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DREAM is becoming real at URC 2024

I had the honor of joining our Ukraine team this week in Berlin. The German government was hosting this year’s Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC), a platform between Ukraine and its international donors to support far-reaching reforms and assistance, even as the country is under relentless, existential attack from Russia.

Our team is building DREAM, Ukraine’s Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management) with the country’s Ministry for Restoration, Ministry for Finance and others. 

DREAM is about delivering smart management and full transparency of Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction effort: it is an umbrella system powered by Ukraine’s many digital portals and data sources to provide for end-to-end disclosure and documents across the whole cycle of Ukraine’s infrastructure planning, tendering and delivery. The system also provides a digitized workflow to plan and deliver projects across multiple partners and it supports business intelligence tools and analytics that allow oversight and track performance of key goals and programs. 

Every project has its own digital profile: here is one for the US$32m rebuild of Rivne Rehabilitation Center. It was gratifying to see lots of these QR codes dotted around the conference being used by communities to profile their projects on DREAM!

Here are my top 5 takeaways from URC2024 about our work: 

1. What a fantastic, dedicated and hardworking team we have leading our work in Kyiv, under the extraordinary leadership of our Viktor Nestulia. The team were on their feet presenting DREAM with passion and conviction for twelve hours straight on the first day of the URC (and then onto several hours of evening networking). Next morning, they were up early and working to demonstrate DREAM to stakeholders until long after the conference officially closed. 

Every single member of the Kviv team told me how much DREAM means to them personally. They have family members in direct danger from the war, so they appreciate how important DREAM is to coordinating the basic recovery projects that Ukraine needs to survive Russia’s attempt to make the country unliveable. They pointed out how important it is that Ukraine is seen to be handling its international assistance with the highest standards of probity and how, given the unprecedented need, Ukraine has to maximize the impact of every hryvnia spent. 

2. DREAM is scaling and innovating rapidly. DREAM was announced last year at the URC in London. It now has over 5000 projects on it, worth over $4bn (just under half of which are fully funded). More than 1,000 communities, 23 regional administrations, 5 ministries, the Agency for Restoration and its regional services are now using DREAM.

The core use for DREAM is to plan and track the money around recovery and reconstruction spending. At the URC, the team were showing some of its powerful new functions. It allows for communities to develop and propose their own priority projects and to match these to Ukrainian government and/or international funding. 

Similarly, it allows for donors and government authorities to either match existing DREAM projects to their funding needs or to run selection processes to look for projects that meet their needs. This has, for example, already been successfully done by Ukraine’s Ministry for Education in its School Shelters program, which received over 108 submissions of which 50 projects with a total budget of UAH 2.19 bn were selected. Normally a process like this would take at least up to six months to plan and complete. It was done through DREAM in less than one month. 

[As an aside, donor government representatives at the URC kept asking “why haven’t we got something like this at home”? Ukraine has a unique ecosystem of open government and open data projects that make building DREAM much easier but the core principle of a single project pipeline and a structured documentation and support process is pretty replicable.] 

Currently, project assessment and approval takes place offline and the information in DREAM is then updated as a comprehensive record but additional functionalities are intended for 2025-June 2026 when projects will be able to be approved in DREAM directly. 

3. Interest in and engagement around DREAM was constant across the two conference days. Our stand was consistently busy, with probably about 20% of the attendees searching up information and projects on our giant touchscreens running DREAM. 

We had visits and support from UK Minister for Europe Nusrat Ghani, US Special Envoy for Economic Reconstruction Penny Pritzker, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Svenja Schulze, Danish Development Minister Dan Jørgensen as well as high level representatives from the EU, Italy, Lithuania, Japan and others. “I love it», said Nusrat Ghani. «This is amazing, we can see everything», said Penny Pritzker. 

Importantly, there was a strong turnout from Ukraine’s regions and towns who joined the URC, so the event was a perfect opportunity to set out how it can help local leaders deliver their projects and set their priorities for national and international support. Lots of mayors and regional administrators stopped and engaged.

The team with charismatic leader of the Mykolayiv region Vitaly Kim, whose main city Mykolaiv remains under constant attack.

We also had Ukraine’s Minister of Health, first deputy minister of Finance, first deputy minister of Education, acting Minister for Restoration and the Minister for Strategic Industries visit. 

4. DREAM must now be institutionalized. Everyone at the conference was speaking about DREAM as if it was a core part of the government’s planning and coordination approach to restoration but it is still technically a pilot project of the Ministry for Restoration. The recent abrupt change of leadership was much discussed at the URC. 

DREAM is also an official part of Ukraine’s PIM Reform Roadmap and Action Plan that was agreed with donors and international financial institutions in December 2023. Nonetheless, DREAM needs to be written into the law, which will be important to fully operationalize it and to make sure that all infrastructure projects have to be transparent and disclosed. The DREAM team has done a huge amount of user support and change management and we will continue to invest in this to make sure that DREAM is ready to meet that demand. 

Our ambition for the coming year is to provide ‘20/60/24/7 support’: this means 20 minutes response for registration of requests, 60 minutes for minor problem solving, 24 hours for a bug fix, and 7 days for a technical improvement that can be delivered within one development sprint. Every community client has a personal chat so they know and trust the managers who are assigned to support them. We surveyed local users across 400 hromadas (local regions) in Ukraine, 78% were satisfied with their experience on DREAM and 89% would recommend DREAM to colleagues in other regions. 

5. Civil society demand and interest in the data and information from DREAM is high 

Chatham House’s Ukraine Forum has a detailed report on the role of civil society in Ukraine’s wartime recovery. About a third of regional NGOs and a quarter of all civil society thought that DREAM could become a valuable tool, especially as it moves to become the default system for collecting and sharing information. “I can confirm the real demand for monitoring by civil society” and “we will be watching” that DREAM is institutionalized, said Chatham House’s Orysia Lutsevych at the URC. 

Other civil society organizations were keen that bills of quantity and unit prices get published, as they are especially important to monitoring public works (this will depend on whether the State e-construction register and Prozorro system, from which DREAM draws information, collect it). 

Also at URC, there were some great complementary monitoring projects being shared including Ukraine’s Big Recovery project, YouControl, Clarity Hromada, TI Ukraine’s business intelligence, Fiscal Center’s Cost of War. And of course, OCP is proud to be a member of Ukraine’s RISE coalition who are working toward the objectives of a reconstruction with integrity, sustainability and efficiency. 

It was hugely busy for the team at URC. I was blown away by how they all rose to the occasion. I was also really interested to see how impressed international partners were over the progress that Ukraine has made in delivering DREAM over the past year. 

There is much work to be done. DREAM needs to be institutionalized fully, but this was a great occasion to appreciate innovation and delivery by Ukraine even at an incredibly challenging time. Героям слава!

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