Update Romania is a program dedicated to the assistance we offer to the public institutions in Romania. The program’s main goals are divided on two key levels:
- Public policy proposals. Code for Romania has formulated and continues to formulate policy proposals at a national and local level in the field of digitization and, upon request, can assist public institutions free of charge in drafting and transforming them into regulations or other normative acts. The last seven public policies proposed to the central administration can be consulted here.
- Technical assistance for local and central institutions. We are aware of the lack of senior IT specialists in the public service, especially in the area of needs analysis and solution design, so we offer, when we are able, key support in designing software products for administration.
Code for Romania works exclusively pro-bono with any institution, and our members have collectively decided to not accept public funds.
7 Public Policies for the Efficient Digitalization of Romania
The public policies we propose are here to create the necessary conditions (both in terms of specialized human resources as well as implementation strategy) to increase the degree of digitalization of public institutions in Romania. Although the objectives of a technological modernization process are known (e.g. online tax collection, integrated data systems, etc.) the fact that these processes cannot be found in public institutions and in citizens' lives is due to misapplied processes, but also to essential processes in digital product design that have been ignored.
1. Strengthening the role of the Romanian Digitalization Authority and increasing the capacity of the institution
In October 2019, we requested the legal consolidation of all attributions in the field of digitalization under a single authority, subordinated to the Prime Minister. The establishment of the Romanian Digitalization Authority partially responded to this need.
This process must be continued by strengthening the CIO Office's responsibilities within the RDA and by creating an administrative structure comparable to other similar bodies in other governments. The legal effort must be doubled by the creation of technical capacity within the RDA by attracting specialized staffs to ensure the operational coordination of the digitalization process.
Last but not least, a digitalization effort that requires synchronization between all public administration actors cannot take place without strong political support from the ADR. Right now the digitialization process is severely hampered by a lack of operational capacity at the government level.
- Complete the consolidation of digitalization under the RDA
- Development of the technical and operational capacity of the Authority
2. User Experience Design
The discourse on digitalization in Romania has always focused on attracting programmers to state institutions. This is of course important, but not enough for the digitalization process. The major handicap of state institutions lies in the lack of capacity to (1) assess the needs for digitalization, (2) understand the causes behind the needs and (3) design functional solutions. None of this is something handled by programmers.
Instead, they are the purview of user experience design experts and business analysts. Public administration efforts should focus on attracting these specialists to state institutions to ensure that contracted digital tools are appropriate for their work, that they meet delivery and accessibility standards, that they are built following user-centered design principles (both from the perspective of the civil servant and the citizen) etc.
Without exception, all successful digitalization efforts globally have been based on attracting these specialists in the public domain. One of the most eloquent examples is the creation of US Digital Services in the United States under the Obama administration, a program continued by the Trump administration, which has managed to halve the failure rate of government software products.
Unfortunately, Romania currently has very few experts in the field due to the lack of a legislative framework to regulate the profession, but also the lack of a formal education in the university education system.
- Recognition of the profession of user experience designer;
- Creation of diploma programs in higher education institutions to train UX specialists;
- Attracting UX specialists and business analysts to state institutions.
3. Creating interdisciplinary teams for the analysis and creation of digital solutions
Currently, the Romanian state does not have the capacity to correctly identify problems and to find the optimal digital answer for them. The development of any digitaliation strategy at an institutional level cannot take place without an in-depth analysis of existing needs.
Following the example of other countries that have gone through a successful digitalization process, we propose the creation of interdisciplinary teams, consisting of three complementary specialists: 1 business analyst, 1 user experience designer and 1 software architect. These teams should be integrated for a year in each public institution where they will (1) analyze its internal processes, ways of interconnecting with other institutions and assess the level of digital maturity in the institution, (2) transmit all results of this analysis to the RDA and under its coordination to (3) build concepts for the technical solutions to be further contracted for development and implementation.
- Recruitment of mixed teams consisting of: 1 business analyst, 1 user experience designer and 1 software architect;
- Integrating these teams for fixed-terms in public institutions in order to conduct needs analysis and design viable digitization solutions.
4. Open-source in public administration
We propose the legal mandating of the obligation to develop all central and local government software solutions as open-source. The primary arguments for a transition to open source are:
- Minimum costs for reusing software products. Corrently, especially in local public administration, but often also in central institutions, the state buys the same software product several times instead of purchasing it once and reusing it whenever it needs.
- This is also reflected in the very long implementation times for similar, sometimes identical solutions at a central or local level.
- Perhaps the most important argument for the transition to open source is the elimination of reliance on IT service providers and facilitating the transfer of a product to another developer easily.
- Increasing the degree of transparency. Any citizen will be able to access the source code of computer products developed from public money. There is also a growing trend for governments to open up in this way by making access to “public code” a citizen's right.
- By giving everyone access to the source code, communities of contributors can be created among citizens who can, among other things, report errors, vulnerabilities or proposals for improvement.
- Development of integrated and reusable services. Software produced for the public sector can take advantage of the existence of integrated services, and be developed horizontally, across services. A good example would be each software product having a login module. Instead of writing a module for each application, the state can provide a unitary login module, with which each application can integrate.
- Facilitates cooperation between public institutions with similar needs, leading, among other benefits to the decentralization of the digitalization effort.
Such a policy must be backed by clear standards for public domain software development (discussed below) and support for public institutions for the process of contracting and evaluating open-source products. Therefore, we believe that there is a need for a transition period in which the percentage of software products necessarily developed in open source to increase from 20% to 100% within three years. The Government must also provide all the necessary infrastructure for open-source development as well as education programs for public administration IT staff on what this type of software development entails.
