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The event Dialogues for the Digital Agenda held on the 30 October 2020

On 30 October 2020 at 11:00 AM, the Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society, held the online event Dialogues for the Digital Agenda within the project Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA. The event was streaming live on Facebook and it can be found here.

The event was attended by 77 representatives of the civil society, institutions, media and citizens, and it consisted of a brief presentation of the project and the ICEDA Network, the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans and the presentation of the research conducted within the North Macedonia Digital Agenda Observatory which the Metamorphosis Foundation implemented as part of this project. Furthermore, the event served for inciting a discussion on the benefits and challenges of implementing the Digital Agenda in North Macedonia in today’s context, which resulted in key conclusions that stakeholders should take into account in implementing their further activities.

Introductory speeches at the event were given by Jeton Shaqiri – Minister of Information Society and Administration, Sanja Frkovic-Gelevska, Program Manager, Freedom of the Media, Information Society and Culture, EU Delegation and Bardhyl Jashari – Executive Director of the Metamorphosis Foundation.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that the digital world is really important. In order to resolve the financial crisis as soon as possible, digitalization should be financed. It will have a significant impact on improving the situation. Now, we have seen that not investing in it can cost us a lot. Our goal in the coming period is to provide systematic preparatory solutions for general electronic communication within the institutions and between the institutions. By 2021, we aim to enable at least 30 percent of the state administration bodies to have an electronic system for automation of administrative procedures, and by 2024 this system to be implemented in the entire state administration. We also aim to enable the implementation of the agreement signed with Mastercard, for the development of innovative digital certificates of identity confirmation. Let’s continue with the opening of service centers in all cities of North Macedonia, following the example of Skopje,” said Minister Shaqiri.

The Executive Director of the Metamorphosis Foundation said that the conducted research showed that not all segments of society or the population are aware of or feel the benefits of digital technology or digital transformation, not everyone knows how to use it and not everyone has access to it. And in order to achieve this, he concluded that several things are of utmost importance:

  • Capacity building of all parties involved, – all, meaning the entire population if possible;
  • Raising public awareness of the benefits and risks of using digital technologies;
  • Fighting technophobia that can sometimes be reinforced by various disinformation, as was the recent case with disinformation about 5G technology;
  • Involvement of all stakeholders in setting priorities and needs of citizens for selection, development and use of digital services;
  • Security of services and privacy need to be an essential part of the development of any service because it drastically affects their use;
  • An adequate institutional legal framework that will enable uninterrupted use of digital services.

The representative of the EU delegation in Skopje, Sanja Frkovic-Gelevska, said that Europe is trying to enable a competitive economy through digitalization while respecting users rights.

“The European Union strives to make a real difference to its citizens on a daily basis by using technology and enable a strong and competitive economy that will improve while respecting European values. Through this, the aim is to ensure a digital economy that will have global competition, and consumers will have confidence that their rights will be safe,” Frkovic said, explaining that under the Stabilization and Association Agreement, North Macedonia is obliged to develop and harmonize its policies and the legal framework in the field of electronic communications and information society with that of the EU.

Only with a clear and understandable approach to all citizens, without exception, can there be sustainable digitalization in all spheres as an effective mechanism for significantly improving the lifestyle of the population. When we talk about digitalization in all spheres, we refer to the advancement and greater efficiency of institutions, organizations and other entities. As today we stand as a witness of the pandemic, we can see that this step is more than necessary for the better functioning of our society, and we can see how this unfortunate circumstance has somehow accelerated the spread of knowledge about the benefits of digitalization. However, we must be aware that rapid digitalization has also brought many challenges – those who have not been taught how to use them properly have access to digital devices, which is why we face hate speech, fake news and disinformation, online bullying, cybercrime, etc.” – said Mila Josifovska Danilovska – Manager of the program Social Accountability and Human Rights Online at the Metamorphosis Foundation, and invited Elena Mancheva – Ministry of Information Society and Administration to presented the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans.

Mancheva’s presentation was followed by the presentation of the ICEDA Project and the ICEDA Network, together with the Country Report on the current situation and a roadmap for Digital Agenda advancement in North Macedonia, prepared by the Metamorphosis Foundation as part of the project. The report is part of the Digital Agenda Observatory, which is a tool with a special methodology that will monitor the implementation of the Digital Agenda in the Western Balkans in Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro during the project. The purpose of this year’s report is to provide a starting point for further measurement of progress in these areas of the Digital Agenda and to provide additional recommendations for improvement. The topics covered by the Report are closely related to the chapters relevant to the Digital Agenda, in particular Chapter 10 – Information Society and Media of EU Acquis, in order to revitalize the Western Balkans Digital Agenda issues on the EU agenda.

