Project

The legacy of efforts to bring government services closer to the citizen is having a far broader impact in Ukraine today

Full Team

Launch of the roll-out phase of U-LEAD - Europe’s Support to Improved Administrative Service Delivery. Photo taken from U-LEAD Visual Report

Who would have thought just over three years ago that a project focused on decentralisation and delivering administrative services to the Ukrainian people would today be contributing to building resilience and humanitarian efforts during war time.

October 18, 2022
  • SDG: #5, #8, #9, #10
  • SECTORS: Development Consulting
  • COUNTRIES: Ukraine
  • CLIENT: Sida
  • DURATION: 2019-2021

Although Russia has destroyed some of the administrative service centres (ASCs) set up under Ukraine’s Local Empowerment, Accountability, and Development (U-LEAD) programme, those that remain have become a place of refuge and support, and the services they offer are vital to helping displaced persons settle in new areas of the country.

“Before U-LEAD, many of these ASCs did not exist or were not working properly. Today people expect to receive almost every service they need at these centres. Now in wartime, I see they have become humanitarian hubs, not just a place to receive public services but also other types of support provided by the community. Originally our approach was that the ASC should become like a community centre. Fortunately or unfortunately this has become a reality due to the war – I know examples of people actually living in an ASC,” says Tetiana Lebukhorska, NIRAS Team Leader of the third phase of U-LEAD. “Our work to create the space but also a customer-service mentality as well as online services is helping us now. Even if an ASC is not open physically, people can receive digital services that enable them to get on with their daily lives.”

A “one-stop-shop” for government services

U-LEAD was a large EU-funded initiative with additional support from Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden. Under the umbrella programme, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) tasked NIRAS with providing support to the establishment of up to 600 administrative service centres (ASCs) across hromadas (or communities) and cities across Ukraine.

In practical terms, this meant that by the end of 2020 every second citizen of Ukraine was able to visit an ASC to register a business, get an ID or residency permit, renew their passport, or access any number of the other +100 services ASCs typically offer. Prior to the project, 800 ASCs existed but half were in adequate in terms of their service provision, accessibility and physical premises. Today these are equipped to meet the needs of people with disabilities as well as cater for families with children courtesy of kids’ corner and many offer mobile services to reach residents in remote areas.

NIRAS managed a team of more than 200 experts  – divided across four phases and targeting different hromadas – who worked with local authorities to provide ASCs with institutional support, extensive training, physical assistance, software and, in some cases, special assistance, such as a mobile ASC or an electronic queue management system. The team was also involved in raising awareness among local communities about the services they could expect to receive at their nearest ASC.

Challenges from the past build resilience today

Like Tetiana, Vyacheslav Zubenko was also a NIRAS Team Leader on U-LEAD but for two rounds. As a former government official and General Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Budgetary, Social and Economic Research (IBSER), he has implemented more than 20 projects in Ukraine for big donors. Today IBSER is member of the consortium for the implementation of USAID-funded project called HOVERLA and Vyacheslav leads the financial group that supports hromadas with the preparation and implementation of budgets in a transparent way. Like much of the donor projects in Ukraine, the focus has shifted since Russia’s invasion. Vyacheslav’s team is providing technical support to prepare and implementation budgets that support Ukraine’s war effort. The main goal of the project is to develop the potential of communities, improve the quality of services to the citizens, including through ASCs.

447

the number of ASCs NIRAS modernised or established across Ukraine

10000

documents were prepared to insure effective functioning of ASCs

10400

people received training

88000

pieces of furniture, IT equipment, electronic queue system and mobile ASCs purchased and installed

“Before U-LEAD, if citizens needed a service, they could spend from a few days to a week trying to get it. Now it takes a very short time and costs much less. In the training we conducted, we worked with staff not just on what kind of services were needed but how to provide the service. The training was often centred around change management and ensuring a mindset shift to deliver a more service-oriented approach,” Vyacheslav explains.

He says it was not easy to implement because corruption structures had to be broken – one of several cross-cutting aspects of U-LEAD along with gender equality, environmental sustainability, conflict sensitivity, and non-discrimination.

“When we opened the ASCs, a standard was set and employees had to apply it. This created a demand among people for similar services in other parts of country. In the war, people have been forced to leave their homes and relocate to other oblasts (regions). But thanks to the work of U-LEAD, they can expect to receive the same service no matter where they go,” says Vyacheslav, adding “so resettlement is easier.”

Tetiana agrees there were aspects of implementing U-LEAD that were challenging. First came the pandemic and, with it, lots of unknowns. It was difficult to plan and absolutely different approaches were needed.

“Our work required us to visit in person the communities we were supporting – to help establish the legal framework but also to deliver trainings ... with the COVID-19 restrictions, that was not possible,” Tetiana explains, adding, “I am really proud of how we adapted the programme and reshaped the training to be able to deliver online. We taught everyone to use new tools even in remote communities and overcame bad connections. We were lucky to have a very qualified team who drove this process.”

COVID-19 was not the only challenge Tetiana and her team faced. Another big one came in autumn 2020 when Ukrainian administrative reform led to a restructuring of communities. “The list we had at the beginning was not the one we ended with [villages were split or amalgamated with others]. As each ASC model is customised to the structure of the community – how many people live there, how far they are from the ASC, what services they need. All these factors affect the model. We had to adapt quickly, analyse and develop new models for those communities that were affected,” she says.

But there is a silver lining to those bumps in the road. Tetiana believes the experience she got are serving her well in her role as Senior Sector Lead on “Support to Ukraine’s Reforms for Governance” ‒ a Canadian project focussed on governance. Working remotely in Chernivtsi, Tetiana explains: “The priorities of our project have pivoted, and we are focussed on new issues Ukraine has faced due to the war, including food security. The theme is very different from U-LEAD but our approach is similar in terms of how to operate in a crisis situation with new ways of thinking and adapting.”

The work ahead

Both Tetiana and Vyacheslav are keen to work with NIRAS again and see opportunities to revisit the important work of U-LEAD.

“We are very optimistic we will win this war due to the support we receive from our partners,” says Vyacheslav. “But war or no war, economic development of local communities continues to be very important. The process of decentralisation [which began in earnest in 2014] is not complete, although our communities are receiving more power, there is still much to be done. Today there are 1469 hromadas, but only 70% have ASCs. The next step will be to deliver online services to improve coverage.”

But in the short-term, when the war ends and rebuilding starts, Vyacheslav and Tetiana agree it obviously must focus on infrastructure.

“A lot of ASCs have been destroyed unfortunately. These need to be rebuilt because they are, without question, the heart of the community. Together with hospitals and schools, ASCs should be a priority,” Tetiana states.

“I am a results-oriented person and this area of development where I work brings a lot of opportunity to bring real results and change to my country. That inspires me. We cannot predict anything today, everything depends on the outcome of the war. I just know that I am going to work for Ukraine and help my country succeed.” 

Anastasiia Yermoshenko

Anastasiia Yermoshenko

Project Manager

Stockholm, Sweden

+46 8 588 318 01