Immense task: rebuilding Ukraine will require not only funding, but also a credible and transparent process. Image: sandsun / Adobe Stock
In Ukraine, unprecedented reconstruction is required. The power of open data can ensure transparency in the process.
An enormous war brings enormous devastation. Ukraine has been repairing damaged critical infrastructure since the start of the war, made possible in part by international financial support. Despite this effort, the amounts required for post-war reconstruction are unprecedented: the World Bank evaluates the country’s total needs at $411 billion.
But that is only half the story. Ukraine’s recovery requires not only funds, but also credibility both inside and outside the country. A lack of public confidence in recovery projects is a risk to political stability; a lack of trust from international partners is a risk to funding availability.
Oversight of infrastructure recovery will be tough, as reconstruction projects have various funding modalities, managers and specifications. Collecting information from official sources, kept in complicated structures, is a daunting task. New digital solutions are required not only to ensure recovery is transparent, but also to enable true accountability.
Open Data as a Transparency Tool
Digital data enables machine data analysis, the creation of digital solutions, automated tracking, and other essential processes. An open data policy ensures the accessibility of such data by envisaging the proactive publishing of machine-readable data by governments.
In practice, this means that datasets (such as company registry data) are published on a web portal and can be downloaded in their entirety by anyone. There is no need to submit any application forms, explain the reasons for requesting data, wait for approvals, pay for the information or analyse each entry individually. One just needs to go to the website and download a complete dataset or use a convenient service based on the data.
The availability of digital datasets makes it possible to conduct automated data analyses, identify patterns and relationships, and build easy-to-use services for various users. It is useful for civil society, anti-corruption activists and journalists, as well as for ordinary users and citizens. This is the power of open data.
Prior to the war, Ukraine was one of the leading European countries in open data policy implementation
Furthermore, machine-readable data is easier for those who do not speak the language of the data (in this case Ukrainian) to use. After all, digital content can be translated using digital tools.
Pre-War Ukraine Was a Leader in Open Data
Before the war, Ukraine was one of the leading European countries in open data policy implementation, having developed laws including the principle of ‘open by design and by default’ even before the EU Open Data Directive was adopted.
For instance, virtually all data on public procurements was publicly available thanks to the ProZorro system. Public finance data was available through the public finance open data platform e-Data. The trade register, financial reporting and hundreds of other essential datasets were also already available in a machine-readable format.
Prior progress in handling open data enables the operation of numerous identity verification platforms, public procurement analysis platforms, court decision search engines, and environmental monitoring services in Ukraine. Statistics from 2021 show that before the war, some 5–7 million users used these services yearly. Thus, Ukrainian e-governance digital platforms that included open data gained international recognition as some of the best digital solutions worldwide.
In the construction sector, which will naturally be a major area of focus during Ukraine’s reconstruction, open data from the State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate of Ukraine has already shown a systematic beneficial effect.
However, martial law has led the government to restrict access to data, and Ukraine has thus regressed in its position as an open data champion. At first, access to the Open Data Portal was completely locked. Then, limited access to certain datasets was restored, and the process of fully restoring data access is now in progress.
Ukrainian civil society organisations have already sent a number of collective letters demanding that key datasets are made public as open data once again. The RISE Ukraine Coalition has released a list of priority datasets to be made public for the purpose of achieving a transparent recovery.
Finding a balance between openness and security is a difficult challenge in times of war, one that is likely to persist even in the post-war period
It is important to recognise – despite the war – that information transparency is essential for corruption prevention, government efficiency, and building confidence in budget allocation. Russia can of course use some information to increase the efficiency of its hostilities against Ukraine, such as information on individuals (especially in the occupied territories) as well as on infrastructure facilities and enterprises. Finding a balance between openness and security is a difficult challenge in times of war, a challenge that is likely to persist even in the post-war period. This is an issue that will require careful analysis, but access to data should not be restricted unnecessarily.
Open Data on Recovery
Despite all the ongoing challenges, Ukrainian public agencies are working on digital systems for recovery management. Central to this are the Register of Damaged and Destroyed Property (RDDP) and the Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management (DREAM).
The RDDP contains information on property that has been damaged or destroyed due to hostilities. Information is collected directly from affected individuals, including through Diia, a mobile app that enables access to public services and which has taken on a critical role in the lives of Ukrainians since Russia’s full-scale invasion. The government resolution that governs the RDDP specifies that the information must be published as open data.
DREAM is a system for public reconstruction management. It is currently accessible in its baseline version – updates and data collection are in progress. The system will help analyse the basic social and economic performance of a region or settlement, create reconstruction projects to address existing issues, find funding and manage the whole cycle of project implementation. ‘The new IT system will allow tracking the entire cycle of an infrastructure project from design, public procurement, construction, reconstruction, and repair to commissioning of finished facilities’, promises Deputy Prime Minister for Restoration of Ukraine Oleksandr Kubrakov.
To build trust, public authorities are working on DREAM together with civil society organisations, including the RISE Ukraine Coalition. As announced, DREAM is being designed based on the principle of ‘open by design and by default’, with the system’s digital and legal architecture enabling the publication of open data to ensure that both Ukrainian society and international partners will have free access to digital data on reconstruction projects.
Ukraine’s recovery will be an immense task. Ensuring that the process is transparent is a prerequisite for accountability and public and international confidence. To achieve this, it is necessary to employ solutions and approaches that have shown their efficiency in Ukraine – and in which Ukraine has shown global leadership. Innovative digital approaches to transparency have a track record of success in Ukraine; open data should thus become the foundation of digital transparency during the recovery process, while recognising that the public availability of certain information may pose additional security risks. Finding the right balance will be one challenge among many for Ukraine, but one that it must overcome to unlock the power of open data and bring transparency to the reconstruction process.
The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.
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Head of ICT Sector, Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO) think tank, Kyiv