Changing civil service culture in Ukraine

Ukraine is lucky to have citizens like Artem Shaipov.  Young professionals who already have important day jobs but who also are driven to contribute to the advancement of their country’s development through pro bono work. In Artem’s case, he is a Cambridge-educated lawyer working on legal reforms but who has also taken on the huge issue of civil service reform in a personal capacity.  Determined to help bring about better governance and cultural transformation to Ukraine as it shed its Soviet systems and mindsets, civil service reform was a logical place for Artem to start.  For Ukraine’s citizens to have a high quality government, then it is vital for there to be a properly functioning civil service, supporting it and focused on policy making and implementation.

Civil service reform has been attempted before in Ukraine.  The Revolution of Dignity in 2014 gave impetus to new hopes and efforts to bring change to stagnant government institutions. But the pace of reform was very slow and many professionals who had been voluntarily offering their services to government, went back disillusioned to the private sector.  Also in the wake of the 2014 revolution, Artem had co-founded the Professional Government Association of Ukraine (PGA) which brings together Ukraine-based alumni associations, harnessing over 3,000 western-educated Ukrainians in a mission to serve as a civic platform for increasing the effectiveness of the Ukrainian government.

It was Artem’s work with the PGA that he wanted to enhance as part of his John Smith Trust Fellowship.  At the time of applying to the John Smith Trust (JST) in 2019, Artem had initiated and led a Civil Service Feedback Loop project and the PGA had been working with highest level partners in government and academia to implement it as the first of its kind – a baseline study of the culture and practices of Ukraine’s civil service. The purpose of the survey was to create a standard for evaluation of the progress in civil service reform which would subsequently help Ukraine to be included into the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index (InCiSE) which assesses the performance of central civil services around the world.

The UK civil service is one of the most highly regarded in the world and Artem wanted to learn from them how to build sustainability into Ukraine’s tracking of feedback from civil servants and the tracking of progress of on-going public administration reform, all which would greatly benefit his work to help bring a new civil service culture to the country.

While in the UK on his Fellowship Programme, the JST set up meetings for Artem with key players  who could answer his questions on the mechanisms of transforming the civil service.  Those he met with not only shared various methods for independent, evidence-based research and inquiry into civil culture as practiced by the UK Civil Service HR at the Cabinet Office but also analysis of civil servants’ decision-making as conducted by Behavioural Insights Team in the framework of its Behavioural Government initiative.

All this gave Artem plenty of ideas for how to develop and improve his civil servants’ opinion survey project back home.  Artem says he found all his UK meetings incredibly useful, from his time with Jonathon Curry on Scotland’s experience with its own Scottish Government People Survey and lessons learned, to meeting the Public Bodies Team at the Cabinet Office which designs, implements and analyses the UK Civil Service People Survey to hearing from Dr Thomas Elston at the Blavatnik School of Government which designs the InCiSE itself.  Artem also credits his time with the UK Government Digital Services for demonstrating how improvements in efficiency can be won through greater technological advances.

On his return to Ukraine, Artem worked with its National Agency for Civil Service to design and launch a second wave of the Civil Service Feedback Loop survey, engaging over 15,000 public officials across the country. The results of the survey helped generate further vital data which led, via public discussion of the survey’s findings, to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine drafting a new landmark ‘Concept of Civil Service Cultures’.  This embraces the UK’s concepts of ‘Brilliant Civil Service’ and ‘Civil Service Success Profiles’.

In advocating for the implementation of the Civil Service Feedback Loop, Artem says the team’s mantra was  Peter Drucker’s famous saying – ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ – which they felt stressed the need for a strategic, multi-agency effort to instill the culture of continuous improvement in Ukraine’s civil service.

Thanks to the Civil Service Feedback Loop project and PGA’s advocacy efforts, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine amended the National Strategy for Public Administration which, amongst other things, makes civil service culture a pillar of Ukraine’s public administration reform – a huge achievement!

And in 2020, the National Agency for Civil Service, with support from its Task Force on Advancing Civil Service Culture where Artem continues to serve after he stepped down as Head of the PGA Board, implemented a third wave of the Civil Service Feedback Loop. This engaged over 30,000 civil servants across Ukraine.

Artem continues to advocate for the Civil Service Feedback Loop to enable a full civil servant engagement cycle and to serve as a tool for government accountability for civil servants’ engagement in meaningful work to meet people’s needs – one of his key takeaways from his JST meeting with Jonathon Curry at the Scottish Government that he’d like to see fully implemented.

Reflecting on his JST experience, Artem says, ‘It was a unique opportunity to be part of this stellar Fellowship from which not only I but my country continue to benefit so greatly. I am extremely proud to be counted as a member of the prestigious JST Alumni Network’.

In fact, Artem has now used his PGA alumni galvanizing skills towards setting up a chapter of the JST Alumni Network specifically for Ukrainian Fellows to bring this likeminded group together with the aim of developing ideas and projects for civil society to help build a better, stronger country.  Ukraine is indeed lucky to have such citizens!