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Ukraine's Recovery: How to Change Critically Low Citizen Engagement Indicators?

Mykhailo Leichenko
IT Director of the Center for Innovation Development, Project Manager of «Transparent and Democratic Reconstruction»

Leaders of countries, international organizations, businesses, and the civil sector gathered in Berlin to discuss how to rebuild Ukraine. This took place during the Ukraine Recovery Conference — URC 2023.

However, there are important emphases that should be made when it comes to reconstruction at international events. It should take place for the citizens of Ukraine and take into account their vision of how to develop their communities. This is something that is very often forgotten.

When deciding how to spend funds, the opinion of each community resident is important. In fact, in the third year of the war, we have not yet managed to involve citizens in this process. And taxpayers' money from other countries is already being spent on reconstruction. This raises the question of the appropriateness of such expenditures.

Ukraine is forming the brand of a «state in a smartphone». And we do have serious successes in digitalization. But at the same time, not even every third citizen is involved in the reconstruction processes. There are even such settlements where only one in ten is involved. Such data was revealed during a study by the Center for Innovation Development, provided by representatives of local authorities. This means that the situation may be even worse.

The study covered all regions of Ukraine (without the temporarily occupied Crimea). We surveyed representatives of the executive committees of over 200 communities with a total population of almost 7.5 million and nearly 1 million IDPs and verified their responses (methodology). The participation rate in recovery is less than 20%, and the overall participation rate is no more than 33%.

For example, Irpin is a leader both in the number of recovery projects (over 200 projects) and in citizen engagement (almost 60%). This proves once again that it is engagement that influences the intensity of recovery processes.

  • Resources and funds for recovery may be used inefficiently and will not bring maximum benefit for the recovery and development of communities.
  • Citizens' trust in local authorities and institutions in general is falling because they are not involved in these processes.
  • The risks of corruption and abuse in the allocation of recovery funds are increasing because the community is not interested in controlling what it did not need to recover.
  • The development of communities, both economic and social, is hindered.

These threats become especially acute in the context of large-scale investments in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and the implementation of the principles of «better than it was». The total number of recovery projects now exceeds 5,000 with a total budget of over UAH 300 billion, which is almost five budgets of the city of Kyiv! This is data from the DREAM analytical system. But here, those objects are counted, the restoration of which most community residents are not even aware of, and therefore the question of appropriateness arises. Without proper public involvement, a significant portion of these resources may be spent inefficiently.

It is not enough to simply allocate funds. Ukraine needs to set an ambitious goal — to reach an engagement level of at least 60% over the next 2-3 years. For example, the TOP 3 countries in the population Happiness Index are in the TOP 20 countries for population engagement according to the UN index. In 2022, Ukraine set a goal to get into the TOP 20 of this ranking.

To this end, the Center for Innovation Development has started developing the eIDEA (electronic Inclusive Democracy through Engagement and Action) platform, which will become part of the DREAM ecosystem. This tool aims to introduce effective mechanisms for citizen participation in community recovery and development processes. It will allow citizens to easily submit project ideas, set priorities through voting and surveys, and participate in public discussions. The introduction of the platform will provide an opportunity to prevent threats arising from low citizen involvement, such as corruption, inefficient use of funds, trust in the recovery process, and improving the economic and social situation.

Ukraine, which positions itself as a «country in a smartphone», now has a unique chance not only to rebuild infrastructure but to create a truly democratic, inclusive, and effective model of local development. The involvement of citizens in the reconstruction processes will affect the greater activity of citizens in elections and their demands on candidates who should be engaged in quality management of communities, regions, and the country as a whole.

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