Moreover, a catalog of digital solutions must be created, which any public institution can access in order to choose the IT products that best serve its activity.
- the legal mandating of the obligation to develop all central and local government software solutions as open-source, with a gradual implementation period of three years;
- Providing the necessary infrastructure for open-source development to institutions;
- Providing assistance and training programs for IT staff in institutions;
- Creating an online catalog of open source digital solutions dedicated to administration.
5. Standards for the development of software products in the public domain
The government should impose very clear public domain software development standards through legislation, as follows:
A. Reusability standards to ensure that, from the beginning of technical development, digital products in the public sector are built in such a way that any other institution can benefit from the same solution with a minimal re-implementation and adaptation effort. As mentioned above, an open-source policy would further facilitate the achievement of such a standard.
B. Minimum standards for the availability of software in the public domain - a state system must ensure a minimum availability of 99.9% for critical services - this means that that system, in addition to planned maintenance, must not be inaccessible for more than 8 hours a year.
C. Scalability standards, ensuring that the system will be able to maintain a high quality of provided service regardless of the number of users.
D. Security standards, stating that a computer product developed for the public sector must have a resilience to cyber attacks as a principal quality.
E. Standards of flexibility translating into the ability of a digital system to remain accessible to users even if the service provider is replaced.
F. Integrability standards - unitary standards ensuring that a software product developed in the public domain can exchange information or interface with another software product in the public domain, with minimal adjustments.
G. Data representation standards stating that data submitted by general government must be harmonized so that they can be represented at the metadata level, in order to ensure consistency and facilitate the distribution and consumption of this data. In short, publicly exposed data must comply with an RDF (Resource Definition Framework).
H. Data formatting standards, ie data provided by the administration must use industry-accepted data formats: JSON, XML.
I. Data distribution standards stating that the way data is displayed must comply with industry standards: REST, messaging queues, etc.
- Comprehensive legislation on the development and delivery of digital solutions in the public sector.
6. Accessibile government software
Unfortunately, presently the legal accesibility standards are not observed on public state-run platforms. We believe that an audit necessary ito determine the level of accessibility (for people with disabilities) that these digital tools conform with and that they should be redeveloped in order to conform . An important segment of the Romanian population (circa 800,000 people) cannot use public platforms hosting publically relevant information at this time.
- Auditing all institutional information systems and public platforms in terms of accessibility for people with disabilities;
- Making government software accessible.
7. Assessing and increasing the digital skills of civil servants
Functional computer systems require users capable of managing them. In this regard, we recommend an assessment of the level of digital competence of all public sector staff, followed by the implementation of learning programs through which they can increase their digital skills. Such an effort must be doubled by ways to monitor their progress, as well as programs to keep them up-to-date over time.
- Assessment of the digital skills of public sector staff;
- Training of civil servants.
The Romanian Government
Code for Romania has had an ongoing partnership with the Romanian Government since 2018, through which we seek to develop free digital products in an open-source format to solve pressing problems in Romanian society. Within this partnership, through the Code for Romania Taskforce we delivered an ecosystem of applications to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in Romania.
Ministry of Justice
Since 2017, Code for Romania has had an ongoing partnership with the National Agency for Confiscated Goods within the Ministry of Justice, through which we developed a management platform dedicated to the agency's activity. Currently, the solution is nearing completion.
Ministry of Public Finance
Together with the Ministry of Finance we have developed a pilot prototype for a government website builder that can be used at the central administration level for the construction of official platforms, in compliance with current national rules and European regulations on online accessibility standards.
Ministry of Health
The Jurnal Medical solution, part of the ecosystem developed to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in Romania is developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, and the data collected through the application are transferred daily to the National Institute of Public Health. We have also offered advice on the development of other coronavirus-related solutions and, concurrently, we are working on a prototype for a solution dedicated to the management of priority actions.
Department for Emergency Situations
With the support of the World Bank, we have developed two interconnected apps for the Department for Emergency Situations , RVM (Resource and Volunteer Management) and Voluntar DRM, both dedicated to the collaboration between DSU and civil society in emergency situations. Also, during the development of the Ce Trebuie să Fac and HelpRo solutions within the Covid-19 ecosystem, we collaborated closely with the Department for the elaboration of the published content and the management of organizations registered in HelpRo.
Department For Romanians Everywhere
In the elaboration of the Sprijin Diaspora platform, a part of the Covid-19 ecosystem, we collaborated with the Department for Romanians Everywhere, an institution operating under the Government's General Secretariat. This partnership continues and we are now developing a suite of other solutions.
Authority for the Digitization of Romania
We have been collaborating with the Romanian Digitalization Authority since its establishment on multiple levels, starting from the development of the Covid-19 ecosystem, continuing with working sessions on the topics included in the Code for Romania 7 public policy proposal as well as other free consulting services.
Cluj-Napoca City Hall
We have an ongoing partnership with Cluj-Napoca City Hall through which we are developing an open data portal dedicated to the city, to facilitate better communication between the institution and citizens and increase the degree of transparency of public data of interest to residents.
Timișoara City Hall
We have an ongoing partnership with Timișoara City Hall through which we are developing an open data portal dedicated to the city, to facilitate better communication between the institution and citizens and increase the degree of transparency of public data of interest to residents.
Iași City Hall
We have an ongoing partnership with Iași City Hall through which we are developing an open data portal dedicated to the city, to facilitate better communication between the institution and citizens and increase the degree of transparency of public data of interest to residents.