Public service reform in Uzbekistan

At a recent John Smith Trust (JST) online event on digital governance, Mirzokhid Karshiev was reunited with Julie Kane, Head of Digital Strategy and Policy for the Scottish Government.  Mirzokhid, a governance specialist from Uzbekistan, had met Julie in 2017 while in the UK on a John Smith Trust Fellowship Programme.  Along with a number of other UK experts in governance he met during that time, Julie had been instrumental in helping shape Mirzokhid’s future work and projects.

In 2017, Mirzokhid had been working for the UNDP in Uzbekistan on a local governance support programme as a specialist on capacity development.  He had already worked on several policy briefs for the government on civil service training and ethics as well as on the transparency and accountability of local governance bodies so he was well placed to tackle a large-scale UNDP project of implementing a user-friendly digital governance framework. On the JST Fellowship Programme, Mirzokhid was keen to learn from the UK’s experience in reforming local government’s public services delivery with a digitised, customer-focused approach as well as in the performance management of civil servants.

During his month in the UK, the John Smith Trust team set up a number of meetings for Mirzokhid with relevant UK government, academia and non-governmental organisations. These provided different angles on how the UK addresses governance challenges. They gave him access to first-hand accounts of local governance and public service delivery systems in the UK, the challenges in responding to public needs and changing technological innovations, as well as various solutions implemented at local, regional and national levels.

For example, meetings with Professors James Mitchell from Edinburgh University and Adrian Campbell from Birmingham University led Mirzokhid to a deeper understanding of citizen engagement in local governance – and change management specialist, David Onigbanjo and his Digital Transformation colleagues from Thurrock Council, provided an opportunity to see and compare the enabling conditions for digital transformation of local governments.

Back in Uzbekistan, Mirzokhid joined the UNDP’s ‘Public Administration Reform and Digital Transformation’ project  where he became responsible for redesigning and streamlining public services. His UK experience and connections were frequently called upon and proved invaluable for access to ongoing advice and collaboration. He was instrumental in establishing contacts with the Government Digital Service (GDS) within the UK Cabinet Office and arranging reciprocal visits between governmental delegations to Tashkent and London.

Mirzokhid contributed to the organisation of the Uzbekistan’s first-ever Governance Innovation Days which attracted experts and policy-makers from the UK Cabinet Office, universities and think-tanks. Over 300 Uzbek civil servants had an introduction into service design principles, evidence-based policy-making, behavioural insights use in policy-making and data-driven governance.  With his work on creating digital service standards, Mirzokhid initiated the roll out of a ‘joined up service’ – a concept he learned about during his time in the UK – which was piloted in the Republic of Karakalpakstan and related to child birth. This pilot was another first for Uzbekistan and significantly reduced the paperwork and bureaucracy for families around the services.

Mirzokhid’s next step has been to further explore administrative transformations in Uzbekistan through academia.  He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Helsinki, studying at the Finnish Centre for Russian and East European Studies Doctoral Programme in Political, Societal and Regional Change. He continues to find his JST connections of great use – his online reunion with Julie Kane answered questions he had about the fast adaptation of the Scottish Government’s digital policy during the pandemic – and says of the Fellowship Programme itself:

“Through the JST Fellowship Programme, I gained new ideas, knowledge, and friends all of which continue to this day to positively influence my  professional journey. I have collaborated with several other JST Fellows on small projects and currently am looking forward to new opportunities within the JST Alumni network”.