  • Among the key findings of the Report was the general conclusion that there is significantly little knowledge of the Digital Agenda and its implementation in North Macedonia among key stakeholders, including the institutions as the main stakeholder for its implementation. The media that participated in the research claim that they sporadically receive partial information on this topic, while some even claim that they did not receive an invitation to an event related to the topic. This finding leads us to the conclusion that this may be the reason for the poor knowledge of the concept of the Digital Agenda and the reason why stakeholders cannot link current activities with it because they themselves are not familiar with the main pillars of this initiative.
  • When it comes to e-services, the respondents, representatives of the institutions, believe that in the business sector there is still more familiarity with e-services than among citizens. About 76.3% of CSOs also believe that citizens are not sufficiently aware of the possibility of using public e-services, with only 10.5% of respondents thinking differently. They believe that the promotion of e-services through social media and TV commercials, although effective to some extent, is still not enough and that wider promotion of all aspects of digitalization is needed.
  • According to the Рeport, 90% of the respondents, representatives of the institutions, believe that the Government pays necessary attention to the development of the Digital Agenda / e-Government. Those who disagree with this claim pointed out that there is a need for campaigns to raise public awareness, open civic centers and creating stations for issuing documents, as well as mechanisms for bringing services closer to citizens. Within this statement, 75% of media respondents rate the Government’s progress in developing e-government as “Satisfactory”, while the remaining 25% rate it as “Bad”, on a scale of 5 possible answers – “Very good” being the highest grade and “Very Bad” bеing the lowest.
  • The research also showed that there is room for establishing cooperation between civil society organizations and state institutions for greater improvements in the areas of “Digital Economy and Society” and “Research and Innovation” as areas where state institutions work the least and areas in which CSOs are most interested.
  • For the National Portal for e-Services, according to the information received from the civil sector, there is a need for e-services to be fully available through the portal and primarily to digitize the life services that citizens need most, at least to the extent that the service can be digitized. While the interviewed CSOs recognize the ease of use of the portal, they acknowledge that the portal is easy to use for a specific target group, mostly a somewhat younger population, and those with better digital skills. Considering that the population is sceptical when it comes to the use of e-services, they note that there is a great need for improving the collective awareness of all stakeholders, given that it takes a lot of time and effort for such a change, but that it is essential that citizens be motivated to use e-services. They further note the need for an individualized approach to informing and educating different groups of citizens, with an emphasis on promoting the benefits of e-services for them.
  • From the aspect of personal data protection, the respondents, representatives of the institutions, note that some of the institutions do not have an existing infrastructure that can cover this part. Furthermore, their general perception is that in addition to the normative framework, the procurement of digital resources should be more rational because they believe that in some cases, the procured goods or infrastructure is duplicated and there is a lack of trained IT staff to put it to use.
  • When it comes to the attitude of the media and civil society organizations on cybersecurity, the general opinion is that citizens are not worried about their cybersecurity because they are not informed about it and few understand the concept and underline the same for some institutions. CSOs are not confident in the capacity of our institutions to deal with cyber-attacks, pointing to several examples of hacked systems of institutions in the past and believe that there is a need for interactive training and civic sector and citizens on this topic. The same opinion is shared by some institutions. The research further shows that both institutions and citizens agree that in order to improve the quality of e-services security should be included in the design,e. security should be included in the process of creating a certain service, in order for the service to be efficient.
  • Regarding the protection of citizens, the media and civil society organizations perceive the telecommunications services provided in the country as a problem, and there are numerous complaints about their services that are not in accordance with the agreements signed by the citizens. They see a strong need to review contracts and services provided by service providers, as well as to impose certain restrictions to protect end-users.
  • 80% of respondents from institutions believe that CSOs should be involved in the development of e-government/e-services solutions because they believe that they can contribute with their expertise and experience. According to the Report, although there is regulation for their participation in policymaking, and acknowledging that it is debatable how much CSOs and institutions use this opportunity, some CSOs believe that there is a “marginal use of CSO capacity” and that consultations on already established legislation are not enough, as their expertise and experience can contribute much more to the process of creating legislation. Apart from recognizing the potential and the fact that certain steps have been taken for improvement, CSOs are upset by the fact that there is no permanent procedure for their participation because in many cases, although there are institutions that open calls for participation in certain policymaking, no one will guide them and bring them to the right place to express their willingness to participate. However, some CSOs are proud of the fact that they have a great deal of cooperation with the institutions and that many of their works are used as policies of the institutions or they themselves have led certain policy-making processes.

In accordance with the findings of the Report, the roadmap was presented, i.e. a list of 18 recommendations for improvement in the priority areas that jointly provide a roadmap for advancing the Digital Agenda in North Macedonia, which are available in the Report.

After the presentation of the Report, a discussion was opened on the benefits and challenges of implementing the Digital Agenda in North Macedonia in today’s context, in which participated Qendresa Sulejmani – Program Director at the Metamorphosis Foundation, Prof. Vladimir Petkovski – Institute of Economics – Skopje, University “Ss. Cyril and Methodius ”and Elena Mancheva – Ministry of Information Society and Administration. The conclusions of the discussion coincided with the conclusions and recommendations of the Report, namely that there is a need for a systemic approach to address the challenges related to digitalization, through capacity building of the entire population (introduction of cross-curricular subjects in formal education, trainings for digital skills), raising the collective awareness about digitalization and focusing on the quality of the delivered e-services.

Below you can find the useful materials from the project that were looked at during the event.

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The project “Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA” is implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), the Academy of e-Governance (Estonia), Levizja Mjaft! (Albania), CRTA – Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo). The project is being implemented with financial support from the European Union.