Quality administrative services are one of the criteria for successful and effective work of local authorities – Anastasia Yermoshenko, Project Manager of NIRAS Sweden AB

<= Anastasia Yermoshenko, Project Manager of NIRAS Sweden AB within the U-LEAD with Europe Programme


Ms. Anastasia's past and present work experience includes programme development and management, planning and budgeting, risk analysis, monitoring and performance evaluation. Anastasia holds a PhD in Economics and specialises in public finance management and gender budgeting. She has over 15 years of expertise in international cooperation and development. Now Anastasia is one of the leaders of the largest-scale international assistance project on administrative service reform under the U-LEAD with Europe Programme. This includes, in particular, cooperation with hromadas on the establishment and modernisation of administrative service centres.

- When did the project of establishment of up to 600 ASCs start in Ukraine and what is its objective?

- In November 2018, Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, announced that NIRAS Sweden AB had been selected as the Implementer of the Roll-Out Phase of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme’s support to administrative service delivery. And from December, we started assembling a team.

The aim of the Programme is to provide residents of amalgamated hromadas and cities of Ukraine with access to quality services to be delivered by the state. To achieve this goal, we provide comprehensive assistance in the establishment of up to 600 proper administrative service centres: institutional support, employee training, physical assistance, “Vulyk” software complex for ASCs, and special assistance, such as a mobile ASC or an electronic queue management system.

NIRAS Sweden AB is part of a large team of U-LEAD Programme and is directly responsible for working with hromadas to establish proper ASCs.


Anastasia Yermoshenko, NIRAS Sweden AB Project Manager, and Anna Liljelund Hedqvist, NIRAS Sweden AB Regional Director, at the U-LEAD with Europe Programme’s Conference on the launch of work of NIRAS Sweden AB with hromadas, 5 March, 2019 =>

 

- Who are your partners? What sources is the project financed from?

- The team of support for improved administrative service delivery consists of four implementing organisations and a large number of partners. The easiest way is to show the structure as a diagram. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida coordinates the activity; SKL International is responsible for selecting hromadas and determining the volume of assistance; The EGOV4UKRAINE project supplies the Vulyk information system they have developed for ASCs to hromadas, and we (NIRAS) are, in fact, responsible for ensuring that the hromada receives a proper centre for citizens’ access to public services as a result of all efforts.

The U-LEAD with Europe Programme is funded by the European Union and its Member States Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden. Our partners are many, in fact, more than 500 AHs and cities of Ukraine, regional Local Government Development Centres, profile associations, NGOs and, of course, the Government of Ukraine, where our key partners are the Ministry of the Development of Communities and Territories, Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture , State Agency for Electronic Governance of Ukraine (included in the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine).

 

- By what criteria were the hromadas selected to establish ASCs?

- SKL International team is in charge of hromadas’ selection. They, as part of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, implemented the Inception Phase, which resulted in the opening of 26 proper ASCs in hromadas. During this pilot phase, experts tested key models of administrative service delivery in different types of hromadas and developed approaches and recommendations that our team is now actively using.

 

During the Roll-Out Phase, that is, scaling up the Inception Phase experience to up to 600 hromadas, SKL International accepted applications from the hromadas through open competition and, together with a panel of experts, selected candidates to participate. Thereafter, each of the candidate hromadas was visited by SKL experts, Terms of Reference were developed and approved with the them – this is a document outlining all steps to establish an ASC, the extent of Programme assistance, distribution of powers and responsibilities between the Programme and the hromada.

All oblasts of Ukraine (22 in rounds 1 and 3, 24 in rounds 2 and 4) took part in the open competition, held four times (according to four rounds of the Programme implementation). The key selection criteria are, first and foremost, hromada’s capacity and sustainability, feasibility of ASC establishment ormodernisation, willingness to co-finance the project, availability of the premises. We received almost 900 applications in course of all selection rounds.

- Anastasia, you often say “a proper ASC” – please explain what this means?

- With pleasure! This is an integrated office that provides all the necessary administrative services in a comfortable environment. There was a certain collision in Ukraine when the first ASCs, in the sense of such integrated offices, appeared before the start of decentralisation, when local self-government bodies did not have sufficient powers to provide administrative services in the “one-stop shop and transparent office” format. This has led to the fact that, for example, in small towns and villages there was neither motivation nor opportunity to develop this field.

According to experts from more than 800 ASCs currently in existence, 50% are improper, ie with a small (inadequate) range of services, inaccessible and uncomfortable premises. We help such ASCs become proper: together with local authorities, we are modernising the premises, opening new access points to services, improving the list and quality of services, and educating staff.

Employees of the energy efficient ASC of the Mykolayivska AH, Sumy Oblast

 

- You have formed a team for such a large-scale and ambitious project from scratch. Share your impressions, did everything work out?

- It was very difficult to form a team – we needed a large number of specialists, all at once. In total, we will have five teams: a project administration and finance team and four teams for each round. In Ukraine, there are few experts who really specialise in administrative services and are not involved in another project or public service. In addition, 70% of our experts live and work in the regions.

The first round and administrative teams were formed in January this year, that of the second round – in May. We worked a lot to establish internal communication, experience exchange, and transfer of knowledge. I can say that we have already made some mistakes, the most difficult stage is over. We are confident that we have been able to assemble a team of professionals: we work together, help and support one another.

- What motivates your team and you personally?

- We talked about motivation in the team, most often, colleagues say about the opportunity to improve life on the ground and influence the change of mentality of officials, local authorities. Personally, my drivers correspond to the team response: first and foremost, it is working with people on the ground. My experience in the field of development projects is about 15 years, but it is the first project where we work so closely with the population. Previously, I was more involved in developing strategies, reforms, working with legislation in the areas of public finance management and decentralisation. And here, it is the work with people, on the ground. And the first result can be seen not in 7-10 years, as is usually the case with successful reforms, but here and right now.

