Rebuilding Ukraine: digitally driven reconstruction and the challenges of coordination
There are a growing number of digital platforms circling in the Cloud above Ukraine gearing up to support reconstruction: many have overlapping aims and varying degrees of ambition, official status, and public accessibility/oversight.
Such platforms were peripheral in previous major, expeditionary or internationally financed reconstruction programmes. They are now key actors with distinct characteristics and capabilities.
Ultimately, these platforms are about the flows of money, life-saving supplies and kit into Ukraine, but they can be designed and configured to serve many other purposes:
- channelling citizen activism and patriotism into reconstruction and reform;
- meeting public and donor accountability requirements;
- supporting reforms required for EU accession and track conditions of grants/loans linked to sectors such as public financial management etc at oblast and sub-oblast (Raion) levels of government;
- facilitating involvement of civil society and the private sector in reconstruction.
But stitching these platforms together into a workable whole will require considerable digital diplomacy. Particularly careful consideration must be given on how to bolt these reconstruction platforms into Ukraine’s governmental systems to meet urgent needs, satisfy accountability requirements and advance longer term reform aims.
New month…new platforms
Last month the Group of Seven[i] at last formally announced they would set up a Multi-Agency Digital Platform to coordinate aid to Ukraine and to support its repair, recovery, and reconstruction. A secretariat will be built to support the platform and the indications are that it will mirror the systems in place in Wiesbaden, Germany (and under U.S. European Command) to coordinate the provision of military aid.
In parallel a so called ‘Paris Mechanism[ii]’ was launched by President Macron in December as an online digital platform allowing Ukraine to communicate its urgent needs – heat pumps, generators etc – and for donor countries to respond from prepositioned warehouses in Poland and other neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile in Kyiv the Ministry of Infrastructure is working with the RISE coalition[iii] of Ukrainian and International CSO’s to develop an apex Electronic Reconstruction Management System for all aspects of reconstruction built on open data and the ‘everyone can see everything’ principle that has fired the success of existing e-government systems such as ProZorro[iv] in Ukraine.
There are all sorts of new forces shaping the emergence of these platforms and their characteristics and objectives.
New forces driving digitisation of aid and reconstruction
The digital and cyber ecosystem within which Ukraine’s reconstruction will be managed is being shaped by a whole range of new forces. These dynamics are changing the semantics of – and modalities for – reconstruction in Ukraine – as programmes and policies begin to be described and manifest as digital platforms.
The most fundamental driver of this new ecosystem is the improved capability and utility of bespoke and licensed cloud-based platforms to plan, programme, and account for the flows of funds, goods and services in real time.
Advances in MEL and reporting tools and techniques including the development of dynamic dashboarding and data visualisation means that decision-making and operational management can increasingly be data driven with platforms and the tools that underpin them being used to actively drive delivery.
Tech muscles in
Another factor in the rise of digital platforms is the growing realisation that technology companies – and the services they support – could be as instrumental players in reconstruction as they have been in war.
The past year has shown that major tech companies can’t avoid being active participants in consequential decisions about geopolitics, conflict, and war. For example, the significant impact of Palantir’s technology on the battlefield was revealed in late 2022. With detail provided on how their platforms aggregate intelligence from satellites and social media, visualise an army’s positions, flag an enemy vessel on the move or render byzantine data files easier to query.
If war can be waged in real time using Palantir’s platforms, then such platforms should be put to work managing and delivering reconstruction in real time.
The appetite for tech solutions is also driven in part by the associated PR punch of active participation in digital interventions in support of the Ukraine: witness the extraordinary exchanges between Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, and Elon Musk, in early 2022 and the subsequent ‘switching on’ of the Starlink Platform for Ukraine in a matter of hours.
Then there are the tales of Amazon’s[v] derring-do, spiriting critical data and government systems out of the country in photogenic suitcase-sized solid state drive drives (called Snowball Edge Units), and the UKRAINE24’s ‘Army of Drones’ fundraising campaign fronted by Mark Hamill of Luke Skywalker fame.
G7 Multi Agency Platform
The G7 group of wealthy nations on 12 December 2022 said they would set up a multi-agency platform to coordinate aid to Ukraine and support its repair, recovery and reconstruction, with senior representatives to convene as soon as possible in January.
G7 leaders said they would work with Ukraine, international partners and international financial organisations to establish the new Donor Coordination Platform. “Through this platform, we will coordinate existing mechanisms to provide ongoing short- and long-term support …, coordinate further international funding and expertise, and encourage Ukraine’s reform agenda as well as private sector led growth.“
Electronic Reconstruction Management Programme[vi] (RISE)
RISE, a coalition of Ukrainian and international CSOs, including the Basel Institute on Governance and Transparency International, has been working with the Ministry of Infrastructure on an electronic system for managing reconstruction that looks to draw on existing and working solutions (such as ProZorro, Spending.gov.ua, Register of Damaged or Destroyed Real Estate, etc). The concept is to integrate them into a single, user-friendly interface to create an understandable and clear representation of the lifecycle of a reconstruction project. In using this system, the Ministry aims to provide a level of transparency to international partners and donors, to civil society, and to Ukrainian citizens so that of all the steps and stages of each reconstruction project can be seen.
Ministry of the Economy & Blackrock
In late November 2022 BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory and the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine signed a Memorandum of Understanding whereby BlackRock FMA will provide advisory support for designing an investment framework and supporting platform, with a goal of creating opportunities for both public and private investors to participate in the future reconstruction and recovery of the Ukrainian economy.[vii]
As part of the agreement, in Washington BlackRock will advise the MoE on establishing a roadmap for the investment framework’s implementation, including identifying design choices for the envisioned platform, its structure, mandate and governance.
