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Tamara Srzentić, Montenegrin Minister Of Public Administration, Digital Society And Media

We’re Running A Marathon, Not A Sprint

A strategic imperative of the Government of Montenegro as a whole, and the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media in particular, is the creation of an optimal and efficient public administration that will provide citizens and businesses with the best service, and we will achieve all of that through a reform in which the optimising of public administration and the digitalisation process unfold simultaneously

We want the processes of reforming public administration and digitalisation to be conducted carefully, accepted comprehensively and transparent, with respect paid to the principles of participation and inclusiveness, and to develop digital services harmonised with the highest standards of quality, focused on the needs of users. This is how Minister Tamara Srzentić summarises the goals of her Ministry at the start of our conversation, before continuing:

“In accordance with that, over previous months – in an extremely inclusive and open joint process with the private, civil and academic sectors, and international partners – our teams worked in parallel on numerous strategic documents, optimising the normative framework and process. As a result of that work, we now have the Public Administration Reform Strategy and the first Digital Transformation Strategy up for public debate and soon to be adopted by the Government of Montenegro.”

Which services have so far proved to be the best response to the fight against red tape and the need to traipse from one counter to another?

– As a good example of savings, I would mention several services that we developed in cooperation with partners and consider as representing a good response to the fight against excessive bureaucracy.

First and foremost is eFirma, an electronic service for the registering of companies. This process used to involve passing through eight different counters to collect all the required documentation. Today, this process is fully automated and available online.

One of the services that we are most proud of is the eStudent service, developed in collaboration with UNDP and the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, which has enabled 4,015 freshmen, or 85% of them, to enrol in the University of Montenegro online.

There is also great interest among citizens in electronic solutions for student loans, enrolling children in nursery, primary and secondary schools, applying for the Vocational Training Programme and classic e-services like issuing birth certificates, changing residential address and other e-services.

Your experience working in the state of California included both entrepreneurs and the development of innovative solutions in the innovation process. To what extent is it possible to replicate that recipe in Montenegro, which has an IT community that’s small but very successful?

– The reason I came to Montenegro and took on this position was to bring with me the new practises and ways of working that I acquired over the course of my years in the American administration. In California, in order for us to introduce humancentric design and agile methodologies in practise, and to develop digital services much faster, we established cooperation with private companies from Silicon Valley and brought many of their experts into the government so that we could jointly deliver services that place the needs of citizens at the centre of their development. We transferred that same concept to Montenegro from the outset, and I’m proud of that.

Thanks to that, it took us just a month and a half to develop the covidodgovor.me site, which had the aim of supporting vaccination and the struggle against the novel coronavirus, where people could get informed on a daily basis and via which they scheduled vaccinations.

A similar method was used to develop the government’s new gov.me website, which meets the requirements of e-accessibility, and that’s extremely important because, thanks to the “čitaj me” [read me] option, visually impaired citizens have improved access to all information available on the site. We are striving for a society of equal opportunities and are carefully integrating marginalised groups into the whole process.

That’s how we – based on the examples of the USDS [United States Digital Service], GDS [Government Digital Service] in the UK, but also similar concepts in Estonia and Slovenia – formed Montenegro Digital: Office for Innovation and Digital Services. Within the scope of this Office, civil servants, in cooperation with private sector experts, will work on the digitalisation of services and assist in the realising of Digital Montenegro.

We want to create a favourable environment for young people to stay in Montenegro, but also to attract talented people from other countries, so we can together make Montenegro a development centre for the region

To what extent is the digital transformation of operations accepted among businesses and in which ways do you cooperate with them in the digital transformation process?

– Digital transformation is one of this Government’s six strategic priorities. There’s no doubt that the Montenegrin economy has huge potential, developed ICT infrastructure and innovative digital solutions. That’s why our ICT sector is an accelerator of digital transformation and why we, from the start, included the business community in the creation of the digital transformation and cyber security strategies, but also the Proposal of Amendments to the Law on Electronic Document.

Likewise, based on the examples of our digital role models – the U.S., Estonia, Singapore, the UK and Slovenia – we’ve also included the private sector in the area of digital development, strengthening the skills of public servants and the general public, as well as in managing the entire digital transformation process. We are proud to have been able to introduce some models from California, such as Entrepreneurs in Residence or the Saradnici u inovacijama [Innovation Collaborators] programme, to our Ministry and fortify our team with professionals from the private sector.

