A blog prepared by Kateryna Onyiliogwu, Open Data Team Lead, USAID/UK aid Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration and Services / TAPAS Project
On October 21, 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine passed Decree No. 835, paving the way for development of a robust Ukrainian open data sphere. Decree No. 835 governs opening procedures for government data and lists datasets that government agencies must publish regularly. The decree also resulted in the creation of a national Open Data Portal where state authorities publish open data from various sectors, ranging from health care to business. Open data has brought more transparency to government processes and spurred the development of new innovative products and services. Decree No. 835 marked its 5th anniversary this year. This blog describes how different aspects of people’s lives have changed since Decree No. 835 was passed five years ago.
As a result of Decree No. 835, the State Business Registry — a previously opaque system — was opened in April 2016. Within days, private sector representatives launched OpenDataBot, a service that uses open data to deter corporate raids. In Ukraine, it is common practice for corporate raiders to tamper with the State Business Registry. Prior to the launch of OpenDataBot, nefarious activities could not be detected promptly. However, harnessing the power of open data, OpenDataBot helps business owners remain vigilant and put a stop to such attempts. OpenDataBot also runs background checks on contracting parties. The service currently unites over 30 open data sets and serves over 1 million users. Other private companies, such as YouControl, Liga CONTRAGENT and Vkursi Pro provide similar services. Together, these services help businesses avoid financial losses, fraud, and breach of contract by potential contractors.
Procedures surrounding background checks on contracting parties have been streamlined and automated using open data supplied by the Ministry of Justice, the State Court Administration, and the State Tax Service. Previously, background checks took days or weeks to complete, as the request was sent to potential business partners or the relevant authorities. Oftentimes, companies received information that was unfit for analysis, or were denied information altogether. All relevant background check information is now available in a matter of seconds thanks to services using open data.
Open Data Team Lead, USAID/UK aid project TAPAS
“The opening of data in business has made it possible to create services for automatic, fast monitoring and verification of contractors. Even ordinary citizens can use open data to make day-to-day decisions such as ordering appliances from a new supplier or buying a flat from an unknown developer. All of this information is just a few clicks away. Yet the most inspiring thing for me about such services as OpenDataBot is that they don’t merely use open data but are also active members of the open data community: it is often their requests that cause more and more new government data to be opened.”
Nearly 80% of the Ukrainian population receives drinking water from surface water bodies, and 70% of this water comes from the Dnipro River. It is therefore important for citizens to have access to data surrounding the quality of water in surface water bodies near their home, work, or recreational destination. The State Water Resources Agency opened data on the quality of water in surface water bodies in the summer of 2018. This dataset includes information collected over the past seven years at 445 water sampling points across Ukraine. As a result, Ukrainian researchers and activists no longer need to manually request water quality data from government agencies.
Other open data available in the environmental protection sector includes hazardous waste management licenses, air pollutant emission permits, mineral development permits, and special water management permits, among others. Access to this information enabled activists to launch the first environmental chatbot, SaveEcoBot, which combines data on pollution, pollutants and environmental protection tools. Since 2017, SaveEcoBot has attracted over 470,000 users, processed 5.2 million user requests, and sent 15.5 million alerts.
“When creating the bot, we dreamed that open data would enable Ukrainians to improve the environment. In actuality, we’ve been astonished by the number of changes. Hundreds and then thousands of people all over the country began to get involved in the traditionally complex process of environmental impact assessment because SaveEcoBot’s services made this process extremely simple. Automatic notifications keep users informed at all times about activities in their cities that may have an environmental impact. Our feedback templates help them navigate bureaucratic red tape. It is thanks to Ukrainians who use SaveEcoBot that dozens of industrial enterprises all over the country have been obligated to install modern treatment facilities.”
“We are the biggest aggregator of real-time air quality data. On days when air pollution reaches concerning levels in the capital city and beyond, hundreds of thousands of our users use open data to draw attention to this problem. This publicity has gotten the ball rolling on the issue of state air monitoring equipment modernization and upgrades. Every day we get dozens of mentions in the mass media covering air quality and citing SaveEcoBot data. For that matter, air quality data has become as readily available as a weather forecast. Meanwhile, acknowledgment and quantification of the problem is the first step towards a solution. This is exactly what we dreamed of when we launched SaveEcoBot two years ago, and now nearly half a million of our users are changing the country together with us. This is inspiring!”
Law enforcement agencies estimated in 2019 that corruption accounts for 10-15% of the total cost of road repairs and maintenance in Ukraine. Decree No. 835 allows citizens to independently monitor the quality of road repairs and spending of public funds toward these repairs. The analytics module of the Transparent Infrastructure portal, launched by CоST Ukraine, contains data on more than 300 billion UAH in budget funding allocated for road repairs. With just a few clicks, users can check information about procurements funded by this money and aimed at public road construction, repairs, and maintenance.