The MoU formalises the discussions the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, on the possibilities of driving public and private investments into Ukraine.
Diia is a mobile app and web portal. Launched in 2020, the Diia app allows Ukrainian citizens to use digital documents in their smartphones instead of physical ones for identification and sharing purposes.
Russia’s full-scale invasion actually contributed to the expansion of the Diia platform as a one-stop shop for public services. Conceived as a digital wallet to carry government-issued e-documents, the Diia platform has also been used by the authorities in recent months for online fundraising and for registration of internally displaced persons. It also been used to detect military engagement. As soon as the Russians invaded, Ukrainians used their mobile phone and the Diia app to report sightings 0f Russian forces. Ukraine quickly added additional capabilities to Diia that enables users to just point (at Russian activity) and click to automatically report the sighting to Ukrainian intelligence, along with an image and the location of the user and time when the report was made.
ProZorro is a fully online public procurement platform and a collaboration environment that ensures open access to public procurement (tenders) in Ukraine. Fully implemented in 2016 as a hybrid (both centralised public and decentralised private marketplace) system it has since been globally recognised as one of the most innovative public procurement systems delivering government services in a stakeholder-focused, transparent, effective, fair and low-cost way.
The DOZORRO portal and network of citizen activists[viii] who scrutinise procurement through the ProZorro System is an essential part of the success of the ProZorro initiative.
UNITED24[ix] was launched by President Zelenskyy as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine. Funds are transferred to the official accounts of the National Bank of Ukraine and allocated by assigned ministries to cover the most pressing needs. UNITED24 is the platform used to raise funds for ‘the army of drones’ by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill.
Ministry of Social Policy – eDopomoga Platform [x]
The eDopomoga platform is designed to help citizens who have suffered from Russian aggression. This platform has been established by the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine with the support of the Ministry of Digital Transformation and the United Nations Development Program and with support from the Government of Sweden and the backing of the Red Cross and other international organisations.
The platform has been established to help citizens access emergency cash from the state, leave a request for help or offer to support others in providing food, clothing, medicine and more. It also seeks to raise funds from international donors and match them to the needs of citizens.
In past reconstruction programmes power and the ability to make progress was previously determined by which Ministry held the most well connected and resourced international financial institution, donor, advisory teams and cash.
In Ukraine, power and authority in reconstruction will increasingly be determined by tech: by the status, scope and reach of digital platforms and not simply on cash and advisory heft.
But the question of how the Ukrainian Government and International community can manage the ever-growing appetite for technological solutions and the proliferation of digital platforms will be determined by their success in building regulatory, legislative and policy mechanisms to keep pace with their evolution.
Architecture: regulatory, legislative and policy mechanisms
That is a huge task even for countries at peace: but the challenge for Ukraine is of a different order.
A whole new architecture that can accommodate the digitisation of reconstruction is taking shape on the hoof to try and meet the extraordinary and immediate requirement to raise, deliver, direct, deploy and account for unprecedented levels of support to a major European nation locked in full-blown war with an invader whose territory stretches over 11 time zones.
A key step is to ensure that the platforms that are being developed are designed to do more than deliver money and kit but that they draw on international best practice to:
- channel citizen activism and patriotism into reconstruction and reform;
- meet public and donor accountability requirements;
- support reforms required for EU accession and track conditions of grants/loans linked to sectors;
- facilitate involvement of civil society and the private sector in reconstruction.
It is vital that the government and the international community recognise the scale of this challenge, the amount of work that is required to develop these mechanisms and that the work on the institutional architecture for reconstruction is prioritised now, rather than kicked into the long grass until the prospect of a peace settlement emerges.
Stepping back from the day-to-day detail it is also very clear that the digitisation of Ukraine’s reconstruction points to the urgent need for Western Chanceries to rapidly expand cadres of digital diplomats who understand and can operate in dynamic and complex digital ecosystems. Official expertise will need to be bolstered with technical expertise and advice from the private sector and it is to be hoped that bilateral donors and IFI’s are refreshing their rosters of Ukrainian and International cyber and digital experts, and utilising framework contracts and other rapid procurement processes to scramble expertise to work on the design of the architecture for reconstruction.
For the Government of Ukraine and donors there are also important questions about what happens to all the data that flows through these platforms: how should it be collected, secured and utilised now and in the future, who owns it, and where will it ultimately be stored?
In closing, it is important to note that for all the discussion and conceptualising on digital platforms that the real platform on which the war in being fought is the land of Ukraine. There’s nothing virtual to this conflict and the real actors are not digital but the men, women and children caught up in Russia’s invasion. Slava Ukraini!
MetricsLed in Ukraine 2023
In Ukraine our ML PROJECT licensed platform is live and being used to support major UK funded emergency grant programmes being delivered by Crown Agents and Chemonics respectively.
Our bespoke OPERATE platform underpins the UK Government’s Humanitarian and Stabilisation Operations Team (HSOT) across Ukraine. OPERATE is being used to manage all elements of the UK’s emergency and humanitarian response from warehousing of supplies, supply chain due diligence, through to last mile delivery. Civilian advisers to Ukraine are deployed by HMG through our DEPLOY platform. These bespoke platforms and software form part of the Palladium led consortium that supports HSOT.
[i] WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) – Group of Seven rich nations on Monday said they would set up a multi-agency platform to coordinate aid to Ukraine and support its repair, recovery and reconstruction.