How ready is the state itself for digital transformation, both at the national level and at the level of local governments?

– The state is ready, both at the central and local levels, but we must be aware that we’re awaited by a lengthy digitalisation process that requires patience and the unified forces of everyone. Some of the local governments have already reached a good level of public service automation and digitalisation.

The prerequisites for even greater and more widespread digitalisation are the complete interoperability and interconnection of data registers between local government bodies, but also central registers, in order for us to enable functional data exchanges and provide a fully digitalised user experience.

What kind of support does the state provide for the educating of civil servants to raise levels of digital literacy?

– Continuous education and overcoming the digital divide are our strategic priorities, not only when it comes to public servants, but rather also the public as a whole.

That’s why the Digital Academy concept is very important for us, particularly because we will thereby enable the additional educating and career development of public servants, students and marginalised groups of citizens.

Creating an inclusive, equal, accessible and fair administration for all citizens is one of the key objectives of your ministry. How important to achieving this are the culture of dialogue and media freedom?

– Freedom of the media, freedom of expression and the development of digital literacy, as a fundamental human and democratic right, are among the Ministry’s top priorities. This is particularly important in a society that has long seen polarisation present in all areas of social life, including the media.

Through continuous dialogue with the media, we’ve created a so-called “bank of needs” of the media, in order for us to jointly identify lasting solutions, both in the normative part and in terms of regulating media market conditions where equal rules for all will apply.

The Ministry is currently working on drafting the Media Strategy of the Government of Montenegro 2021-2025 and accompanying laws governing the domain of the media, with which we envisage a special set of measures and reforms to harmonise the media scene with the needs and interests of citizens, international practices related to media literacy, freedom of information and freedom of speech, with the aim of reducing hate speech, protecting journalists and combating other negative phenomena in the public space.

Digital transformation isn’t a sprint, but rather a marathon that requires time, support and people, but we believe that we’ve laid good foundations and will soon deliver services that will resolve the everyday problems of our citizens

You head a large department that has many important priorities. Do you receive sufficient support in your work from international partners, domestic and foreign experts and the civil sector, but also your government colleagues?

-We established cooperation with a large number of diplomatic representatives and international organisations in Montenegro during the previous period. We utilised official visits of our delegations to the U.S., Slovenia and Estonia in order to hear their positive experiences and good practices on the road to reforming public administration and the digitalisation process, but also to define areas of practical cooperation. We also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, which creates space for us to have more tangible cooperation in the field of digital governance and numerous modalities of exchanging knowhow and experiences. Likewise, this will also enable us to connect our private sector with Estonian companies, which will ultimately contribute to our country’s agile and digital development.

We are extremely grateful for the great support that we receive from all international diplomatic missions, their ambassadors and delegations in Montenegro, but also from numerous international organisations that have participated and supported us in drafting many of the aforementioned strategic documents.

We endeavour to unite and use events like the Western Balkans Digital Summit and support from regional and international organisations, such as ReSPA, SIGMA, EBRD, EGA, UNDP, UNICEF, OSCE and OECD, in order for us to implement numerous international programmes and regional projects for the betterment of all our citizens and businesses.

Your previous job also saw you deal with encouraging innovations, which provided the impetus to increase the capacity to launch innovations across the entire apparatus of the state. Do you believe that the atmosphere of public-private dialogue, broad-based collaboration and the use of modern tools can also be transferred to Montenegro?

– We are building a government that is orientated entirely towards delivering better policies, processes and services. Cooperation with private industry strengthens us further and makes us change the overall culture of work and implementation in every area.

Through the Montenegro Digital concept, we’ve established a “delivery unit” in the form of the Office for Innovation and Digital Services, within the scope of which we conduct research and use the digital standards and agile principles of private industry in the identifying of problems and the development and delivery of useful digital solutions.

We foster cooperation between private industry and the public sector through the aforementioned Innovation Collaborators programme, which will be expanded in the form of the Montenegro Digital Corps programme and will create space to include numerous international experts in work on projects within framework of our Ministry. We will present it in the coming weeks.

AVAILABILITY

The end goal is for us to provide citizens and businesses with digital services that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year

PLURALISM

We need to strengthen different perspectives, build bridges and use the power of the media to be the eyes and ears of all citizens, but also the drivers behind the solving of numerous social problems

SUPPORT

The support of everyone in the Government is of incalculable importance to us, and I’m happy that we all share the mission of developing Montenegro and concluding our country’s accession to the EU

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