non-profit organization with offices in the United States, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.

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Image: Ukraine's Diia app is widely seen as the world's first next-generation e-government platform. (Photo by AFLO)