Dmytro Khutkyy, is Head of e-Dem Lab at the Centre for Innovations Development in Ukraine. In 2017, he joined the On Think Tanks Fellowship programme+
Enrique Mendizabal: Please tell us a bit about yourself?
Dmytro Khutkyy: I see my role as a public sociologist, that is, doing research for the purpose of social change. So I conduct academic studies and policy-related research in the field of digital democracy. As I combine multiple affiliations, working for the Center for Innovations Development, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and the Reanimation Package of Reforms in Ukraine, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu in Estonia, and IROWS, University of California-Riverside in the United States, I aim to share my findings of democratic best practices globally. Regardless of where I am, I have a special affection to my home country, Ukraine, and wherever I go, always come back. This means that I value the opportunities of global mobility and impact, as well as the joy of belonging to Ukrainian society and enjoying Ukrainian culture. In fact, I have been studying and reviving Ukrainian folk traditions as a hobby for years. But, over time, new horizons of personal and professional growth emerge – and I always choose to discover those skylines.
EM: How did you come to work at a think tank? Why?
DK: After exploring successful cases of empowered participatory democracy in the United States and observing dramatic changes in Ukraine I felt a drive to promote democratic changes in my country myself. In my own alma mater’s alumni email group I noticed an interview by a Kyiv-Mohyla Academy tutor about e-democracy and it was so inspiring that I joined the team at the Center for Innovations Development. At that time I felt that my research skills could be useful, so took the lead in organising and analysing surveys and focus groups on the topic. Soon they have become baseline studies on e-democracy in Ukraine, so later studies are compared towards them.
EM: What is the Center for Innovations Development? What does it do?
DK: CID is a multifaceted organisation focused on researching and promoting new technologies, ecological innovations and electronic democracy. We do analytics, consulting, advocacy, implementation and communication on promoting e-democracy in Ukraine. Established in 2013, it grew from one laboratory to three and from one person to over three dozen staff and volunteers.
EM: What is your role? How did you get that job?
DK: I was eager to contribute to the cause of democratic institution building in my country, so I volunteered for over a year. Volunteering was the primary participation format for all members of the team and still is with regard to implementation and advocacy activities. Then our expertise became more recognised in the field and we have gained several research grants. As a person with sociological training, I was the most relevant candidate to lead the research, which I did. Shortly after that, I was appointed as a Head of e-Dem Lab at CID, managing research, communication, and public activities of our team in the e-democracy realm. Our policy briefs on good e-governance and e-democracy are baseline policy-related studies in Ukraine, setting up a benchmark for future developments in the field. Moreover, I was selected as a manager and expert of the Electronic Democracy group at the Reanimation Package of Reform (an alliance of over 70 NGOs promoting reforms in Ukraine). There I coordinate joint advocacy efforts of civil society organisations in the field of digital democracy. Our biggest accomplishment is the draft Concept Paper and the Action Plan for the Advance of Electronic Democracy of Ukraine, which is essentially a roadmap for online democracy promotion in the country. The document has been officially passed to the Government to be updated and adopted. Beyond that, currently I conduct research at the Skytte Institute at the University of Tartu, studying best practices of digital democracy in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. The findings will be shared with interested stakeholders in Europe and the world.
EM: In your role in CID, what have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
DK: At CID we have to ensure our sustainability by engaging full-time project managers and long-term grants, which is a real challenge. On the national scale, multiple actors sometimes have different visions of the essence of e-democracy and the priorities of its development. This is why in many cases it is a challenge to unite for a joint action, unless it is a clear goal with deadline, like the Roadmap on e-democracy.
EM: What is e-democracy? Can you describe the state of the sector in Ukraine?
DK: Electronic democracy can be understood simply as any form of democracy that uses modern information technologies for its procedures. Those can be implemented on specialised platforms or on social media as online deliberation, e-polling, e-campaigns, e-consultations, e-petitions, drafting platforms, participatory budgeting, online e-voting, e-elections, e-referenda, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, co-implementation, open data analytics, or e-investigations. In Ukraine, both the government and the civil society actively experiment with diverse tools. The most fastly developing domains are e-petitions, participatory budgeting, and online accountability platforms. Ukrainian online procurement know-how platform, ProZorro+ has been so successful that in 2017 it has won the World Procurement Award and the Open Government Award.
EM: Are other think tanks working on these issues in Ukraine?
DK: Yes, several other organisations are advancing these initiatives too. For example, activists from NGO “Electronic Democracy” have introduced probably the largest number of e-democracy tools in the country. E-data project has created the most elaborated mechanisms for monitoring and control of public spending. And Transparency International Ukraine is safeguarding and upgrading the public procurement platform.
EM: What would you say are the main challenges that a Ukrainian think tanks face today?
DK: There is a dozen of established think tanks, so new ones need to find a thematic or regional niche and demonstrate excellent expertise to compete for recognition and funding in the field. Obviously, some think tanks claim there is an insufficient funding, while some donors note that not all think tanks possess necessary expertise.
EM: Which are some of these established think tanks that you mention? What do you think are their main challenges today?
DK: To name few, these are CASE Ukraine, Centre of Policy and Legal Reform, Democratic Initiatives Fund, EIDOS, Institute for World Policy, International Center for Policy Studies, and Razumkov Center. It’s hard to see from outside, what challenges they face.
EM: And in the future? What will think tanks in Ukraine be worrying about in the next 5 years -unless they do something about it now?
DK: In Ukraine, nobody can predict the next half a year, not to say five years. Recently, the Parliament has passed an authoritarian bill, requiring members and contractors of anti-corruption NGOs to submit their income and asset declarations online, giving the ruling party the power of quasi-legal criminal prosecution of civil society activists, challenging the regime. This is a real threat to Ukrainian democracy. Overall, there is a threat of a counter-revolution actions of political forces the in power. We need the support of international community to prevent the dismantling of progressive reforms by an increasingly authoritarian regime.
EM: What do you think is the role of think tanks in countries where the civic space is shrinking?
DK: Evidently, in such countries, think tanks, as well as implementing NGOs, INGOs, and foreign embassies, serve as advocates of civil rights and freedoms.
EM: You have joined the On Think Tanks Fellowship Programme. How do you think this will help you and your organisation?
DK: The Fellowship is already providing me and my organisation with knowledge and consulting on policy-related analysis, monitoring and evaluation of public activities, and widens the network of colleague activists worldwide for future exchange of best practices and even joint action for the cause of empowering transnational democratic participation.