Part of the NIRAS Sweden AB team working on ASC establishment and modernisation within the U-LEAD with Europe Programme

- We have seen the figures – the expected results of your work. Already now, ASCs establishment in hromadas within Rounds 1-3 will make high-quality administrative services accessible to 5 million people. That is, every second citizen of Ukrainian hromadas will be able to feel the effect of your activity. Sounds impressive.

- Yes, it is incredibly inspiring. In addition, it is only the tip of the iceberg. We seek to work together to address gender equality, ecological efficiency, and corruption risks with hromadas. Our Programme (U-LEAD with Europe) is built so that support received by hromadas contains not only establishment of a proper system of public service delivery on the ground, but also many valuable aspects, so to speak, of intangible investments that affect hromada development and its potential for growth. This approach gives a very good result.

- How is the institutional support carried out in establishing ASC in hromada?

- When the work is going well and effectively, you often forget to tell about it. By the beginning of September, we had fully completed institutional support for 28 hromadas. As for employee training, 91 hromadas have completed all five programme modules, and 5 more have completed nearly half (or most) of the training course. As a result of the three rounds, nearly 8,000 future ASC employees and local self-government representatives will complete the training course.

Training programme participants at Lutsk ASC.

Of course, there are many difficulties and nuances in organising institutional support. SKL International colleagues are very helpful in this matter – they have developed and constantly update many methodical materials, and we often apply to them for help and clarification. Most often, this is a matter of hromadas’ cooperation and creation of common ASCs with rayons.

- How is the procurement of materials for the ASC carried out? What is the situation with supplies now?

- In the Roll-Out Phase, the work is organised in such a way that hromadas repair the premises at their own expense. Project co-financing is one of the key conditions for participation in the Programme. Our purchases are mainly computer hardware and furniture. Each procurement is carried out through a tender. The volumes are very large, so we practice trial procurement for a small number of hromadas through a simplified procedure and then scale the process to all hromadas within one round.

It’s early to summarise, we are pleased with our cooperation with suppliers and look forward to the future when these processes become as large-scale as possible. As of mid-September, we will be completing supply of furniture and appliances to first round hromadas by 15%. The chain of physical assistance is as follows: first the furniture, then equipment and software, and the last stage is the installation of the Vulyk system in the ASC.

- What volumes are we talking about?

- As a result of three out of four rounds, we supply and install over 30,000 pieces of furniture and 37,000 pieces of equipment in almost 500 settlements in Ukraine. The EGOV4UKRAINE project team installs the Vulyk system to automate the work of more than 3,000 ASCs and remote workplaces.

- Do you cooperate with Ukrainian producers?

- Of course. According to the procurement rules, we cannot give preference to Ukrainian producers. But, it’s natural that the furniture for ASCs from Ukrainian producers is cheaper, and their quality is high. Special assistance – cars for mobile ASCs and electronic queue systems – are imported from other countries.

- What difficulties do you encounter while working?

- The main challenge is the scale of our goal. Four rounds, up to 150 hromadas in each, a huge number of people are involved in the project at all levels. Currently, only about two hundred specialists are employed in Round 1 and Round 2 teams: 30 regional specialists, 35 experts from the main and support teams in Kyiv and Stockholm, and more than one hundred trainers involved. We have a huge number of internal and external business and communication processes, and my main task is to make this mechanism work as clearly and smoothly as possible, since the timing of the rounds overlaps and the number of processes is constantly growing. For example, from December 2019 to April 2020 there will be three rounds at once and it will be very interesting!

- The question many Programme participants are waiting to get an answer to is: what are the terms of each round implementation, given that delivery has already begun with some delay?

- We plan to finish Round 1 on 21 November 2019, Round 2 – by the end of April 2020. Work on Round 3 hromadas is scheduled to begin in December. The fourth Round is closer to the beginning of 2020. But this is not 100% final, as the details and timing of each round are individually agreed with Sida.

The ASC of the Popilnyanska AH of the Zhytomyr Oblast, established with the support of the Programme, opened in August 2019

- How do you personally manage to deal with such a large flow of incoming information, since you spend most of your time working in Stockholm? How do you prioritise, what approaches do you use?

- Thank you for this question. First, regarding the fact that I work remotedly. I try to be in Kyiv once every month and a half and work directly with the team. Second, it is the support of partners: we have a very good relationship with the teams we work with in the Programme – SKL International and EGOV4UKRAINE, as well as organisations we involve in cooperation with hromadas – the ASC Association and Local Government Development Centres. We also feel a great deal of interest from the participating hromadas, their understanding of the common goal and the end result. As for the internal processes, as I said, we have created a clear system – we have developed instructions and rules that guide the teams. We have all financial procedures, internal processes for institutional and physical support. In addition, the team always helps with the development of these procedures, so they really increase the efficiency of our work. We are constantly improving ourselves.

- What are your impressions of working with Ukrainian hromadas?

- Of course, I almost do not communicate directly with the hromadas (this is done by the team), although I understand the general trends and analyse the controversies in detail. My impression is that people want change for the better and are willing to work hard for it. I see that each hromada is unique in its own way, irrespective of the region, and how critical the leader's mission is in such small amalgamations.

The political will factor largely determines the direction and pace of change. True leaders understand that historic transformations are underway, realise their responsibility and possibilities. Obviously, quality administrative services, comfort and accessibility when interacting with the state, must be among the priorities of hromada development. This is one of the criteria for successful and effective work of local authorities.

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