The team of CoST Ukraine involves NGOs in road work monitoring using data supplied by regional road services and the relevant departments within regional state administrations. For instance, the CoST team made 8 onsite visits in 2019 and inspected 26 roads and 10 bridges. They detected a number of defects and requested the relevant authorities to rectify them.
Executive Director, CoST Ukraine
“When we first started in 2016, nobody except industry professionals understood what was happening in the road sector. The situation has since changed. Before the open data era, each year we published 120 contracts for routine medium road repairs in Excel format. Now citizens receive information about over 12,000 contracts in the road sector annually. Open data has fueled the growth of the grassroots monitoring ecosystem that currently covers half the country. People continue to join us and the collective effort has already yielded success stories: roads in both – major cities and small towns in dire need of repairs have been repaired; specific road stretches that were a pain for local residents have been included in road repair plans for the next year, and many others.”
The National Health Service of Ukraine (NHSU) published open medical data for the first time in September 2019. This information helps users learn about services available from a particular healthcare institution that entered into a contract with the NHSU, the number of declarations signed by doctors with patients, the doctors who still have capacity to sign on more patients, as well as the nearest pharmacy where medicines can be bought under the Affordable Medicines government program.
Healthcare system reform has enabled citizens to freely choose their own doctors and healthcare institutions where essential services are available, as well as to receive medicines for chronic diseases free of charge. The NHSU also reports on all of its spending, which exceeds 80 billion UAH for medical services and nearly 1.4 billion UAH for medicines under the Affordable Medicines program. This helps curb the level of corruption.
Anybody can find out how much budget funding has been allocated to healthcare institutions and pharmacies in any region and for any services. Since January 2020, Dashboards powered by open data from the NHSU have already been viewed more than 2 million times, and the relevant data sets have enabled such projects as MedBot Marta, MedKontrol, Open Medical Reform, and eLiky, to name just a few.
Acting Chairman of the NHSU
“Data needed to make decisions or find answers to important questions is no longer a privilege available to a select few. Patients now can make an informed choice of a doctor, find out about medical services available from the nearest hospital, and how much money the government has paid for these services. Anybody can now check which healthcare institutions in a particular region are designated COVID-19 facilities, the current workload of medical crews, and the amount of funding allocated by the for this type of medical care. Patient associations and NGOs can track and monitor salaries paid by the NHSU in every city, district, and region.”
Violations of urban development laws are a common problem in Ukraine. Monitor.Estate research shows that 42% of new developments in the capital city of Kyiv are started on land without an appropriate permit, and 27% of them without building permits. Due to the lack of complete information about a construction project and its owners, investors often hand over money to companies without all the necessary paperwork. This poses a major risk of loss of investment.
The State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate opened the data of its registry in December 2019, and the new Registry of Construction Activity was opened in June 2020. This information is the most common tool used by NGOs and journalists to combat violations of urban development laws.
The Urbandata and Dabibot chatbot services, which enable anyone to check building permits, were created using open data. Investors can avoid investments in risky real estate by using the Monitor.Estate and Bild.ua services, while construction market operators can choose contracting parties more carefully using judicial dispute analysis services available through Court on the Palm and NORA. Also, urbanists of the Map of Renovation project monitor violations and put a halt on illegal renovation projects or attempts to tear down architectural landmarks in Kyiv.
“We have long understood the value of open data for our customers and looked for ways to simplify the challenge of running background checks on new developments. When we first analyzed the risky properties in the biggest Ukrainian cities, we understood that we were on the right track. After all, over 53% of new developments do not have building permits or ignore the designated purpose of land use. Owing to our work with open data, clients can run a background check on any new development quickly and make an informed choice whether or not to sponsor risky properties.”
Decree No. 835 governs the opening of data by both central and local government agencies. This enables city residents to solve day-to-day issues quickly and efficiently. For instance, residents rely on public transport traffic data in Kharkiv and Lviv to plan their movements using the EasyWay app. Meanwhile, residents of Mariupol, Ternopil, Zaporizhia, and other cities have access to information about ongoing repairs and expected completion times using Nazar City Bot. The LvivCityHelper Telegram bot supplies Lviv residents with information about repairs and companies that serve residential buildings.
Residents of Kharkiv and Mariupol can view analytical data on hospitals. Project websites publish information about the current workload of medical professionals, the amount of funding allocated for the city’s healthcare institution, the most common diseases, as well as checkup recommendations and services and immunizations guaranteed by the state.
Deputy Mayor of Kharkiv for Digital Transformation
“To see the real value of open data, we should look at what ordinary citizens struggle with in particular. For example, Kharkiv residents spend 40 minutes to 1 hour commuting to work, and 80% of them use public transport. Why not open this particular information? The city has had a public transport traffic monitoring system since 2012. Previously it served the needs of the relevant municipal enterprise exclusively. Kharkiv City Hall upgraded the functionality of the relevant system and made its data public in 2019 in collaboration with the Kharkiv business community. It is now used by private mapping platforms, and every Kharkiv resident can learn about the exact time of public transport arrival.”